The Wall Street Journal ‘s China Real Time Report blogs about the growing international appeal of China’s homegrown cartoon phenomenon "Pleasant Goat" (a.k.a "Xi Yang Yang" 喜洋洋) whose ubiquitous animal characters have now supplanted the likes of Mickey Mouse and Garfield as the country’s number one childhood obsession.
According to the post, "Pleasant Goat" is being distributed by Disney "in over 52 markets around the Asia Pacific region" in such markets as "Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, the Philippines and India with voice-overs in many different languages and dialects," and its producer boasts that many of its overseas fans "may not even know the show originated in China."
While the show’s overseas success of can be construed as a step up for China’s ongoing struggles with projecting "soft power," I daresay that one well-received children’s cartoon makes little difference in the bigger picture when it comes to China’s PR issues abroad. After all, even Hollywood’s juggernaut of American pop culture propaganda hasn’t dissuaded anti-American sentiment in some corners of the world.
Geopolitics aside, "Pleasant Goat" isn’t all that "soft" either — I’m going to state for the record that as a parent I loathe this show. The episodes I’ve watched with my daughter appear to be of little educational value and are riddled with violence. Granted, it’s of the cartoon variety – in the vein of old school "Tom and Jerry" (from which this show seems to have drawn inspiration) – but with virtually an entire age bracket of kids in China aping the show’s regular displays of shoving, punching, kicking, slapping, clubbing and other forms of physical assault on themselves and one another, it raises some serious questions about what (aside from money) the producers are thinking.
Of course this is not a culturally specific phenomenon – I was exposed to a steady stream of cartoon violence when I was growing up in the US in the 1970s and 80s (even today, I wonder how my own psyche and perceptions of violence in society were shaped, or warped, by the types of programming I watched as a child) – but the sheer number of kids, particularly little boys, I see running around hitting, shoving and bopping each other on the head as they imitate "Xi Yang Yang" (the main goat character) and "Hui Tai Lang" (the Wolf character) is still troubling. Other factors are at play, of course, and most of these kids will turn out just fine, but these counterbalancing factors don’t make the show any less repugnant to me – I can’t help but wonder what long-term effects shows like these have on kids in general.
Some parents, especially those who say and do nothing when their kid walks up and hits another kid for no real reason, are well-deserving of criticism; but it’s much more complicated: in a society where kids are exposed to a steady barrage of Pleasant Goat imagery on posters, cups, t-shirts, bags and even primary school walls, it’s hard to imagine how all the merchandising and desensitized violence would not leave an indelible impression on small children.
There are, of course, problems and issues with raising a kid in China that far outweigh one poorly conceived (and received) cartoon, but China’s warp-speed pace of change means that the effects exerted by all these societal pressures on kids are all-the-more amplified.
I’m fully aware that kids are by nature, kids – boisterous, mischievous and at times inherently violent. Nor do I necessarily subscribe to the "absolutely no TV" rule in some households (we had these rules in our family for a few years and it only made TV seem so much more like tempting forbidden fruit to be indulged at any opportune moment). But surely China’s biggest central programmer can produce something better than this swill for the hundreds of millions of kids out there? And as for Pleasant Goat’s great potential for "projecting power" – I wouldn’t disagree, but in this case I’m not quite sure "soft" is the correct term.
A not-altogether inaccurate parody of "Bad Bad Wolf" in the acrylic painting "Hui Tang Lang Day" by "btchvsjoel," for sale on etsy.com