National Narrative of Chinese Animation:

Monkey King vs. Little Door Gods



Ting Wu*, Mijin Kim**


Department of Visual Contents, Graduate School of Dongseo University, Zhongnan University of Economics and Law*,Wuhan, China

Division of Digital Contents, Dongseo University**, Busan, South Korea,






Since the early twentieth century, Chinese animation has achieved great success by emphasizing national narration. However, with the accelerated process of reformation and globalization, Chinese animation began to imitate American and Japanese animation. With the tremendous changes in production form and content, the national narrative crisis of Chinese animation is increasingly emerging. This paper mainly compares and analyzes the national narrative forms of <Monkey King, 2015>and < Little Door Gods, 2016> from the aspects of material, theme, story line, character. It can suggest implications for improving the expression of national narrative of Chinese animation in the future.


Keywords-Chinese animation; National narrative; Globalization; Culture industry


1. National Narrative in Chinese Animation


National narratives originated from the early twentieth Century in Chinese literature [1]. The national narrative in film and television works can be viewed as the description of material, spiritual culture, language and social organization generated from a country's historical practice [2]. The older generation of animators led by Wan Laming and Te Wei began to implement the creative policy of "exploring the road of national style", which opened the exploration of national narrative of Chinese animation. After that, “Chinese School” animation emphasized national narrative at the same time, but also has a higher production capacity, for the prosperity of Chinese animation has made contributions. The representative works of this period are <Proud General, 1956>, <Baby Tadpoles Look for Their Mother, 1961>, <Havoc in heaven, 1961-1964>, <Reed pipe, 1963>, and <Nezha Conquers The Dragon King, 1979>.

"Chinese School" animation fully utilizes the Chinese traditional culture and art (e.g. Chinese traditional opera, Chinese painting, Chinese traditional music) or folk art (e.g. shadow play, puppet show) to express the national narrative. The "Chinese School" animation is mainly created based on traditional literature, inheriting the national spirit (morality, ethics) of traditional culture and taking traditional culture as its material. But with the development of the Great Cultural Revolution , reform and opening, and the deepening of globalization, Chinese audiences have begun to contact the Richness and diversity animation films in the United States and Japan. In order to adapt to the development of market economy, many creators adopt OEM mode to process overseas animation, which weakens the inherent identity of Chinese animation.

With the advent of TV animation <Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf, 2005>, Chinese animation is gradually to attract the attention of the audience. But the competitiveness of the theater version animation is still lower than that of overseas animations. However, the release of <Monkey King hero is back, 2015> shows the success of Chinese animation, which has been stagnant.


2. Monkey King vs. Little Door Gods


We compare and analyze centred on the national narrative (material, theme, story line, character) of two works <Monkey King Hero is Back, 2015> and <Little Door Gods, 2016> which are noteworthy in recent Chinese animation.

The <Monkey King> is directed by a new director Tian Xiaopeng [3]. It tells the story of Monkey King under the Wuxing Mountains, who was released by Jiang Liuer and rescued the people and himself with Jiang Liuer. The Director Tian Xiaopeng believed that the values in <The Pilgrimage to the West> conflict with modern audiences and are adapted with fantasy elements. The <Little Door Gods> is directed by another new director Wang Wei [4]. This work tells the story of the door god who faced the crisis of being laid off in the world of immortals. In order to prove his value, the door god released the monster ‘year’ and eventually destroy the ‘year’ with the people and find their own value. Both works are based on traditional Chinese culture and feature ethnic narratives, but the difference in box office receipts is significant (Monkey King: $ 140 million dollars, Little Door Gods: $11 million 500 thousand dollars.)


2.1. Material

The <Monkey King> is adapted from the classical masterpiece <The Pilgrimage to the West>. and <The Pilgrimage to the West> is adapted <Havoc in heaven, 1961-1964>, <lden Monkey Subdued the Evil, 1985>, <Princess Iron Fan, 1941>. Unlike other works, Monkey King does not directly represent the original story, but creatively adapts it in the aesthetic way of modern people and makes large-scale improvements. The <Little Door Gods> is a work based on door god, which is handed down from Chinese folklore. Creation based on the folklore of the door god is an original factor. These two works are based on traditional Chinese material and focus on ‘national narratives’. This point has common ground in the viewpoint of source material. But in Little Door Gods, traditional and modern cultures are described as contradictory structures of conflict, which are somewhat negative in attracting audiences.


2.2. Theme

In <Monkey King>, Monkey King was relieved by Jiang Liuer for the seal of 500 years. Since then, Monkey King has taken an adventure with Jiang Liuer to show the heroic aspect of saving the people. The theme of <Monkey King> fully reflects the Chinese national spirit and shows the hero of Chinese style. In China, Monkey King's heroic image has been expressed in many artistic forms, such as drama, opera, animation, TV drama, film and so on. It is naturally accepted in the long-term understanding of the Chinese nation. Therefore, the national narrative of hero theme in <monkey King> can be said to be enjoying wide popularity.

The <Little Door Gods> shows that unemployment caused by China's economic restruction has been introduced into the fairy world and degraded the immortals to ordinary people. Door God believes that the peace and happiness of mankind lead to a crisis of unemployment. Therefore, Door God wants to release the seal of the monster 'year' and make the world face danger and prove his value. The theme of <Little Door Gods> emphasizes the conflict between tradition and modernity, and expresses the modern meaning of folklore. However, because it contains the settings of inconsistent world outlook and values, the theme of Little Door Gods cannot be well delivered to the audience.


2.3. Story Line

The Story Line of <Monkey King> is mainly about Monkey King, who was detained at the foot of Mount Wuxing for 500 years and was released by Jiang Liuer. Then, they risked against the goblin and rescued the people. It emphasizes Monkey King and Jiang Liuer's brave and fearless spirit of sacrificing themselves for the comfort of the common people. The work expresses the virtues of Chinese traditional culture through the image of Monkey King as a national hero in the psychology of Chinese audiences. Monkey King and Jiang Liuer, regardless of their own safety, first rescued the people, which is a good manifestation of the spirit of collectivism in Chinese society. In addition, by describing the friendship between Jiang Liuer and his master, the virtue of respecting the old and loving the young is fully expressed.

The Story Line of Little Door Gods shows that door god relieves the monster's ‘year’ seal for his own personal desire and turns himself into a monster. The main character, door god, only pursues personal interests and selfishness, expresses his individualism in spite of the safety of others. Especially the plot of turning the great immortal image in Chinese traditional culture into ordinary people makes it difficult for the audience to accept. Moreover, the reasons for the occurrence of a series of incidents are not fully explained, the relevance before and after the incidents is insufficient, and the persuasion of national narrative is lacking.


2.4. Character

The Character designed in <Monkey King> embodies the dual characteristics of inheritance and innovation. Freed from the existing Monkey King Character design, the design is more Materialization and adult, in line with the aesthetic requirements of modern audiences, showing the image of middle-aged people. The character of the main actor shows the Chinese people's modesty and prudence, unity and friendship of the fine characteristics and the spirit of collectivism. The action and gesture of the characters get rid of the inherent theatrical formulaic performance and show the characteristics of the modern culture [5].

On the other hand, the character design in Little Door Gods shows the national elements and conforms to the aesthetic standards of modern people. However, the character personality and acting express exaggerated movements and facial expressions that are out of traditional Chinese rituals and habits. From the design style of the characters in the two works, it is deeply influenced by the American animated characters, showing the characteristics of Materialization and adult. Money king is described as a middle-aged uncle. Door God is described as a middle-aged crisis uncle, which illustrates this change.


3. Conclusion


  Recently, the reform of Chinese animation narrative structure based on national narrative is an important topic. This paper focuses on <Monkey King> and <Little Door Gods>, which are based on Chinese traditional culturemakes a comparative analysis in terms of material, theme, story line and character. It is concluded that the two works fully utilize the national factors, especially in the selection of materials, character and scenes, space design and other aspects, which actively reflect the national narrative style. But there are still obvious differences between the two works in the way of expressing national narrative content. This implies that it is necessary for Chinese animation to innovate its narrative structure and grammar, which are different from national spirit and emotion.





[1]    G. Q. wei, “National narrative in late Qing novels,” Jiangxi Social Sciences, vol. 1, pp. 96-103, 2017.

[2]    W. Jue, “A Preliminary Study of Ethnic Narration in Ethnic Minority Films”, Journal of Beijing Film Academy, vol. 5, pp. 27-33, 2008.

[3]    Chinese box office

[4]    Chinese box office

[5]    Y. X. yun, “A Phenomenological Movie: A New Chapter Created by Pure China: A Summary of the Symposium on the Domestic Animated Movie " Monkey King: Hero Is Back ", Contemporary Cinema, vol. 9, pp. 198-200, 2015.