In the end, I was barely at Guangzhou at all as the whole trip was based out of Dongguan, which is about an hour and a half away from Guangzhou’s Baiyun airport. It was also the site for the China International Animation Copyright Fair, which I attended (more on that later). Truth is, very little of the itinerary was made known to me. OTTO Animation, the organiser of the trip and our MOU partner, had full control over my time there, and rightly so since the whole trip was at their expense.
Turned out OTTO were impeccable hosts – and I use that term with some understatement. It’s literally VIP treatment all the way. From the two Bentleys at the airport pickup (one for me; one for my cabin-size luggage) to the personal mobile phone to the 5-star hotel and all the attention to details in between. Right up to my departure, the OTTO directors and staff were nothing but generous and thoughtful. Plus they know how to party. My only worry is how to match their hospitality when they visit Singapore.
The fair itself was larger than I had expected. It was my first taste of a Chinese animation fair, and…let’s just say it definitely has its unique flavour. In some ways it’s like the rest of the world doesn’t exist. China is, in itself, THE market. What’s clear though is that this is, or at least has the potential to be, an immense industry – one that even the Chinese Prime Minister is rallying for (and when that happens, you know its for real).
Perhaps more than any other country, Chinese entertainment content, be it for television, film or print, has at its core a cultural capital that is held sacred and revered; an important part of the nation’s historical, social and anthropological fabric that needs to be advocated and crucially, protected. Animation, with young audiences the primary audience, is not surprisingly seen as a priority industry that is extremely well guarded from foreign influence.
Whether the same animation content can travel outside of China is a different matter. Chinese companies, producers and the like almost always have overseas markets in their ‘official’ sights, but it is clear the Chinese market is their foremost target. Also, many don’t seem to appreciate or adequately understand the intricate differences in audience and cultural tastes globally.
My feeling is that as long as the Chinese authorities continue to exert pressure on producers to align with so-called ‘national interests’ (every animation concept, treatment etc. has to be approved to secure broadcast permission), it’s hard to see Chinese animation seriously breaking out internationally. It’s not really a disastrous situation though. Chinese companies all want to be seen as ‘global’, but their own market is such a behemoth that above all else, it’s about entrenching a dominant position first, including with the authorities.
That said, it’s great that companies like OTTO are at least looking to try, or least get some serious exploration going. The team is young, forward-looking and a lively bunch with good leaders, ambition and vision. I’m looking very much towards the next couple of months of talks. Hopefully, together we’d develop a framework, if not identify some projects to start with. The idea is to make another trip after the Chinese New Year to make concrete some plans.
More pics and good stuff in next post!