Foreign Policy Digital

Super-Patriotic Anime Youth Wars!

Can the mighty Communist Party win the hearts of China’s youth, or will the 2D world lure them into Japan's clutches?

Japanese anime has conquered China. In Chinese, the term “2D culture” (erciyuan wenhua) describes both the television shows, video games, anime (cartoons), manga (comic books), music, and movies inspired by Japanese pop culture and the millions of Chinese who consume these products every week. This “second dimension” is one of the fastest-growing industries in China—with more than 200 million consumers, the market is projected to reach more than $30 billion by 2020.

But the runaway success of Japanese pop culture among China’s youth has caused confusion, shock, and anger in a country still bitter over historical grievances. Many Chinese see this as a war for the hearts of their children—one they’re losing.

This conflict is being fought out in editorial pages, boardrooms, and government bureaus. The stakes couldn’t be higher: in the short term, tens of billions of dollars; in the long term, the future of Sino-Japanese relations. Japanese diplomats hope that the millions of young Chinese in the 2D world will push for a China friendlier to Japan and its people. The Chinese Communist Party has responded by developing its own anime and manga-based propaganda program. Below all this are the parents and grandparents, aware that their children and grandchildren are submerging themselves in a subculture designed to exclude them—one generated by the same country that inflicted two decades of horror on China. Some accept this as a natural expression of youth; for many others, it’s a terrible disaster.

Zhang Jie, a successful salesman working for a Beijing-based telecommunications start-up, bluntly explained the latter perspective over dinner last summer. “Anime is a type of

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