Re-Animating Chinese Myths: Mythology and/as Mythologies in Contemporary Chinese Animation

Thomas William Whyke, Melissa Shani Brown

Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference proceedingBook Chapterpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


This chapter explores contemporary Chinese animation’s remediations of traditional myths and folklore, and the mobilization of these as mythologies (in the Barthian sense), within contemporary future-oriented notions of the “national style.” Of the major animated feature films and box-office successes over the past few years, it is significant that these all feature narratives and characters from Chinese mythology and folklore. To some extent, this is due to animation’s placement as a medium of the “national style,” whereby the medium itself is seen as a particularly important ontological bearer of traditional Chinese national culture. Focusing on the animations Big Fish and Begonia, White Snake, and Nezha, the authors regard such films as a dynamic continuation of Chinese mythological tradition, a form of inter-textual adaptation aimed at continually revitalizing traditions through re-presentation to contemporary audiences, a process through which the past is made meaningful in the present. On one hand, this remains very much within the 20th-century tradition and politics of the Chinese “national style.” However, the technological medium of animation has also been increasingly emphasized, something which allows animation to polyvalently represent historic traditions and modern futurity at the same time. This, the authors argue, reconstitutes the “national style” within contemporary Chinese discourses which actively connect past and future, through celebratory rhetoric of the “China Dream” of national rejuvenation. They argue that animated films are placed as key “narrators” in the literary sense, not only in textually presenting particular narratives (stories) but also metatexually framed for their abstract significance-in this case, conscious constructions of a national ethnos through the ongoing re-mediatizing of myths. It is to explore the latter that we the authors turn to Barthes’ semiotic concept of mythologies, naming the underlying ideological meanings situated at a secondary level of signification. Regarding the mythologies of these animations, the authors argue that as complex forms of inter/media, they are uniquely placed as mediators between the past, present, and future, not only of Chinese visual media but the national image as well.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationChinese Film in the Twenty-First Century
Subtitle of host publicationMovements, Genres, Intermedia
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages22
ISBN (Electronic)9781000986181
ISBN (Print)9781032443379
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2023

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Social Sciences


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