children’s feature film


children’s feature film
Children’s feature film in China is distinguished by the seriousness with which pressing, political and social issues are addressed, and by the dedication of key film-workers to the survival and expansion of this sector of the industry. It can be divided in six periods for convenience. Roughly these are: the ‘waifs’ of the 1920s; the ‘seventeen years’ 1949–1966, when film explored the meaning of new China; the empty years of the Cultural Revolution—when the only movie made in the genre was Shining Red Star (Shanshan hongxin); the new spring 1976–8, when older artists returned to the industry; and the 1979 apogee of post-Cultural Revolution creativity led by Xie Jin and Wang Junzheng (The Cradle, A Yaolan and Miaomiao), and the founding of the Children’s Film Studio in 1981.
Film for children is classically traced back to Cai Chusheng’s Lost Lambs (Mitu de gaoyang, 1935). This is a wrenching tale of urban poverty, and deals with the strength of children and their continual betrayal by adults. It is hardly a ‘children’s film’ in the light entertainment genre in that it deals directly with suffering. Arguably, however, it is that quality which lends it the high status that it enjoys in film history (an argument supported by key children’s film scholar Li Suyuan and tying in with a recent re-evaluation of the importance of silent film to the Chinese tradition). The next milestone is the film version of Sanmao’s Travels (Sanmao liulangji, dir. Zhao Ming, 1949). Based on a newspaper cartoon strip, this film also deals with corruption and child poverty in Shanghai, but with a much more humorous touch. Sanmao (Three Hairs), an urchin with three hairs on his head and a bulbous nose, is not far off from a puppet animation, and bridges the styles of storytelling later developed in animation and latterly in children’s television. Lesser versions of the Sanmao stories were made on film and for television, but the verve of the original has not been surpassed. In the post Liberation period, children’s feature films were also ‘family films’, with an emphasis on children as rural heroes (Good Children/Hao haizi, 1959; Red Children/ Hong haizi, 1958) and occasionally heroines (Liu Hulan, 1950), children as (somewhat psychopathic) young soldiers, and children as Party messengers (Chicken Feather Letter/Jimaoxin, 1954; Little Soldier Zhang Ga/Xiaobing Zhang Ga, 1963). Films also tackled the political education of young people in the school system, making links between soldierly duty and the responsibility of young pioneers to live and study within the moral remit of the young People’s Republic.
A typical story might bring together a soldier and young school students to provide mutual inspiration one for the other (Flowers of the Motherland/Zuguo de hua’rduo, 1955). More recently the school system has been implicitly criticized. Childhood in Ruijin (Tongnian zai Ruijin, 1989) tells of a group of children whose hopes of a full education are systematically crushed by the requirements of work at home, rising costs and rural poverty. Although it was set as a period piece, Chinese educational commentators and film workers recognized that the film was dealing with current issues. In this way children’s feature films continue to be indicative of the political world. There is a strong drive towards entertainment media for children, but the relationship between national concerns and the child audience is still apparent in texts of the late twentieth century.
See also: Peng Xiaolian
Donald.S.H. (2002). ‘Children’s Day: The Fashionable Performance of Modern Citizenship in China’. In Wendy Parkins (ed.): Fashioning the Body Politic. Oxford: Berg, 205–16.
Farquhar, Mary (1999). Children’s Literature in China. Armonk, NY: M.E.Sharpe.
Xiao, Yu (2002). ‘Hai ertong bu ertong le?’ [To be a child, or not?]. Sanlian shenghuo zhoukan 6–7.
Zheng, Zhenqin (1999). ‘Buduan chengzhang de xinshiqi ertong dianying chuangzuo’ [The Growth of Contemporary Children’s Film]. Dangdai dianying 5.
STEPHANIE HEMELRYK DONALD

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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