Chinese animation 100
Published: Jun 20, 2022 05:43 PM
'Princess Iron Fan': China's full-length animated movie responds to Disney

Editor's Note:

The year 2022 marks the 100-year anniversary of Chinese animation. A century of development saw the Chinese animation industry be built from scratch by pioneers such as the Wan Brothers in the early 20th century and then evolving to today's technologically refined works that have captured the world's attention.

Over the following weeks, the Global Times will introduce some of China's most classic works and characters of animation as we follow the developmental time line of the Chinese animation industry.

Released in 1941, Princess Iron Fan was not only the first full-length animated film in China but also the first in Asia as well. The film was produced by the Wan Brothers: Wan Laiming, Wan Guchan, Wan Chaochen and Wan Dihuan. These four have been widely recognized as the forerunners who helped establish the Chinese animation industry from nothing. 

Princess Iron Fan has a runtime of 73 minutes, exceptionally long for an animation production in Asia at the time.  

Princess Iron Fan is a fictional character who appears in the Chinese classic novel Journey to the West. Inspired by the original story, the animated film tells a story of the monk Xuanzang and his disciples as they undertake a pilgrimage to the West. Along the way they encounter a princess whose peculiar iron fan can help them put out the Mountain of Fire so they can continue their journey.  

The story is very imaginative. For example, Wukong, or the Monkey King, turns into a bug and crawls into the princess's belly to force her to hand over the fan. 

Produced at a time when Disney animation was thriving due to films such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the film doesn't just depict Chinese mythology, but also has a distinct Chinese aesthetic style as the Wan Brothers wanted to produce a high quality animated film that could demonstrate China's culture and creativity. 

The production was inspired by the aesthetics of Chinese opera and Chinese landscape paintings. 

The animation was released during the War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression (1931-45), so the animators ensured that the Monkey King would be depicted as brave and willing to fight in order to encourage the Chinese people to fight against Japanese aggression.