FRI Report: Research on the reception of content and the ideal image of a hero in China

The Chinese content market that surpassed that of Japan’s three years ago to a value of 15 trillion yen, has been further growing in recent years. Last year, the Chinese gaming market became the world’s largest and the film market grew to 800 billion yen, a 40% increase from the previous year, attracting attention from all over the world. As such, China has been strengthening its connection with the Japanese content market in the last few years. For this report, we conducted interviews for a duration of over half a year with young people who born in the 80s and 90s that drive the Chinese content market in order to analyze their reception of the content and their ideal image of a hero. This report answers some of the questions such as why these generations are familiar with Japanese content, how their background influences their taste, and why there are times when content that is not so popular in Japan becomes a hit in China.

The results of the research showed that those young Chinese people who were strongly influenced by Japanese animation when they were children are likely to take Japanese content favorably even till now, and what they find the most attractive is the portrayal of human nature in the content. Furthermore, as they enjoy thinking deeply about real social issues, the emerging trend shows that content containing themes related to social issues in China are likely to be popular. On the other hand, we can observe that they are also attracted to scenes of group activities in schools in Japan, traditional culture, and the scenery of cities. Young Chinese, due to the country’s education and a dynamic social situation, seem to long for a humane heroic image, of one with strong beliefs or goals, yet also with weaknesses.

■The current situation surrounding Japanese content in China

“Doraemon’s Stand By Me” grossed more than 10 billion yen, “Attack on Titan” has been played 400 million times on its distribution site, and the mobile game “Naruto” attracted 10 million users within a month of its release, demonstrating the popularity of Japanese content in China. Since 2011 when TV Tokyo established a tie with Tudou, a Chinese online video platform, and the subsequent start of simultaneous distribution of Japanese animation, it has become common practice for Chinese video distribution sites to buy distribution rights of Japanese animation. As the competition has been intensifying in recent years, the price of distribution rights has soared, and stories have been heard of 10 million yen being spent for one episode (30 minutes) of famous animations. Apart from animations, Chinese companies are also increasingly buying the right to make them into games, investing into production, and taking part in a production committee.

■The 80s and 90s generations

Young people born in the 80s and 90s make up only 30 percent of the Chinese population, but currently account for an average of 70% of the film market, e-commerce, and overseas travel market, and are the the driving force of the Chinese consumer market. As they had a lot of contact with Japanese animation when they were children due to the social currents and TV broadcasting policies in China, it can be said that they are the generations most familiar with Japanese animation in China.

■ Research result 1- The reason why they enjoy the content

There are mainly three reasons why young Chinese enjoy Japanese content: 1. To cherish the past; 2. An opportunity to reflect on one’s actual life; 3. To experience a foreign culture that one is drawn to.

1. Cherishing the past

Though it is a worldwide phenomenon that people cherish content from the past and feel nostalgic, what differentiates the young people of the 80s and 90s in China from those of other generations is that they feel nostalgic mostly from foreign content, predominantly Japanese animation.
In the 80s, when home television started to become common in China, as there were not many domestically produced programs yet, the country imported a large number of TV programs. From the 80s to the end of the 90s, Japanese animation were the main attraction of TV programs for children, creating a peak in 1999 with 476 titles “Slam Dunk” triggering a basketball boom in China, “Sailor Moon” becoming an idol of all the girls, “Bakuso Brothers Let’s & Go!!” and “Saint Seiya” influencing children’s play and topics of conversation.


Hence the nostalgia that young people born in the 80s and 90s feel when watching Japanese animation that they had watched when they were young, such as the long-running shows “Detective Conan” and “Chibi Maruko-chan,” which they have been following since their childhood. Futhermore, there are many cases where the attractive points of the shows that were popular in their childhood have been revived in contemporary shows. What is particularly interesting about this is that the “original shows” are different from those in Japan. For example, in the case of culinary shows, “Oishinbo,” “Cooking Papa,” “Ajikko,” etc., are the original shows providing inspiration in Japan. However in China, it is “chuka ichiban.” This animation had lukewarm reception in Japan, but is the inspiration of culinary shows for young people of the 80s and 90s, and it seems that the Japanese animation that became a hit also in China last year, “Food Wars! Shokugeki no Soma,” also became popular by building on the foundation created by “chuka ichiban.” This way, for young people of the 80s and 90s, the uniquely Chinese foundation within Japanese animation is being formed.

Left Source:Chuka Ichiban(SHUEISHA)、Right Source:Shokugeki no Soma(KODANSHA)

2. Reflection of their own reality

The subjects of this research valued the portrayal of “human nature” in Japanese content that they were watching at that time, and they had a tendency to prefer content that enabled them to reflect deeply on human nature and society. While it is a fact that what trigger them to pick up a work are often erotic or grotesque portrayals, content with themes that resonate with social issues in modern China seems to gain in popularity. For example, while “Shimoneta: A Boring World Where the Concept of Dirty Jokes Doesn’t Exist” did not become a hit in Japan, on the online video site “” that attracts young Chinese, it became the most watched animation among all the shows broadcast in 2015. While it can be assumed that the erotic scenes prompted people’s initial viewing, the concept of the worldview of this work that depicts censorship of sexual content, monitoring of speech, etc., evoked Chinese regulations, policies and cultural customs, resonating with people’s mind and leading to its success.

3. Experience a foreign culture that one is drawn to

Due to the effects of a school life that is mostly about studying and the one-child policy, young people of the 80s and 90s in China have a deep fascination with Japanese school life and group activities seen in the content. Particularly for those young Chinese who wear a school uniform that looks like a jersey, the school uniform in Japan is regarded as a culture in itself and there are quite a few who are drawn to it. Moreover, for those who do not have siblings to play with, and for whom school is a place only to study, the school club activities and fireworks festival during the school holidays, and group activities, seem to be attractive for them. Besides, to see traditional Japanese houses, traditional clothes such as yukata, kimono, etc., blended into the scenery of a city and life seems to be stimulating. This is because, even though China has a long history and many traditional cultures, these are not as valued in modern society and cannot be seen in the daily life or landscape.

■ Research result 2- the ideal image of a hero for young Chinese

The subject of this research compared heroes from America, Japan, and China. As a result, two commonalities -“values in working as a part of a group” and “growth as a person”-between Chinese and Japanese heroes emerged, and the opinion that Japanese heroes are most realistic among those from the three countries was often heard. Chinese heroes seem to be, unlike those fictional characters from Japan or America, characters that bring to people’s mind are often non-fictional figures such as politicians and historical figures. However, these real people are those that they learn about from their textbooks and for educational purposes, and the reality is that their weaknesses are not mentioned. This is why these heroes do not feel human like them and are therefore not so popular. On the other hand, professions whose work help people and are reported in news reports during a time of crisis, such as the Chinese Liberation Army during an earthquake, doctor, fire fighter, etc., are respected by young Chinese people and are regarded as heroes.
Next, questions on their favourite heroes and their characteristics revealed that they value “someone who possesses strong beliefs, who never gives up, and is determined and not easily affected” and “someone who has weaknesses in their character and is human-like.” The reason they want a hero “to have strong beliefs” can be regarded as the consequence of China having many changes now. In recent years, “fast-food culture”, indicating something quickly gaining in popularity and quickly being forgotten is becoming more prominent. Celebrities, fashion trends, and words that become fashionable ? many various things become popular too quickly and disappear in like manner. For example, when music program is popular, all the TV companies would broadcast music programs, and then after a while, reality show would become popular and all the music programs would be replaced with reality shows.
Furthermore, there are less people who adhere to a religion, and traditional culture and history are less valued. In such a dynamic environment where things change constantly, those who do just one thing consistently as seen as being cool and needed by society. In addition, the reason why people are attracted to the “human that has weaknesses in their personality” can be because, as mentioned earlier, the heroes in China are too beatified and become entities that do not feel real.

Based on this investigation and research, in future, when one produces content targeting young Chinese, noting the following is advised. Firstly, a grand worldview that fulfills the intellectual curiosity of people and triggers discussion tends to be well received. On top of this, if the content has a subject that connects to social issues and issues that young people are struggling with in China, it can increase its potential to be popular. If a lead character has a clear goal, belief, and an unusual aspect in their personality, the content may be more likely to gain in popularity.

(Text: Kamyi Fong)

Fields Research Institute (FRI) conducts research in entertainment.
This article was written by a member of FRI, through the original coverage of his/her interests observed in their daily lives.

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