Cartoon violence raises hackles

Rainbow Cat and Blue Rabbit

China's entertainment media was abuzz last week with the news that CCTV's children's channel had halted its broadcast at episode 89 of the Rainbow Cat and Blue Rabbit (虹猫蓝兔七侠传) cartoon series. Rumors said that the show was pulled by the authorities for its gratuitous violence and suggestive language - a CCTV staffer disclosed to a reporter that "higher-ups" had called for the halt.

The show is a martial-arts cartoon - a sort of Seven Swords for kids. In the first episode (shown below), we are treated to a delightful music video of frolicking woodland creatures before the backstory is dropped in our laps - half a century ago, seven swordsmen defeated the evil Tiger, head of the Demon sect. Tiger has returned in search of the Jade Qilin, who preserves harmony when alive but apparently offers immense power to anyone who drinks his blood. Rainbow, the child of one of the original swordsmen, leaves with the Qilin on a quest to find the bearers of the other six swords. Then, in the second half of the episode, all hell breaks loose:

The show's been controversial for a while, actually. In January, a parent complained that her son wanted to cut his wrists in imitation of Blue Rabbit's self-sacrifice in one episode. Then, in early February, someone writing under the name of "Old Egg" posted to several online forums a call for CCTV to pull the plug on the program.

The author of the post (real name: Liu Shuhong), blasted the show for being derivative of domestic wuxia novels and foreign cartoons, and for being "vulgar, violent, suggestive, filthy, frightening, and threatening." The discussion of violence and wuxia elements led to calls for a ratings system for domestic cartoons, similar to what Japan has. A common criticism of Rainbow Cat and Blue Rabbit was that it fused adult wuxia themes and language together with the cute characters that typify kids' programming, resulting in a strange beast that no one could appreciate.

Or at least that's what adults argued online. An op-ed in Yangcheng Evening News wondered whether kids were being used as pawns in the culture wars:

Anything popular, whether stars or books or television shows, will be attacked simply because of increased visibility - this has long been the way things are in China. And the focal point of the questioning is, without fail, that the star has no skill, that the book is padded and plagiarized, and that the television show is overly crude, overly lewd, morality repugnant, gratuitously violence. But the fact is that on the Internet I rarely hear the voices of children - not only do we shut them out, saying they have no powers of discernment, but even more seriously, they become hostages and tools for the arguments of adults.
In my youth I grew up watching Tom & Jerry, the Transformers, and Zheng Yuanjie's fables. I only know that in fables I found incomparable happiness. Now, I want to find Rainbow Cat and Blue Rabbit to have a look at whether it is as violent as those "parents" say. The Internet has become so developed that parents have no way to stop anyone who wants to watch. There are too many temptations for children, including online games. Banning them won't work; improving children's powers of discernment is the best strategy.

Ultimately, CCTV said that it would resume broadcasts at a date to be determined. The show was not cancelled, it said; this was merely a "normal programming adjustment." Wang Hong, head director on the series, explained:

Since its start on 5 September, Rainbow Cat and Blue Rabbit has been showing for half a year now. It originally aired at 5:30, but after 76 episodes CCTV halted it because of protests by older children - they weren't able to catch it after school. Later, CCTV started over from the first episode and switched the broadcast time to 8:30pm with a rebroadcast at 9:30am the next morning. The show has 108 episodes in total; this time is stopped after episode 89 because it had been running too long and CCTV had other programs to air. SARFT gave a high appraisal to this show, and CCTV aired a special: Behind the Scenes on Rainbow Cat and Blue Rabbit.

Besides, as scriptwriter He Mengfan pointed out, wuxia violence is certainly not absent from classic animated features like Monkey Creates Havoc in Heaven or The Precious Lotus Lamp. At any rate, CCTV has since stated that it will resume broadcasts at some time yet to be determined. The show is still being aired on other stations throughout the country (a total of 800 stations including Beijing's BTV-10), so CCTV is probably on the level this time. The fact that the show has reportedly generated 30 million yuan for the station and the producers probably made the decision a bit easier, though.

The commercialization of the series has many people feeling uncomfortable - the show is a marketing tie-in juggernaut. Besides the box-sets of VCDs, there are games, books (including a series of English-Chinese dictionaries), clothes, toys, and school equipment. A number of news articles report that a conservative estimate puts sales of the tie-in book series at 15 million sets. And if you watch to the end of the episode above, you'll see an ad for a branded nutritional supplement that'll make kids better students.

Finally, a report on the controversy in this week's Complete Entertainment is a wonderfully entertaining piece of tabloid journalism.

· Suggestions of hidden motives:

From 1 September 2006, all channels of all television stations in the country were barred from airing information overseas cartoon programs, news about overseas cartoon programs, or programs that aired clips of overseas cartoons. On the fifth day after the ban was announced, Rainbow Cat and Blue Rabbit launched its broadcast on CCTV's children's channel. There is no proof that SARFT used the ban to open a door for Rainbow Cat and Blue Rabbit, but the series ought to thank SARFT for allowing it to win the ratings title for domestic animation during that time slot.

· Unsubstantiated criticism:

According to data found online, Rainbow Cat and Blue Rabbit was produced at a cost of 56 million yuan. Liu Chun is head of design for a Beijing animation studio. He said that he was not a member of the production team for Rainbow Cat and Blue Rabbit so he could not say whether the 56 million figure was true or false. "However, if you had us make the same film, I could spend half that amount, or even less, and come up with better results."

· Hysterical comments from a random individual:

A parent who had watched an episode of Rainbow Cat and Blue Rabbit with his son said that it was an extremely unpleasant experience. "The quality of the animation is secondary - the story in this picture was really too moronic - it had no wisdom to speak of. I'd rather let my son watch South Park than watch a dumbed-down show like this." He also told the reporter that after every episode, his son would nag him to buy knives and cudgels. "This is an obscenely profitable industry, making a windfall by taking advantage of a child's curiosity and thirst for novelty. If they were like Disney, making money through sincerity and wisdom, then I'd accept it. But this trashy show is just a swindle in an animated mask."

The CE article (from the 17 March, 2007, issue) is, unfortunately, not yet online.

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There are currently 2 Comments for Cartoon violence raises hackles.

Comments on Cartoon violence raises hackles

I heard about the news before, but I never really seen the show. From the clip, I am surprised by the quality of the cartoon. Probably the best Chinese Cartoon I have seen in years. The commercial at the end for the "Red cat" health supplement is a little sickening though.

Itchy and Scratchy in "Porch Pals," anyone?
As I understand it, there's not much of an issue about children's programming yet. I've never heard anyone Chinese talk about worries over TV violence (or sex), unless the topic was raised by a westerner first. If it becomes an issue, then I feel for the kids. Public opinion is very very conservative, and they could be left with only the most sickeningly "educational" shows to watch.

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