The New York Times has now weighed in on the angst in China over Kung Fu Panda:
... A few weeks ago, when the movie opened in China, there was already a call for a boycott — on the grounds that foreigners had lifted one of China’s most precious symbols, the panda, and were using it for their own profit.
The boycott never got off the ground, and “Kung Fu Panda” was an immediate box office hit. In the last few weeks the movie has provoked a deeper discussion, even a degree of soul-searching and critical self-examination of the sort that China, which has an amazing mix of ambition, self-confidence and insecurity, goes through from time to time ...
In a way, “Kung Fu Panda” is only the latest illustration of a centuries-old tradition whereby Western artists have used China and other Asian countries to produce enduring works of art. You only have to think about Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Mikado” or Puccini’s “Turandot” or, for that matter, the animated feature “Mulan” of a few years ago, to recall the strength and age of this tradition.
Indeed, all of these works illustrate a continuing historical imbalance in cultural cross-fertilization. The West’s use of China as an artistic setting is unmatched by any Chinese use of Europe or America as backdrops for its own cultural productions.
That imbalance is connected to another element in the picture: the animation itself. From Walt Disney on, Americans have long been developing animation as a cinematic form, while China, in this particular area of the arts, has not developed much ...
Let's give the Middle Kingdom a break. China is only thirty years out from the dead hand of Maoism and the Cultural Revolution. Kind of hard for individual artists to flourish in that atmosphere. They're all beaten into conformity with the Party Line (whatever it happens to be that month) or shipped off to a re-education camp until they've seen the light.
China, of course, has ceased being a Communist state. Today it's closer to Franco's Spain than Stalin's Russia. Lots of capitalism, but also plenty of dictatorship of the fascist type, which still makes sensitive, artistic souls unhappy:
“China has first-class directors, first-class playwrights, first-class actors, but it’s a shame that we have censorship by government officials,” one anonymous blogger wrote. “If they don’t like your work, then there’s no way.”
Mr. Lu, the commentator in China Daily, had a telling story in this regard, about a project he undertook to produce an animation for the Olympic Games. “I kept on receiving directions and orders from related parties on what the movie should be like,” he recalled. “We were given very specific rules on how to promote it.
“Under such pressure, my co-workers and I really felt stifled,” he continued. In the end, “the planned animation was never produced.”