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Hardly Child’s Play
Text by Li Xiaoyang

 

A still from The Magical Pen. A puppet movie produced in 1955 by Shanghai Animation Film Studio, it recounts the stories of Ma Liang, a shepherd boy, who punishes greedy county officials with his magical brush. It has won a number of international prizes, including the First Prize for movies for children aged 8-12 at the 8th Venice International Children’s Film Festival.  Xinhua A still from Zhang Ga the Soldier Boy (1963). The movie recounts the story of a little boy who becomes a real soldier of the Eighth Route Army.  Xinhua A still from An Orphan Rescues His Grandpa (1923), the first full-length feature film in China.  IC

95 Years Old

Chinese movies for children appeared alongside the emergence of modern children’s literature in the country. During the New Culture Movement between 1915 and 1923, Chinese children gradually began receiving greater public attention thanks to ideological enlightenment and the introduction of Western educational methods. During this time, subject matter intended for children attracted movie producers in China.

The first Chinese children’s movie in history, Naughty Child, was a short one released in 1922 and starring children. It was followed by the first full-length feature film, An Orphan Rescues His Grandpa, in 1923. Soon thereafter, in the 1930s, many Chinese kids’ movies featuring cultural appeal highlighted by concern for social reality and moral education were released, including My Dear Brother and Wanderings of Sanmao.

After the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, many “little heroes” of the revolutionary era were sculpted, such as brave and resourceful Hai Wa from The Letter with Feathers, kind and smart Zhang Ga in Zhang Ga the Soldier Boy, and clear-thinker Pan Dongzi in Sparkling Red Star. Written as miniature versions of grown-up heroes, the maturation of such characters mirrored Chinese revolutionary history and inspired millions to attempt heroic deeds.

China’s implementation of reform and opening-up policies in the late 1970s brought dramatic changes to movie production thanks to a more favorable cultural environment and rapid economic progress. In the years that followed, a more diverse stream of films covering a wide variety of topics and forms emerged, including hyper-realistic plots, science fiction films, war epics, ethnic minority movies, and animation. In 1999, The Straw Hut, a film adapted from a novel of the same name by Professor Cao Wenxuan of Peking University that would eventually go on to win the Hans Christian Andersen Award in 2016, hit big screens. The movie followed the childhood of the innocent Sang Sang with a plain tone and simple film language and heralded a pleasant shift to nostalgic flavor and poetic flair, as well as transforming the traditional heroic tendencies of protagonists.

 Today, Chinese children’s movies have gone global and won acclaim from spectators around the world, including many that have been honored at international film festivals such as Oh! Sweet Snow, Drummers from the Flaming Mountain, and An Answer from Heaven, which consecutively took prizes at the Berlin International Film Festival for three years in a row.

 

 

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