SINCE his debut 45 years ago, Doraemon has become one of Asia’s best-loved animated characters – but in the eyes of some Chinese media the chubby, earless cat with the gaping smile is now on a mission to corrupt the nation’s youth.
The robotic cat from the future has attracted legions of fans at home in Japan and other countries – including China – with his teleportation powers, addiction to sweet bean pancakes and array of ingenious gadgets he uses to help his hapless schoolboy friend, Nobita.
But a Chinese newspaper has accused the character of political subversion, claiming that his presence at a recent exhibition in the southern Chinese city of Chengdu was part of a plot to portray Japan in a kinder light as the two east Asian rivals vie over wartime history and territories in the East China Sea.
“Doraemon is a part of Japan’s efforts of exporting its national values and achieving its cultural strategy; this is an undisputed fact,” the local communist party newspaper Chengdu Daily said in an editorial.
“Taking this to heart, we should be less blind and keep a cool head while kissing the cheeks of the chubby blue guy.”
Two other Chengdu-based newspapers repeated the claim, while Global Times columnist Wang Dehua warned: “Doraemon is cute but he also represents Japan’s soft power. We must never let a little robotic cat take control of our minds.”
Doraemon, the star of a vast catalogue of manga and animated films, and the face behind a successful merchandising empire, certainly has cultural clout.
The manga, created by Fujiko F Fujio, has sold over 100 million copies, making it one of the best-selling in the world, while the TV series has won over audiences in more than 30 countries. Earlier this year, Disney said it had acquired the English-language rights to broadcast the series on its satellite channel. In 2002, Time magazine named Doraemon one of its Asian heroes.
In 2008, the Japanese government appointed Doraemon as an “ambassador” with special responsibility for promoting Japanese culture overseas. He was sworn in at a ceremony in Tokyo attended by the then foreign minister, Masahiko Komura.
The Chinese claims prompted a largely good-natured response from Japan’s online community. According to English translations on the Japan Crush website, one netizen joked: “Damn, we got found out already, huh?” Another said: “Yeah, see, if you expand Doraemon’s nose it becomes the Japanese flag. The Chinese Communist party is pretty sharp.”
One of the Chengdu editorials said the recent Doraemon exhibition, which was held in several other Chinese cities, represented a form of Japanese “cultural intervention” and an “attempt to weaken the Chinese people’s firm stance on historical issues”.
Other commentators in China were more forgiving. Writing in the Global Times, Liu Zhun accused those who saw a malign influence on Chinese youth of “overreacting”.
“Chinese culture needs to go global, but the first step is to tune up its mind and embrace the influence of other cultures,” Liu wrote.
“Doraemon cannot find an exact proto type from traditional Japanese culture, but it can still serve as a representative of Japanese culture. China should think about it.”
Many Chinese who grew up watching the cartoon refused to believe his portrayal as a counter-revolutionary, although there was criticism of the timing of the exhibition, which opened on Aug 16, a day after the 69th anniversary of Japan’s surrender in the second world war.
While Chinese netizens are divided into pro- and anti-Doraemon camps, Japanese citizens continue to demonstrate their devotion to one of their most successful cultural exports. Last month, a museum dedicated to Doraemon welcomed its 1.5-millionth visitor since opening three years ago.
Strained relations between China and Japan may be about to make a small, but highly symbolic breakthrough amid reports that arrangements are being made for Abe and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, to meet for the first time, on the sidelines of next month’s Apec summit in Beijing. — ©Guardian News & Media 2014
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