At the beginning of April China’s video portals were hit by regulations announced in February on violent and pornographic content of a kind likely to cause juvenile deliquency. According to Reuters, the Chinese Ministry of Culture claims that the offending material is “primarily Japanese animation” – including Blood-C, Terror in Resonance and Highschool of the Dead , described as including “scenes of violence, pornography, terrorism and crimes against public morality.”In future, sites will have to obtain Government licences to stream foreign shows and implement a quota of Chinese material.
It’s nothing new. China has actually been “cracking down” on foreign media content for years, more or less sporadically depending on the political situation in Asia and the economics of their own local industries. In 2006 the number of hours allowed for the screening of foreign cartoons on Chinese TV was restricted, and this restriction was extended further in 2008. Spongebob Squarepants, Mickey Mouse and Pokemon were banned from China’s screens between 5 pm and 9 pm, peak viewing hours for kids. Last year, despite millions of Chinese being fans of robotic blue cat Doraemon, the Government decided that a touring Doraemon exhibition represented a form of Japanese “cultural intervention” and an “attempt to weaken the Chinese people’s firm stance on historical issues”.
We in Britain have been here before. In the 1990s, in the early days of the commercial anime market, pundits, politicians and newspaper columnists – most of whom had never actually seen any anime – were rushing to label Japanese imports as “sick snuff cartoons” amid calls for them to be banned before they could completely corrupt British youth.
And France got there even before we did. In 1989 Ségolène Royal, now a Minister, former Presidential candidate and former partner of French President François Hollande, wrote a book called Le Ras-le-bol des bébés zappeurs (The Channel-surfing Kids Are Fed Up) in which she condemned anime as inferior-quality material not suitable for children. It followed a groundbreaking work by psychologist and researcher Liliane Lurçat, A cinq ans, seul avec Goldorak – Le jeune enfant et la télévision (At Five Years Old, Alone With Goldorak – The Young Child and Television.) Published in 1981, three years after Go Nagai’s UFO Robot Grendizer, renamed Goldorak, had burst onto French TV screens during the summer vacation and become a playground sensation, it examined the reaction of small children to a show that was a world away from the cartoons on French TV at the time – Care Bears being a prime example – and the level of parental engagement and responsibility for childrens’ viewing.
But while Lurçat was concerned with young children and the pyschological harm of excessive violence, the British, and now the Chinese, authorities seem more engaged by the thought of disaffected teens being corrupted by foreign influence. Perhaps China will draw some comfort from the fact that, in general, football fans and supporters of Jeremy Clarkson pose considerably more risk of disruption or rioting on the streets than anime aficionados. After almost a quarter of a century, the predicted wave of anime-fuelled anarchy in the UK is still a long, long way offshore.