China to ban foreign cartoons

Regulators have barred foreign cartoons from TV in the "Golden Hours" of 5 to 8 p.m. beginning Sept. 1 in an effort to protect China's struggling animation studios, news reports said Sunday.

The ban hasn't been formally announced, but newspapers already were criticizing it Sunday as the wrong way to improve programming for Chinese children, who they said clearly prefer foreign animation, the AP reports.

Foreign cartoons, especially from Japan, are hugely popular with Chinese children, and the country's own animation studios have struggled to compete with a flood of imports.

Communist leaders are said to be frustrated that so many cartoons seen by China's 250 million children are foreign-made, especially after efforts to build up Chinese animation studios.

Chinese animators produce hundreds of hours of programs a year but aren't known for flair or originality. They draw on traditional stories such as "Journey to the West," about the adventures of the Monkey King, and have yet to invent characters to match the appeal of Mickey Mouse or Japanese icons such as Pokemon.

The cartoon campaign comes amid efforts by President Hu Jintao's government to tighten control over other pop culture, ranging from movies to magazines and Web sites.

TV stations have been told to limit foreign programming, stop showing scary movies in prime time and have their hosts dress more conservatively and use fewer English words on the air.

Most cartoons on China Central Television, the national broadcaster, are Chinese-made. But more freewheeling local broadcasters show everything from "The Simpsons" to Japanese, South Korean and European cartoons dubbed into Chinese.

Film studios have been pushed to merge in order to create big, well-financed competitors. Officials have set up 15 animation centers to nurture the industry, invoking communist guerrilla vocabulary by dubbing them "production bases."

The newspaper cited what it said was a recent study that found that 80 percent of Chinese children surveyed liked foreign cartoons and disliked domestic animation.

Chinese studios employ thousands of skilled animators, but many focus on doing work subcontracted by the Walt Disney Co., Warner Bros. and other Western or Japanese studios.