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Miffy, mickey, monkey king ——the cartoon characters cross media and culture


Miffy, Mickey, and Monkey King (represented by MMM for brevity) are all well-known cartoon images not only in their original countries but also the whole world. The three representative national characters are chosen to analysed because they have essential cultural values.

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All of them are the most commercial-valued IP (Intellectual Property) of its country, and became the icons of national culture and spirit. Although similarities can be found, differences exist in terms of their creation process, evaluation, expressions on different media, and the encounters with other cultures. When they come up with other countries’ culture, and recreated in different cultural contexts, some phenomena rise the new insight.

By comparing the three representative cartoon characters cases, we aim to answer the following research questions (RQ):

RQ1. How these cartoon characters became cultural symbol/icons?

RQ2. What kind of cultural connotations are given to them in different culture contexts?

RQ3. How these cultural connotations are expressed through comics, animation, film, daily products?

Parts of the Research:

P1. Creators and the birth of Cartoon Characters

The same as other art images, cartoon characters can not be separated from the era and cultural background of the author. This part studies the relationship between the cartoon images and the creators from a historical perspective, then discover what kind of features has been given to the cartoon images. These features might lead to the cartoon images become a cultural icons eventually.

P2. MMM Cross Media

The development of the cartoon characters are discussed in this part.

Originally, MMM are from different media (Picture books, Animation, and Novel respectively), now all of them succeed to develop to cross media brands, including comics, animation, films, toys, and derivatives. The cartoon characters became more and more famous, while the later involved creators adapted these characters for different narrative media.

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The following sub-research questions will be discussed:

What is the change of cartoon images and storyline?

What is the relationship between these changes and the media characteristics?

What is the relationship between these changes and the cultural background during that time?

P3. MMM Cross Culture

This part is based on case studies which include but are not limited to the following cases. How cultural icons adapted to other cultural contexts are discussed.

3.1. Miffy in Asia

Case 1: Miffy comes up with Chinese stationery Culture

Miffy’s commercial value.How Miffy be noticed by Chinese Chengguang Brand?

As Confucius said, “He that would perfect his work must first sharpen his tools.” Since ancient times, Chinese people already paid attention to the importance of stationery. For example, there are poems or idioms on the Chinese writing brush as the expression of the literati’s own spirit. Stationery is not only functional, it is also a creative cultural product because it has backstory, content, attitude, and emotion. It creates a unique using experience with unique culture content. When Miffy came to China, the story of Miffy at School adapted to the Chinese stationery culture, with new cultural collisions and sparks.

3.2. Mickey in Asia

Case 2: Adaptation of Mickey in China

In the 1930s, Mickey of the US first landed in China and started his wonderful trip.

In 1936, Xiangwei Bao, editor and writer of Zhonghua Book Company, adapted the long story ” Mickey’ s Man Friday” according to its release in 1935 and serialised it in “Little Friend” magazine, which was published by Zhonghua Book Company in December of that year.

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In 1939, “Little Master”, a children’s magazine founded in Shanghai, has a favourable opinion of Mickey, who is the magazine’s children’s adviser and answers questions from small readers.

In 1941, Shouwen He, the magazine’s US editor and text editor, adapted a cartoon story ” Mickey Win Treasure in Cangzhou” from the original cartoon.

From 1940 to 1941, two long stories, “Mickey’ s Travels” and “Mickey Rescue Train”, adapted by modern writer Jingshen Zhao, were published in “Health Family” magazine.

In 1948, ” Children’ s Magazine” serialised ” Mickey and Fairy Hat” based on the cartoon film ” Burden of Dreams” by Yilin Zhao, son of Jingshen Zhao. Instead of straightforward and humorous pictures, but changing to text narration so that the cartoon itself is much less interesting, but it is helpful to refine the educational significance of the story.

In 1947, Sanlian Bookstore published ” Daily War Drum Office” translated by Shan Ling, a female translator, in Shanghai. The story tells the story of ” Daily War Drum” under Mickey’s plate, which used the media as a weapon to fight hooligans Tiger and Grimace, and corrupt officials represented by Caption Pig and Louis . Finally, Mickey defeated evil forces with the help of Minnie, Donald Duck and other partners, and the authorities collapsed and Daily War Drum succeeded. The book begins with a passage called ” Translator’ s Words”,” which teaches children to learn Mickey Mouse and work hard for democracy.

However, three years later, in 1950, ” Daily War Drum Office” was reprinted in Beijing, when China had already changed greatly, and the significance of publishing this comic book was also very different. The opening writing ” Republish Inscription” was written by Mr. Shan Ling: ” The United States has now become our current number one enemy … From this book, we can recognise the lifestyle that American warmongers boast — the lifestyle of corrupt officials at the top, local ruffians and hooligans in the bottom, evil behaviour and oppressing people.”

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In 2016, the first Disneyland in mainland China opened in Shanghai. This time, Mickey reappeared in the spotlight of the Chinese media with a new image. In the new historical stage, his arrival has bring new cultural connotations.

Case 3: A bastard Mickey in Japan

Bethanee Bemis, the researcher at the National Museum of American history, believes that “Because Mickey and his friends were showing great civic blame and wartime loyalty, they soon became icons of the country…”. However, In 1934, Japan produced an animation, in which Mickey is the main character and was portrayed as a bastard. There was a conflict between traditional Japanese painted characters and Mickey. It is seems to say, “Our culture is older, and Mickey is just a synonym for American imperialism.”

3.3. Monkey King (Sun Wukong) in Asia, and America

Case 4: Monkey King from the perspectives of other cultures

In China, everyone has a Monkey King (Sun Wukong) in his heart. He represents the most rebellious, the most freedom, the most forbearing, and the most Zen part of Chinese culture. Every year, Monkey King frequently appears in many narrative media (e.g. Animation, Films, Games) in China. As the protagonist in other countries’ narrative works, for instance, Dragon Ball (Japanese comics and animation, 1984-2018), Hwayugi (South Korean TV series, 2017), The Legend of Monkey (American TV series, 2018), the Monkey King’s images has some interesting changes can be found. Usually these changes have a strong connection with the culture behind it.

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