Conference Program: The Inaugural Conference of the Association for Chinese Animation Studies, May 11-14, 2020

Lecture Theater (G/F), Lo Ka Chung Building, Institute for Advanced Study, Lee Shau Kee Campus, HKUST  

May 10 (Sunday) 

2:00-7:00pm: Registration at the Lobby of Conference Lodge, Lee Shau Kee Campus   

May 11 (Monday)

8:00-8:30am: Registration at the Lobby of Conference Lodge, Lee Shau Kee Campus

9:00-10:50am: Keynote Speeches, chaired by Daisy Yan Du, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Hong Kong SAR


Opening Remarks, Daisy Yan Du

  • Daisy Yan Du is Associate Professor in the Division of Humanities at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. She has published articles on animation, film, gender, and popular culture in Positions: Asia CritiqueModern Chinese Literature and CultureJournal of Chinese CinemasGender & History, and Women’s Studies Quarterly. Her first monograph, titled Animated Encounters: Transnational Movements of Chinese Animation 1940s-1970s, was published by the University of Hawaii Press in 2019. She is currently editing a book titled Chinese Animation and Socialism: From Animators’ Perspectives (Brill, forthcoming in 2021). She is the editor overseeing Asia for the Encyclopedia of Animation Studies, newly launched by Bloomsbury reference. 

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, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology

Welcome Speech, Kellee Tsai

  • Kellee S. Tsai (Ph.D., Political Science, Columbia University) is Dean of Humanities and Social Science and Chair Professor of Social Science at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST).  She previously served as Head of the Division of Social Science at HKUST; and Vice Dean of Humanities and Social Science and Professor of Political Science at Johns Hopkins University.  She is the author or co-editor of several books, including Back-Alley Banking: Private Entrepreneurs in China (Cornell 2002), Capitalism without Democracy: The Private Sector in Contemporary China (Cornell 2007), and State Capitalism, Institutional Adaptation, and the Chinese Miracle (co-edited with Barry Naughton, Cambridge 2015).  She has published articles in Business and Politics, China Journal, China Quarterly, Comparative Political Studies, Journal of Asian Studies, Journal of Development Studies, Perspectives on Politics, World Development, and World Politics, among others. Tsai’s research interests include informal institutions, informal and digital finance, endogenous institutional change, political economy of development, and private entrepreneurship. She is currently completing a book manuscript on the impact of migration on local development in three pairs of localities China and India.

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, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology  


“Playful Dispositif and Remediation: Chinese Animation from the Perspective of Film History as Media Archaeology,”

  • This paper approaches Chinese animation from the perspective of film history as media archaeology (Elsaesser 2016). First, we posit that Chinese animation constitutes an alternative archive, which encourages scholarship that departs from the time-honored teleological and organic models and, instead, traces lines of descend rather than origins. In parallel or parallax histories and trajectories, Chinese animation is associative of various artistic media and generative of new visual styles and forms (e.g., ink painting, papercut). Second, the concept of dispositif—involving materiality, bricolage, and assemblages—requires that we examine medium, image, and spectator together in animation studies. The anticipation of the child-like spectator explains the types of images to emerge, but it also allows for “double power”(Du 2019) that interrogates the socialist reconstruction of childhood via violence. In contemplating what, when and why is animation, we see how the increasing importance of experience has transformed animation into an encounter more than an event. An investigation of the medium in animation history shows not so much definitive breaks as playful remediation, oftentimes through pastiche and parody vis-à-vis live-action film and classical narrative. Chinese animation represents a distinct transmedia synergy referencing literature, theater, painting, and music. Third, precisely due to its multiplicity and heterogeneity, Chinese animation does not conform to a single telos despite historical exigency and ideological interpellation. Chinese animation studies should therefore keep “a retrospective and prospective frame of mind at the same time” because, like cinema in general, animation is “still in permanent flux and becoming” (Elsaesser 2016).

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Yingjin Zhang
  • Yingjin Zhang (Ph.D., Stanford) is Distinguished Professor of Comparative Literature and Chinese Studies, and Chair of the Department of Literature at University of California, San Diego. He also holds a Visiting Chair Professorship in Humanities at Shanghai Jiao Tong University, China. He is the author of The City in Modern Chinese Literature and Film: Configurations of Space, Time, and Gender (Stanford, 1996), Screening China: Critical Interventions, Cinematic Reconfigurations, and the Transnational Imaginary in Contemporary Chinese Cinema (Center for Chinese Studies, Michigan, 2002), Chinese National Cinema (Routledge, 2004), and Cinema, Space, and Polylocality in a Globalizing China (Hawaii, 2010); co-author of Encyclopedia of Chinese Film (Routledge, 1998) and New Chinese-Language Documentaries: Ethics, Subject and Place (Routledge, 2015); editor of China in a Polycentric World: Essays in Chinese Comparative Literature (Stanford, 1998), Cinema and Urban Culture in Shanghai, 1922-1943 (Stanford, 1999), A Companion to Chinese Cinema (Wiley-Blackwell, 2012), and A Companion to Modern Chinese Literature (Wiley-Blackwell, 2016); and co-editor of From Underground to Independent: Alternative Film Culture in Contemporary China (Rowman & Littlefield, 2006), Chinese Film Stars (Routledge, 2010), Liangyou, Kaleidoscopic Modernity and the Shanghai Global Metropolis (Brill, 2013), and Filming the Everyday: Independent Documentaries in Twenty-First Century China (Rowman & Littlefield, 2017). He has co-edited two special issues for Journal of Chinese Cinemas (2008) and Modern Chinese Literature and Culture (2018), the latter on “Chinese literature as world literature.” Additionally, he has published ten Chinese books and over 170 research articles in Chinese, English, German, Italian, Korean, Portuguese, and Spanish.

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, University of California, San Diego, USA      


“Vernacular Networking: The Transmedial Situation of ‘Chinese Anime,’”

  • Haoliners Animation League, established in Shanghai in 2013, uses a model for multimedia franchising reminiscent of what is loosely called media mix in the Japanese context. Haoliners has adapted a number of Chinese webcomics and net animations into animated television series that resemble anime.  Since the establishment of a Japanese subsidiary, Emon Animation Company, in 2015, Haoliners has launched into coproductions entailing various combinations of Chinese directors and writers with Japanese animators, such as the anime series Fox Spirit Matchmaker (2017) and Evil or Live (2017-2018) and the omnibus film Flavors of Youth (2018).  In an era in which there is increasing emphasis on the part of governmental agencies and filmmakers in both Japan and China on the articulation of a “national style,” Haoliners’ animations may appear somewhat scandalous because they introduce a zone in which national styles are indiscernible. Indeed, common complaints are that these animations are either too much like anime, or not enough like anime, and without Chinese characteristics.

    While it is tempting to characterize these multimedia franchises as “convergence culture,” this manner of convergence is not like the American grassroots culture evoked by Henry Jenkins.  It is not a nation-based popular culture or national populism. Such convergence is more like what Miriam Hansen called a “global sensory vernacular” — “with connotations of discourse, idiom, and dialect, with circulation, promiscuity, and translatability” — that might be said to register and respond to processes of regionalization and globalization. In this paper, I propose a closer reading of the “form of content” and the “form of expression” in Haoliners’ animations to consider how they respond to processes of regionalization and globalization related to media circulation, distribution, and translatability. Of particular interest is the paradigm of net addiction in Evil or Live, for it exemplifies an experience of “unbalanced equilibrium” or “equilibrium away from equilibrium” that characterizes the contemporary transmedial situation.

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Thomas Lamarre
  • Thomas Lamarre is professor in the Department of Cinema and Media Studies & East Asian Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago. His research centers on the history of media, thought, and material culture, with projects ranging from (Uncovering Heian Japan, 2000), to silent cinema and the global imaginary (Shadows on the Screen, 2005), animation technologies (The Anime Machine, 2009) and on television and new media (The Anime Ecology, 2018). Current projects include research on animation that addresses the use of animals in the formation of media networks associated with colonialism and extraterritorial empire, and the consequent politics of animism and speciesism.

    He has also edited volumes on cinema and animation, on the impact of modernity in East Asia, on pre-emptive war, and, as Associate Editor of Mechademia: An Annual Forum for Anime, Manga, and the Fan Arts, a number of volumes on manga, anime, and fan cultures. He is co-editor with Takayuki Tatsumi of a book series with the University of Minnesota Press entitled “Parallel Futures,” which centers on Japanese speculative fiction. Current editorial work includes volumes on Chinese animation and risk, media, and animality.

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, Duke University, USA

10:50-11:05: coffee/tea break


Panel 1: Independent Animation in China, chaired by Zhen Zhang, New York University

“The Chinese Animateur 2.0: Playful Technologies and Magical Wonders,”

  • Chinese animateurs, I propose, are creators of wonders, contributing to a minor, and yet long-standing and wide-ranging, discourse that seeks an embodied and enchanted relation with technology. They can help us rethink animation and develop a more radically inclusive understanding of the (animated) moving image that challenges film representational and photographic genealogy and re-centers human imaginative and crafting agency.

    In this article, I situate my research on the animateur in the current state of the field in animation studies – “animation 2.0”– and in critical dialogue with a renewed scholarly focus on “handmade cinema” and “process cinema.” Taking animateur practices as my departing point, I conceptualize para-animation, an idea of animation based on multimedia materialities and non-medium-specific phenomena, such as embodied gesture, playful technology, slow time, shadow(ing), and morphing of lines and shapes. Referring to a selection of works by Cai Caibei, Cho Pei Hsin, Huang Lian-Hsin, Liu Jiamin, Jennifer Wen Ma and Wang Haiyang, I focus on “the hand on screen” as a gesture that reveals an enchanted reality.

    My goal (and larger project) is to retrace multidirectional – across times and places – connections between the (Chinese) animateurs and other enchanters (inventors, artists, performers, storytellers), similarly crossing and morphing boundaries between technology and magic, observation and imagination, science and art, knowledge and pleasure.

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Paola Voci
  • Paola Voci is an associate professor at the University of Otago. She specializes in Chinese visual cultures, and, in particular, documentary, animation, and other hybrid digital video practices. She is the author of China on Video, a book that analyses and theorises light movies made for and viewed on computer and mobile screens, and co-editor of Screening China’s Soft Power, a book focusing on the role played by film and media in shaping China’s global image. She has published in Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, Journal of Chinese Cinemas, Screening the Past, Senses of Cinema, Modern Italy, New Zealand Journal of Asian Studies, and Bianco e Nero. Her work also appears in several edited collections of essays, such as The New Chinese Documentary Movement and The Oxford Handbook of Chinese Cinemas. Expanding from her conceptualisation of lightness to rethink the past of digital cultures, her current research is on handmade cinema, shadow play and animation and other amateur, vernacular practices and their contribution to the archaeology of the moving image.

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, University of Otago, New Zealand  

“Animating the Urban: Cities in 21st Century Chinese Independent Animation,”

  • In the last two decades, the city has become increasingly central to Mainland Chinese society and culture. While the role of urbanization in literature, feature film and fine art is relatively well-documented, the growing importance of the city in Chinese animation has been neglected within current scholarship. Despite the prevailing view that Chinese animation is a medium which deals with primarily pastoral or mythical themes, a growing body of recent Chinese animation — particularly in the emergent field of independent animation — makes it possible to contest this.

    Independent animators make use of a variety of narrative and visual forms, including short film, feature film, documentary, music video, installation and video art, to portray China’s burgeoning cityscapes. Animated cities range from the reflective and nostalgic to the outlandish and futuristic, by way of gritty realism. While these works stand both in relation and opposition to China’s booming commercial animation industry, they also have important links with other areas of China’s cultural and creative industries. Thus, broad academic terms used for identifying trends across recent Chinese visual culture — such as the “urban/sixth generation” and “iGeneration” — prove useful for situating animated works within larger creative networks.

    Not only do China’s interconnected, global cities play a key role in the narratives and aesthetics of independent animation: they are also crucial to its creation and distribution. Thus, the cityscape forms the backdrop to independent animation on an intra-, inter- and meta-textual level.

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Isabel Galwey
  • Isabel Galwey is an MPhil student in the Division of Humanities at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. From 2015-2019 she studied Chinese at the University of Oxford and Peking University, graduating with a First. Before beginning her BA she completed a foundation diploma in Art and Design, specializing in moving image. Her research interests include animation studies, urban studies and twentieth-century mass media in China.

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, University of Oxford, UK

“Assembling the History of Difference: Independent Animation in Postsocialist China,”

  • In 2013, the online release of the Chinese animated short film Forward, Comrades! (Qianjin, Dawalixi) has provoked highly polarized reactions among its viewers in China and Russia, largely due to the way it entails to assemble the history of socialism. The same can be said about the remediation of the socialist propaganda posters in another independent animated film Have a Nice Day (Da shijie, 2017). But how does Chinese independent animation capture the history of socialism? Do they assume a transcendent position to get out of the capitalist history of nation-states? Since animation has long been regarded as the medium that tends to structure the world differently, this paper seeks to reconsider the relation between animation and history by exploring how Forward, Comrades! and Have a Nice Day strive to assemble the history of difference in the context of the internet-based production, distribution, and circulation of independent animation and China’s socialist aftermath. My analysis of these animations will be centering on how the circulation of affective flow forms a space that could not be reduced to China, the Eastern Bloc, or any given territory that assumes a normative understanding of nation-states. The remediation of documentaries, radio, posters, and photography from the socialist past in those independent animation evokes an embodied experience and desire that has a potential to grasp modern history alternatively.

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Hang Wu
  • Hang Wu is a PhD student in the Department of Cinema and Media Studies at the University of Chicago. Her research interests include animation and film, critical area studies, the animal and sovereignty, and Chinese socialism and postsocialism. Her articles on Chinese animation and film appeared in journals such as Contemporary Cinema(Dangdaidianying), and Animation: An Interdisciplinary Journal. Her current research explores the production of special effects (visual and auditory) in Chinese film history in relation to monsters, ghosts, aliens, and supernatural forces, and the question of subject formation and becoming-human.

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, McGill University, Canada   

12:20-12:30pm: group photo at the lobby of the conference room  

12:30-2:00pm: lunch at Conference Lodge


Panel 2: Animation in Socialist China, chaired by Stephi Hemelryk Donald, University of Lincoln, UK  

“Rustic Cinema: Animated Lanternslides in Socialist China,”

  • In Socialist China from the 1950s to the 1980s, magic lantern shows, dubbed “rustic cinema,” were deployed as an important local propaganda tool, yet this prevalent media technology has been largely forgotten in the twenty-first century.  Drawing on film magazines and manuals, memoirs and oral histories, this paper seeks to conduct a media archeological study of lanternslides in Socialist China with a focus on the animated multiple-lens magic lantern shows of the “Three Sisters Movie Team” in Laishui County, Hebei Province. 

    Cheap and easy to produce, lanternslides were simple to operate and can be projected using gas lamps in places without electricity.  Besides mass-produced slides, local propaganda artists and film projectionists produced, projected, and narrated their own lantern slideshows, often featuring local heroes and local histories, thereby enabling the creation of local media content when film production was centrally orchestrated. Whereas rural audiences celebrated cinema for being “live” or “animated” (huo de) and slideshows for being “still” or “dead” (si de), innovative experimentation with slideshow animations launched the “Three Sisters Movie Team” to nationwide fame. The movie team invented a slide projector with a single light source but four lenses that animated the slides, so people could see red flag waving, horse running, people walking, birds flying and landing on plum blossoms.  They used different layers, a variety of colors, long shots and close-ups, fade-ins and fade-outs to execute visual animation effects with rhyming verses and a highly emotional performance. 

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Jie Li
  • Jie Li is John L. Loeb Associate Professor of the Humanities in the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations at Harvard University. As a scholar of literary, film, and cultural studies, Jie Li’s research interests center on the mediation of memories in modern China. Her first book, Shanghai Homes: Palimpsests of Private Life (Columbia, 2014), excavates a century of memories embedded in two alleyway neighborhoods destined for demolition. Her second monograph, Utopian Ruins: A Memorial Museum of the Mao Era (under contract with Duke University Press), explores contemporary cultural memories of the 1950s to the 1970s through textual, audiovisual, and material artifacts, including police files, photographs, documentary films, and museums. Li has co-edited a volume entitled Red Legacies: Cultural Afterlives of the Communist Revolution (Harvard Asia Center, 2016).Her next book project studies the exhibition and reception of cinema in socialist China, including movie theatres and open-air screenings, projectionists and audiences, as well as memories of revolutionary and foreign films.Her other research projects include a transnational film history of Manchuria and a cultural history of radios and loudspeakers.Li’s recent publications in journals and edited volumes include: “Phantasmagoric Manchukuo: Documentaries Produced by the South Manchurian Railway Company, 1932-1940” (positions: east asia cultures critique, 2014); “From Landlord Manor to Red Memorabilia: Reincarnations of a Chinese Museum Town” (Modern China, 2015); “Filming Power and the Powerless” (DV-Made China, 2015); “Are Our Drawers Empty? NieGannu’s Dossier Literature” (Oxford Handbook of Modern Chinese Literatures, 2016), “Discolored Vestiges of History: Black-and-White in the Age of Color Cinema” (Journal of Chinese Cinemas, 2012).

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, Harvard University, USA

“Toy Country: Playful Innovation in Socialist Chinese Puppet Animation,"

  • By examining puppet animation produced by the Shanghai Animation Film Studio during the 1950s—a time when the technologies of animation film were still being harnessed and their uses to portray socialist realist worlds were still being debated and shaped—this paper provides critical and historical perspective for the fantastic modes of early PRC’s animation and science education. Here, I pursue questions of the animated technological object, media ecologies, and animated space creation, by engaging with critical work by Gilbert Simondon, Thomas Lamarre, Vivian Sobchack, and Suzanne Buchan. Specifically, thinking of Simondon’s utopian vision of the individual as a central node in a network of machines, I provide close-readings of the puppet animation films The Dream of Xiaomei (Xiaomei de meng) (1954) and The Magic Paintbrush (Shenbi Maliang) (1955). I argue that the social construct of the machine as imagined in these films function on several levels. First, in their aesthetic play with the division of the screen and with the boundaries between 2D and 3D animation—between life and lifelessness—they deconstruct and also fetishize the process of animated technology. At the same time, these films also teach the viewer to become an ideal user of technology and ideal member of a mechanized society by depicting a utopia where machine and society work together hand-in-hand. Rather than mere propaganda, I argue that these films and the discourses surrounding such animated films together produced a narrative space for imagining China’s future of scientific modernization.

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Linda C. Zhang
  • Linda C. Zhang is a PhD student in the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures at University of California-Berkeley. Her research pursues questions of medium, space, technology, and realism related to experimental cinema, documentary, and animated film. Her current project, focusing on the early Cold War period, examines how media such as animated films, scientific education films, and documentaries work in a myriad of ways to mediate anxieties about modernity while also projecting an optimism about a technologically-powered future.

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, University of California-Berkeley, USA

“Sonic ‘National Style’ in Socialist Chinese Animation Films,”

  • This paper explores the employment of “national style” in the soundscapes of Chinese animation films made in the socialist period through the lens of Uproar in Heaven (1961-64), a fantasy animation about the Monkey King, based on an episode from the classic Ming dynasty novel The Journey to the West. The costumes, color patterns, gestures and diction of the animated figures in this film take much inspiration from Beijing opera repertoire, as do the highly operatic and kinetic martial arts and acrobatic combat scenes. The visual realm strongly evokes a kind of “national style”—a broad concept and practice encompassing and combining various Chinese folk cultural conventions and art forms: Buddhist statues, architecture, sculpture, painting, woodblock, pictures of door-gods, among others. Moreover, the soundtrack, which includes dubbed dialogues, sound effects and orchestrated music, corresponds to the visual realm and further cultivates “national style” by incorporating Beijing opera luogujing (percussion by drums and gongs), folk melodies, and kunqu tunes composed by Wu Yingju (1926-2008), one of the most accomplished composers at Shanghai Animation Film Studio who created scores for more than eighty Chinese animation films. Within the diegesis, soundscape also reinforces a sense of “national style” in an illuminating sequence of “musical battle” in which pipa-playing is used to dizzy and defeat the adversary. By closely examining the soundscape in Uproar in Heaven and other Chinese animation films, this paper investigates how this sonic practice of “national style” differs from that in other animations (such as “Mickey Mousing” in Disney animations) and identifies the particular kinds of sonic conventions Wu Yingju and his music helped to establish for Chinese animation films.

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Ling Zhang
  • Ling Zhang is an Assistant Professor of Cinema Studies at SUNY Purchase, currently an ACLS post-doc fellow (2019-2020). She received her MA in film studies at Beijing Film Academy and her PhD from the Department of Cinema and Media Studies at the University of Chicago. She specializes in film sound theory, Chinese-language cinema and opera, cinema and travel/mobility, ruins in cinema, documentary, gender and cinema, as well as film and urbanism. Zhang has extensive experience as a documentary filmmaker and is also an established Chinese film critic with a published collection of reviews and essays in Chinese (2011). Zhang has published academic articles on film sound, 1930s Chinese cinema and film theory, contemporary Chinese independent documentary, Taiwan New Cinema, socialist road movies, and Chinese opera films in Film Quarterly, Journal of Chinese Cinemas, CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture, The New Zealand Journal of Asian Studies, Asian Cinema, Film Art (mainland China) and Film Appreciation (Taiwan), among others. She also contributes to anthologies such as Cinema of Exploration (James Cahill and Luca Camitani eds, AFI, forthcoming), Routledge Companion to Global Film Music (Jeremy Barham, ed, forthcoming), The Global Road Movie: Alternative Journeys (Timothy Corrigan and José Duarte, eds, Intellect, 2018), and Early Film Culture in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Republican China: Kaleidoscopic Histories (Emilie Yeh, ed., University of Michigan Press, 2018). She is currently working on her book manuscript, tentatively entitled Sounding Screen Ambiance: Acoustic Culture and Transmediality in 1920s-1940s Chinese Cinema.

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, State University of New York Purchase College, USA

“Animated Soundscape: Wu Yingju’s Music in Meishu Films in Socialist China from 1957 to 1965,”

  • During the golden age of Chinese animation, the Vietnamese Chinese Wu Yingju (1926-2008) was the composer of meishu films including The Herd Boy’s Flute (1963), Uproar in Heaven (1965), and Heroic Little Sisters of the Grassland (1965). Before entering the Department of Music at Yenching University, Wu had composed and performed patriotic songs in Hai Phong, Vietnam and colonial Macau. Well versed in western and Chinese musical instruments, Wu joined Shanghai Meishu Film Studio in 1955 as the leading composer. This paper examines the musical style of meishu films produced during 1957 and 1965 by focusing on Wu Yingju’s musical numbers, film score, and research papers. I first investigate Wu’s appropriation of Chinese operatic and folk music tradition in Uproar in Heaven and The Herd Boy’s Flute where music guided the flow of the storyline in the visual. I then look into his approach to collecting ethnic music in inner Mongolia, Guangxi, Yunnan, etc. in response to the call for “national style.” Finally, I discuss how Wu’s film music distinguishes from orchestra music (performed independently) and film score for live action films to create an animated soundscape. Wu defines a distinct animated world based on the sub-genres of meishu film, such as paper-cutting, paper-folding, puppet, stop motion, as well as animation clips within live action films. I argue that the film music in meishu films demonstrate the flexibility of national style incorporating a wide array of musical instruments and musical corpus from western music and Chinese folk music traditions.

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Yunwen Gao
  • Yunwen Gao is assistant professor of the Centre for China Studies at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. She received her PhD from the Department of East Asian Languages and Culture at the University of Southern California. She is interested in modern Chinese literature and culture, Sinophone studies, Chinese cinema and performative arts, and post-colonial studies. She has published article on literature and opera in refereed journals such as Concentric, and Ming Qing Studies. She is currently working on her book manuscript titled Language, Soundscape, and Identity Formation in Shanghai Fangyan Literature and Culture.

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, Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong SAR

“Receiving the Classics,”

  • Much current literature about animation produced during the 1950 and 60s describes a “Golden Age” of animation. Films such as The Magic Brush (1955) and The Arrogant General (1956) are considered classics of national style. Released in two parts, Uproar in Heaven (1961; 1964) is admired as an adaptation of one of the most famous episodes of Journey to the West while also referencing theater reform of the period. Where is Mama? (1960) and The Herd Boy’s Flute (1963) are revered as examples of a type of animation distinctly new to China at the time, ink-wash animation. The current evaluation of these iconographic films has been formed by years of screenings and discussion. But how were these classic animated films received in their time? Lacunae remain about how responses to the Shanghai Animation Film Studio catalogue emerged at the time the films were screened. In this paper, I would like to suggest some possible ways of understanding the reception of animated films in the 1950s and 60s. Producers at the Shanghai Animation Film Studio have noted how much freedom animators had to produce their films, often made specifically for children. But children were not the only spectators. No less than live-action film, animation was discussed and debated in the press. How were these films for children interpreted? Did politics affect the reception of these films? Did the reception of the films play a role in their production? This paper attempts to open up questions about the role of audiences in classic animation produced at the Shanghai Animation Film Studio.

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Sean Macdonald
  • Sean Macdonald received a PhD degree in comparative literature from University of Montreal. He currently teaches Chinese Language and Culture at the State University of New York at Buffalo. His book, Animation in China: History, Aesthetics, Media attempts to trace several historical strands that make up the development of the animation in the People’s Republic of China. He attempts to link the early industry of animation to concepts of institutional postmodernism. He has published on the important director of puppet animation, Jin Xi (1919-1997) and is currently working on a translation of an important example of animation theory by that director. His current research explores concepts of fantasy in literature and film, both live action and animated. Fantasy holds a unique place in premodern and modern Chinese literature. While fantastic writing was once contrasted to historic writings, by the twentieth century, concepts of the fantastic emerge within a context of superstition and irrationality. The fantastic played a key role in animated film. In live-action fictional film, fantasy played an important role from the earliest years of martial arts cinema until recent blockbusters. Sean has published translations of two short stories by the Shanghai modernist Mu Shiying (1912-1940).  

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, State University of New York at Buffalo, USA

4:05-4:20pm: coffee/tea break             


Panel 3: Chinese Animation in the 1980s and Its Legacy, chaired by Paola Voci, University of Otago, New Zealand

“Motifs of Science and Technology in Chinese Animation during the Post-Mao Cultural Thaw,”

  • Echoing PRC government rhetoric during the post-Mao cultural thaw of China’s new springtime for science, scientific and technological imagery such as robots and satellites were ubiquitous in Chinese animation during the late 1970s and early 1980s. This essay focuses on major motifs of science and technology in Chinese animation during this key transitional era in PRC cultural history. I will examine how animated films portrayed the visual aspects of everyday life at home, at school and at the workplace. The motifs in these settings of everyday modern-style life feature advances in science and technology, new developments in aerospace and national defense, and critiques of religion and superstition. These animated films look more to the future than to the past, celebrate a wider latitude for scientific inquiry, and champion technological innovation; such films argue that science and technology greatly improve economic productivity and are crucial to a near-term achievement of the “Four Modernizations” of agriculture, industry, national defense, and science and technology. In addition, I also relate some scientific themes in animation to those in PRC science fiction, such as genetic modification, space exploration, artificial intelligence, and industrial automation. I argue that these scientific themes in animation resonate with those in science fiction, and contribute to a significant rise in interest in science fiction among Chinese readers during the 1980s. 

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Hua Li
  • Hua Li is Associate Professor of Chinese and Chinese Program Coordinator in the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures at Montana State University. Her primary research field is modern and contemporary Chinese literature. Her monograph, Contemporary Chinese Fiction by Su Tong and Yu Hua: Coming of Age in Troubled Times, was published by Brill in 2011. She has authored numerous journal articles and book chapters on various topics in contemporary Chinese fiction and cinema—this includes more than ten journal articles and book chapters on Chinese science fiction in peer-reviewed journals such as Science Fiction Studies, Frontiers of Literary Studies in China, Communication and the Public, and edited book volumes such as the Cambridge History of Science Fiction. She recently completed her second book manuscript on Chinese science fiction during the Post-Mao cultural thaw.

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, Montana State University, USA 

“Adapting Dunhuang in a Transitional Period: Negotiated Intermediality in The Deer of Nine Colors and Jiazi Saves the Deer,”

  • Dunhuang caves (Dunhuang, China), the ancient Buddhist site in Northwestern China, has inspired many Chinese animations. Previous scholarship has revolved around the issue of national style by identifying visual and narrative references of Dunhuang murals in related animations. While recent studies on Chinese animation begin to look beyond features of sinicization and to pay more attention to the transnational encounters or influences, the changing ideas of animation as a medium are rarely examined. This paper points to the changing perception of animation in China in the 1980s by comparing the distinctive approaches of The Deer of Nine Colours (Jiu se lu, 1981) and Jiazi Saves the Deer (Jiazijiulu, 1985), both of which adapt Dunhuang murals. While the former approaches animation as a branch of fine arts (meishu), the latter practices cinematic methods (dianyinghua). Their difference resonates with the changing perception of animation. In addition, the production of these two animations was intertwined with picture books (lianhuanhua), which further testify Chinese animators’ struggles with linear story and their efforts in differentiating mural paintings and animated images. Unpacking the intermediality of these cultural productions, this paper aims to highlight the complicated conceptual change of animation as a medium in China.

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Shasha Liu
  • Shasha Liu is a PhD candidate in the Department of East Asian Studies, University of Toronto (Toronto, Canada). She received her BA (2008) from the department of Art History and Theory at Tianjin Academy of Fine Arts (Tianjin, China) and MA (2011) from the department of Art History at the University of Toronto. Her research focuses on the issue of mediating Dunhuang in the 20th century through the perspectives of four visual media: photography, painting, animation, and film, and argues that the visual mediations of Dunhuang produce knowledge, shape politics, and rewrite relations among the self, the tradition, and the world. She is currently writing her dissertation, titled “Mediating Dunhuang with Images in 1940s-1980s,” with the support of a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Doctoral Fellowship.

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, University of Toronto, Canada   

“Xu Bing’s The Character of Characters and the Possibilities of Calligraphic Animation,”

  • This paper investigates the encounters between calligraphy and animation. My focus is Xu Bing’s 2012 animation video, The Character of Characters, which mediates the history of Chinese calligraphy and its intimate relationships with nature and painting within a highly conceptual framework. Pairing Xu Bing’s animation with A Da’s 36 Characters (1984), an educational animated short, I will underscore how the transformative and performative qualities of archaic Chinese hieroglyphics come into play in the medium of animation. I will also explore how audiences react to calligraphy—or dancing lines—with immediate, visceral excitement. By offering a close analysis of the scene of The Character of Characters in which trees and stones fly into a book—a calligraphic manual—and become the “heartfelt” Chinese characters so dependent on nature, I will argue that, to think about pictographic scripts on screen is meant to see the screen as a space crosshatched with multiple temporal rhythms, one in which the ancient story of “images-becoming-words” coexists with the present tendency of “words-becoming-images.” I will also put my reading of this scene into dialogue with Xu Bing’s other artworks, especially the Landscript series (1999-present). Ultimately, I will evoke a double vision that sees words on screen as linguistic texts and pictorial shapes at the same time, a vision through which and because of which looking and reading are no longer separate activities. If, in Horkheimer and Adorno’s account, the historical process of disenchantment inevitably entails a dissociation of verbal and pictorial functions, a double vision that enables a re-association of verbal and pictorial functions perhaps indicates the unwitting and spectral return of dream, imagination and poetic possibilities in the mundane world.

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Panpan Yang
  • Panpan Yang received her PhD in 2020 in the joint program in Cinema and Media Studies and East Asian Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago, where she is currently a postdoctoral teaching fellow. Her first book project, partly based on her dissertation, rethinks the questions of cinematic space and time through a reappraisal of the history of Chinese animation. Concurrently, she is pursuing a second book project on the calligraphic imagination of contemporary films and emerging media.

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, University of Chicago, USA  

5:35-8:00pm: dinner at G/F Chinese Restaurant     

8:00-10:00pm: Screening of Early Animated Shorts by China Film Archive, chaired by Zhen Zhang, New York University, USA

The Mouse and the Frog (cel, Wan Brothers, 1934)

Songs of Resistance 2 (cel, Wan Brothers, 1938)

Songs of Resistance 5 (cel, Wan Brothers, 1939)

The Kite (cel, Liang Jin, 1943)

Dreaming to be Emperor (puppet, Chen Bo’er, 1947)

Capturing the Turtle in the Jar (cel, Mochinaga Tadahito, 1948)

May 12 (Tuesday)


Panel 4: Chinese Animation, Children, and Adults, chaired by Wendy Larson, University of Oregon, USA

“Metamorphosis: ‘Three Hairs’ from Newspaper to Big Screen,”

  • San Mao (or Three Hairs), the famous street urchin created by cartoonist Zhang Leping in 1930s-40s, is a household name in the Chinese-speaking region across generational and geo-political boundaries. The comic books have inspired many screen adaptations ranging from live action, puppetry and cel animation films, and TV serial animation. After a brief consideration of the trans-medial metamorphosis of this legendary cartoon figure’s “evolution” from still images to moving images on the big screen, my article focuses on the two live action-animation hybrid films, An Orphan on the Street (1949) and San Mao Joins the Army(1992), and their articulations of what I call a persistent “orphan imagination” in Chinese film history. The former was made on the brink of the Communist “liberation,” whereas the latter was made by a Shanghai-based Fifth-generation director when China and Chinese cinema remerged onto the international stage under the forces of post-socialist globalization. Thus I am also interested in investigating the relationships between these two popular films’ unique or ambiguous forms and Shanghai film industry’s two epochal transitions book-ended by the emergence and decline of a state-sponsored cinema system.

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Zhen Zhang
  • Zhen Zhang is Associate Professor and Founding Director of the Asian Film & Media Initiative (AFMI) at the Department of Cinema Studies, Tisch School of the Arts, New York University. Her publications include An Amorous History of the Silver Screen: Shanghai Cinema 1896-1937; The Urban Generation: Chinese Cinema and Society at the Turn of the Twenty-first Century; DV-Made China: Digital Subjects and Social Transformations after Independent Film, as well as numerous articles and essays on Chinese-language film history, women directors, and independent cinema and media activism in anthologies, journals, catalogues etc. She is currently working on a new book tentatively called The Orphan Imagination and Transnational Chinese Film History. She founded the Reel China at NYU Documentary Biennial (2001-ongoing) and organized films series for, among other venues, the Film Society at the Lincoln Center for Performing Arts and the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and Taiwan’s Women Make Waves International Film Festival.

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, New York University, USA

“Transborder Fairy Tales: Wartime Animated Film Princess Iron Fan and the Discourse of Children,”

  • Princess Iron Fan is the first animated feature film in China, produced by the Wan Brothers during the Orphan Island period of Shanghai. The film’s disclaimer asserted its origin as fairytales rather than god-spirit novels, with the aim of cultivating children’s spiritual world. Current studies often regard Princess Iron Fan as a representative of national style animation with hidden resistance messages. Focusing on the genre of “fairytales,” this paper will situate this film in the discourse of children and film education in Republican China, global cultural flows of animation, and contemporary mediascape. Based on historical analysis and close reading of the film, this paper argues that the so-called fairytale animated film, rather than a pure cultural construct targeting the child audience, was a promiscuous category to negotiate diverse cultural flows, film genres, audience types and competing political discourses in wartime China, which in turn empowered the film to move beyond diverse geographical bounds and adjust to different ideological frameworks. With Princess Iron Fan as a case study, this paper further sheds light on the ambiguous yet flexible identity of early Chinese animation, which always requires border-crossings in methodological sense.

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Ying Chen
  • Ying Chen is a PhD candidate in the Department of Chinese and History at the City University of Hong Kong. Her research interests include the history of children/childhood, media culture, and political culture in Republican China. She is currently working on her PhD dissertation on film education for children and the visual images of children in Republican China. Her article on film education for children in the 1930s has been published by Contemporary Cinema (Dangdai  dianying).

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, City University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong SAR

"Animation as a History of Childhood in Late 20th Century and Early 21st Century China,"

  • This paper has been co-written and researched during lockdown in a global pandemic. Both authors, in Liverpool and Beijing respectively, have spent many weeks working from home. Despite the impact this period has wreaked on lives and futures, it has also enabled reflection. Here we have worked on a conversation between animators, children, and between ourselves as different generation academics, with the aim of comparing a view of animation conceived in a research period in Beijing in 2002-2004  (Donald, 2005) with the views and insights of child consumers in 2020 and significant older animators who can look back on their work and think about its value.

    The paper therefore focusses first on the reflections of animators for the Shanghai Animation Film Studio, asking them to self -identify the particular influences, techniques, values and achievements that characterised their work. This provides a basis from which we re-visit contemporary values as evinced by younger users of animated content. We commence by reminding ourselves of Donald’s research with young people in Beijing and Shandong in the early 2000s, where she asked them to talk about (and to draw their own) animation as one part of their media consumption. In those years she discovered a fiercely loyal and passionate audience group, loyal that is both to the animations (or cartoons), and protagonists, and to the Chinese origins of those animations (whether or not they were actually created in China or whether they were actually localised Japanese content). We then compare these discussions with interviews and creative interventions carried out this year with young people in Beijing. Have their attitudes to animated content changed? Is the prevalence of Chinese stories for Chinese viewers more or less important to them, and why might that be the case? What platforms do they prefer to accessing animation, and are there larger social reasons for their choice? Finally, we ask the older animators to consider these reflections from children of today and to think about the historical shifts across the past 50 years of animated content in the PRC.

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Stephi Hemelryk Donald
  • Stephi Hemelryk Donald is currently Head of the School of Arts and Social Sciences at Monash University Malaysia, and SE Asian lead of the Justice Arts and Migration Network. Stephi Hemelryk Donald FASSA, FRSA is Research Director for the Centre of Culture and Creativity and Distinguished Professor (Film and Media) in the College of Arts. Immediately prior to her appointment at Lincoln she was Professor and Australian Research Council Future Fellow at UNSW (Sydney). Since 2003, she has been Chief Investigator for 3 ARC Discovery, 3 ARC Linkage and 2 Linkage International awards, and named investigator on 2 ARC National network grants. She has also won a Leverhulme International Fellowship and a Leverhulme Network as international lead. She has served as Chair of the ARC Humanities and Creative Arts College, Deputy Chair of the Hong Kong RAE Humanities panel, and served on the national ERA panel for HCA. Her recent book, There’s No Place Like Home: The Migrant Child in World Cinema, won a Choice Outstanding Academic Title Award in 2018. Previous roles include Foundation Dean of Media and Communication (RMIT) and Director of International Studies (UTS).

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, University of Lincoln, UK

“Animation and Technologies of Mobility: Internationalism and the Making of Mao’s Children,”

  • Internationalism was widely propagandized through children’s cultures during the Maoist era, but the issue is how it was produced, circulated, and changed during that era. Through examining the trope of “international correspondence” between children in 1950s films, mainly focusing on the film The Magic Kite (1958) and the animation The Sun’s Little Guests (1961), this paper shows that the newly established Communist government not only tried to construct children as future national citizens, but also as young pioneers with an internationalist consciousness. Both films focus on the cross-border travelling adventures of children. I would argue that the anthropomorphism and medium plasticity of the devices of animation and fairytale are transferred to the children in order to become a transcendental body with great mobility to overcome the limits of language, national borders as well as ideological differences, which could therefore embody the sublime border-free internationalist spirits. They serve the function of teaching young children about foreign cultures, following the period’s official doctrine of internationalism, and offering routes with a series of adventures that direct children to the dreamland full of fantasies. The following questions will be asked: In what ways do the two films represent Chinese children together with the children of other countries? How are issues of race, class and language dealt with in these two films? Do the fantasies created through such adventures necessarily lead to the socialist utopia or something else? This paper aims to recast the complex relationship between the medium of animation, the cultural and ideological engineering of children in the first decade of the PRC regime, and the radical political developments in the 1960s.

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Lanjun Xu
  • Lanjun Xu is an Associate Professor of Chinese Studies at the National University of Singapore.  She received her BA and MA from Peking University, and PhD from Princeton University. Her research interests include modern Chinese literature and culture, cultural history of children and youth in modern China, cold war politics and Chinese cinemas. She is the author of Chinese Children and War: Education, Nation and Popular Culture (in Chinese) (Peking University Press, 2015) and two edited volumes: Discovery of Children: The Problem of Children in Modern Chinese Literature and Culture (co-edit with Andrew Jones, 2011) Remapping the Nanyang Childhood: A Study of the Chinese Children Publications in Post-War Malaya (co-edit with Lidan Li, 2016). She has recently completed an English book manuscript tentatively titled The Child and Chinese Modernity: Culture, Nation and Technologies of Childhood in Modern China. Currently she is working on two new projects: Transnational Cultural Networks and Asian Internationalism: China and Cultural Mobility in Cold War Southeast Asia (1940s-1960s) and Sinophone Childhoods and the Chinese Cold War in Asia.

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, National University of Singapore, Singapore

“Breaking the Stereotype: Dahufa and Adult-Oriented Chinese Animated Film,”

  • This proposal focuses on the Chinese animated feature The Guardian (Dahufa 2017), which gains significance in Chinese animation market by exploring the possibilities of the adult-oriented production. Historically speaking, Chinese cinema animation has always found opportunities for catering to the children’s pleasure while ignoring the entertainment appeal from adults. A dark fantasy set in a fictional “peanut town,” The Guardian was a major change of subject matter and creative principle compared to its domestically-made predecessors. In short, it tells a story about how the enslaved and oppressed peanut people (the residents of peanut town) rebel against a cruel, greedy ruler and his hired thugs with the help of the protagonist Dahufa.

    By adopting textual analysis and social-political studies approaches, this proposal shall analyse the adult-oriented The Guardian as an important milestone in the history of Chinese animation. The findings of this study can be divided into three parts. First, China still does not have an official film classification system. The Guardian, a dark, bloody and violent adventure story, was the first ever Chinese cinema animation that has self-imposed a “PG-13” rating, which has broken the adult viewers’ stereotypes on domestically-made animation (childish, simplistic, etc) to a certain extent. Second, as an oblique political metaphor, the film explicitly aims at attracting adult audiences. The latter could clearly perceive the ideological dimension of the film like dystopia, fascism and totalitarianism. Third, the ignorant peanut people, who live in a dystopian totalitarian land, can be considered as the unconscious masses that falls into bewilderment with their obscure ontological status.

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Shaopeng Chen
  • Dr Shaopeng Chen is a lecturer of animation at School of Arts, Southeast University (China). He received his PhD degree in Film Studies from University of Southampton (UK). Previously, He taught animation production courses at Nanjing Normal University of Special Education in China. In 2010, his paint-on-glass-animated short film The Pipe was being included in Animated Short Film Creative Practice (2010), which is the selected teaching material in Jiangsu Province (China). This film also won Excellence Award in The Third Animation and Comics Design Match for College Students in Nanjing City. In 2012 and 2017, he travelled to Japan and Croatia respectively to investigate the local animation and comics industry. He has written a number of articles on Chinese animated film, Chinese film industry and Chinese film marketing in both Chinese and English languages. His research interests include style of animation character, animation aesthetics, film industry in China, government policy of Chinese creative industries and new generation cinema animation in China.

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, Southeast University, PRC     

11:05-11:20am: coffee/tea break


Panel 5: Theorizing Chinese Animation and the World, chaired by Alex Zahlten, Harvard University, USA

“Beyond the Great Divide: Asian Animation and the Future of Animation Studies,”

  • Technology plays a major role in the resurgence of animation studies. The exponential advancement in digital imagery has opened up new possibilities in the art of animation. The seamless integration of CGI animation into live action movies has radically changed the idea of realism and our perception of reality. Once considered a “minor genre,” animation is forcefully asserting the primacy of its aesthetic principles, which even leads to a complete rethinking of what cinema is. Yet despite the growing importance of animation studies as a major scholarly field stimulating new theoretical exploration, its critical impact within and beyond academia has not been as great as it could have been. This is partly because of its structural inconsistency or dividedness. Theoretical discussions too often focus on “Western” examples; that is, they are conducted as if other types of animation, most notably Japanese anime, did not exist as an essential part of global popular culture and media landscape. A large body of works on Japanese anime and books and articles on Chinese and Korean animation do already exist in English. However, they constitute a separate universe existing outside the purview of animation theory. It may seem the problematic dichotomy of the West and the rest is anachronistically reproduced. My argument is that despite the uncanny appearance of déjà vu, this is not the case; that is, it is not a simple repetition of what was—or should have been—overcome a long time ago. Even though a great gulf separates the theoretical reflection on “Western” animation from the historical or ethnographic discussion on “other” animation, it is not particularly productive to criticize this division as a manifestation of orientalism or West-centered ideology. In my presentation, I will analyze the historical conditions that have produced the current state of animation studies, and speculate on how the study of Asian animation can intervene in animation studies to produce a new type of critical discourse that is not trapped by the existing division.

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Mitsuhiro Yoshimoto
  • Mitsuhiro Yoshimoto is Professor of Media and Visual Culture and Dean of the Graduate School of International Culture and Communication Studies at Waseda University. He is the author of Kurosawa: Film Studies and Japanese Cinema (Duke University Press, 2000), Empire of Images and the End of Cinema (Tokyo: Ibunsha, 2007), and Spectacle of Conspiracy (Tokyo: Ibunsha, 2012). He co-authored with Masao Miyoshi Site of Resistance (Kyoto: Rakuhoku Shuppan, 2007), and co-edited Television, Japan, and Globalization (Center for Japanese Studies, University of Michigan, 2010) with Eva Tsai and Jung-bong Choi and also Planetary Atmospheres and Urban Society after Fukushima (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017) with Christophe Thouny. His new article “Nuclear Disasters and Invisible Spectacles” is forthcoming in Asian Cinema, vol. 30, no. 2 (2019).

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, Waseda University, Japan

“From an Ontology to a Mish-Mash: The Development of Chinese Animation Theories,”

  • Chinese animation recently has drawn increasing attention due to the significant domestic output, the vast investment in the industry and the high box office figures. In spite of this, the theoretical research on animation in China has not been given much attention and far from robust. The aims of this paper are therefore to trace the emergence and development of animation theories in China and to investigate how they have been influenced and reshaped by the different historical, cultural and political contexts.

    Animation arrived in China in the 1930s, with the global popularity of American commercial animations. Firstly, this paper will look at how the debates about the relationship between animation ontology and methodologies among the local artists formed the early Chinese animation theories. The period from the 1950s to the 1960s is usually considered as the first “golden era” of Chinese animation, during which Shanghai Animation Film Studio produced a considerable number of animated films. The paper will then explore how Chinese animation theories were influenced by the Soviet animated film theories and tried to address three major issues at the time—nationality, imaginativeness and socialist realism. During the 1980s, influenced by the western modernism, there was a transformation of Chinese animation from a classical style to a more modern style, which also had an impact on the field of animation theories in China. The voice of modernizing Chinese animation will be examined in the following section. Since the 2000s, animation filmmaking in China has greatly changed within the context of globalization, and various approaches and methodologies for theorizing animation from the West has significantly enriched Chinese animation theories. The mish-mash of approaches constitutes and reshapes today’s animation research in China, which will be considered in the final part of the paper.

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Yuanyuan Chen
  • Yuanyuan Chen is Lecturer in History & Theory of Animation at Ulster University. Her research focuses on contemporary Chinese animation, with particular interest in the influence of modernism and postmodernism on Chinese animation after the 1980s. Her broader research interests include animation theory, animation narratives, experimental animation, modernism and postmodernism in cinema, non-fiction animation, verisimilitude and authenticity in animation. Her work has been published in journals, such as Modernism/modernity and Alphaville: Journal of Film and Screen Media.

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, Ulster University, Ireland

“Chinese Animation between Standardization and Disneyfication,”

  • In the history of moving images there are three great periods: first, the era of the shadow play; second, the era of cinema mechanics and television electronics; third, the era of digital images and virtualization.

    The art of the shadow play originates from Asia. It came to Europe by way of the Silk Road and, finally, in Germany, transformed into cinematic images thanks to the aptitude of Lotte Reiniger, who, between 1923 and 1926, created the feature-length Adventures of Prince Achmed by animating silhouettes.

    The Chinese have a proper term for the movies that refers to both, to their own century-old culture as well as to the future symbolized by electricity. They call them dianying, electric shadows. This way the art of animated images became popular with Chinese audiences.

    Today China is the largest provider of artificially created moving images but these images are no more film, no more television. You cannot touch the “material” they are made of because there is none. Digitals images exist just as a collection of numbers. They are spaceless. They are timeless. They are phantoms like shadows themselves.

    Today they are part of the global system and infiltrate all spheres of life. In Cyber Age everything and everybody is subject to a global matrix. In the beginning it was just a typewriter in front of a TV set.  Today it is a life design which fulfills the visions of religion. Anything can be copied, and this is a big challenge to a nation like China because China’s cultural tradition is based on the art of copying. 

    The research question is: Will China imitate the West and standardize global monitoring, or will China face the digital challenges creatively with a nod to Chinese culture? Will the future be YouTube and Google, Youku and Baidu, Silicon Valley and Alibaba Group, or based on century-old culture?

    Will global dominance of digitization diminish cultural identity, or will it be the springboard of intercultural exchange?

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Dr. Rolf Giesen
  • Dr. Rolf Giesen was born in 1953 and studied at Free University in Berlin. He is a historian, author and screenwriter. At Deutsche Kinemathek Berlin he founded a collection of visual effects memorabilia and for 20 years curated the stop-motion artifacts of Ray Harryhausen. For another ten years he worked as a visiting professor, animation expert and museum curator in Beijing and Changchun. His books include Animation Under the Swastika: A History of Trickfilm in Nazi Germany, 1933-1945; Chinese Animation: A History and Filmography, 1922-2012; Acting & Character Animation and The Nosferatu Story.

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, Independent Scholar, Germany

12:35-2:00pm: lunch at Conference Lodge


Panel 6: Digitality, CGI, and VR Animation in China, chaired by Yomi Braester, University of Washington, Seattle, USA     

“Chimeric Animation,”

  • This article ponders the import of what I call the chimera in contemporary mainland Chinese CGI animations as illustrated by the first three Light Chaser productions, The Little Door God (2016), Tea Pets (2017) and Cats and Peachtopia (2018)—all scripted and directed by the company founder and former Tudou CEO, Gary Wang. By chimera, I mean the conjugation of disparate elements in both technical rendition and the conception of the narrative. Such a chimeric effect stems from the attempt to accomplish the Janus-faced legibility of the non-human characters (animals, gods and clay figures) as visually non-human and yet aurally and conceptually intelligible to the human audience. This chimeric effect is further amplified by Wang’s ambition to emulate Pixar technology while Sinifying the content by drawing upon Chinese folk legends, local tea culture and location-specific cityscape. My goal is to probe the long-standing issue of the inherently composite Chineseness of China-made animation as it ventures into new territories in the era of Pixar-branded CGI.

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Yiman Wang
  • Yiman Wang is Professor of Film & Digital Media at University of California, Santa Cruz.  She is the author of Remaking Chinese Cinema: Through the Prism of Shanghai, Hong Kong and Hollywood (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2013) and editor of the Asian Media special issue of Feminist Media Histories (2019). She is currently completing a book on Anna May Wong, the best known early 20th-c. Chinese-American screen-stage performer.

    She has published numerous articles on border-crossing stardom, transnational Chinese cinema, early Chinese cinema, Chinese independent documentaries, socialist comedy and stop-motion animation in refereed journals and edited volumes. She is a recent recipient of two NEH grants for the Anna May Wong project, and was able to accept one grant.

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, University of California, Santa Cruz, USA

"Digital Animation and CGI in Twenty-first Century Chinese Prescriptive Realism,"

  • Subsuming Chinese socialist realism of the Mao era under the broader category of “prescriptive realism” allows us to analyze certain continuities between that narrative mode and different strands of contemporary Chinese cinema—including martial arts films, patriotic action films, and films depicting both the promises and the evils of capitalism in China. Digital animation and CGI compositing have offered new resources for achieving unprecedentedly vivid idealized visions of a prescribed, abstracted world that attempts to articulate the problems and possibilities of China today. Exploring the overlap between what Chen Xihe calls “virtual realism” and what I propose to call “prescriptive realism” provides insight into how the new tools of computer animation are employed for effects that are ideological as well as aesthetic, creating a virtual arena where twenty-first century China can negotiate its own values and priorities while also increasingly asserting itself within the global cinematic discourse and market.

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Jason McGrath
  • Jason McGrath is Associate Professor of modern Chinese literature and film in the Department of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities, where he serves on the graduate faculties of Moving Image Studies, Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature, and Asian Literatures, Cultures, and Media. He is the author of Postsocialist Modernity: Chinese Cinema, Literature, and Criticism in the Market Age, and his current projects include a co-edited anthology of Chinese film theory and a book manuscript entitled “Inscribing the Real: Realism and Convention in Chinese Cinema from the Silent Era to the Digital Age.”

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, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, USA

“CGI Ink-Painting Animation in China,”

  • Chinese animators from the Shanghai Animation Film Studio created ink-painting animation in the early 1960s in response to the rise of cultural nationalism at that time, but the production was costly, labor-intensive, and time-consuming, posing difficulties for animators to launch large-scale massive production. With the advent of the digital age in the 21st Century, Chinese animators felt obliged to take advantage of the new technologies to meet the demands of the market. They began with experimental shorts by using CGI ink-painting technologies, negotiating the collision between traditional aesthetics and digital production. At the same time, they were testing the water of making CGI ink-painting animated feature films by optimizing digital technologies. What we need to do now is to overcome the drawbacks of labor-intensive production technology, give full play to the characteristics of contemporary ink-painting technology, develop a new CGI ink-painting animation technology to meet the audience’s aesthetic needs, and further promote the sustainable development of CGI ink-painting animation in China.

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Hailu Chen
  • Hailu Chen is Associate Professor of Animation in the School of Design at the East China Normal University, Shanghai. She had worked as a key animator and executive director at the Shanghai Animation Film Studio. Her representative work includes Lotus Lantern (1999), Warrior (2006), and The Magic Aster (2008), which won numerous awards such as Golden Rooster Award, Hundred Flowers Awards, and Huabiao Awards. She also made independent animated films, which won numerous awards at international film festivals.  

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, East China Normal University, PRC

“Present Absence: Rethinking VR Animation as Digital Myths in China,”

  • Although Virtual Reality (VR) has been discussed and experimented in academic and scientific fields as early as 30 years ago, it was not until 2016 that VR became a well-known term to the public. Due to extensive VR investment and the entrepreneurial craze of that year, 2016 was called the First Year of VR in China. This paper regards VR as a post-image and a new kind of “myth” in post-digital time and hopes to compare VR as an emerging media myth with ancient mythology. In an attempt to re-examine the phenomenon of VR’s cultural popularity and explosive growth, as well as to classify it as a “present absence,” which means to seek within the absence beneath the surface of rapidly growing VR in China, including aspects from VR technology research and development, production, application, audience and examples of VR content. The cornerstone of VR’s illusion in China, like many Chinese-style myths, comes first from its vast numbers of consumers and users. However, among the huge quantities of VR hard devices, there are few real creative VR creations to match. Finally, this paper will offer a potential method to face the VR myth through two examples of award-winning Chinese VR animation works Shennong: Taste of Illusion(2018) and The Dream Collector(2017) from Pinta Studios. VR artists in China as pioneers begin to rethink how Chinese legends and traditional memories could be reconstructed through VR, showing great significance for the use of digital mythology methodology in Chinese daily life.

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Maggie Chunning Guo
  • Maggie Chunning Guo is Associate Professor of New Media Art and Animation at Renmin University of China. Her animated artwork has been exhibited and collected internationally by galleries and festivals including the White Rabbit Art Gallery in Australia and the L’abbaye de Fontevraud in France. She was the recipient of NETPAC Award in 2015 Busan International Short Film Festival of South Korea. Her academic writings have been published in local and international journals, including Contemporary Cinema, Contemporary Animation, Aesthetics, Art Education, Studies in National Art, Croatian Cinema Chronicle Film Journal, Cartoon and Animation Studies, Epistémè, and the Global Animation Theory published by Bloomsbury Academic.

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