“Several years ago, I was approached by a well-known film company with a Chinese subsidiary that was in the market for animation feature scripts. They needed a feature project that would allow them to spend some of the capital that was effectively trapped in China, and for that, they needed a script with global appeal but a Chinese subject.
“It could have been the opportunity of a lifetime for me, and I had plenty of ideas, but every single one of them was defeated by the spectre of what the censor might say – that intractable hydra that refuses to allow dissent, superstition, discussion of half of the things that make China remotely interesting.
“I wanted to retell Aladdin in its ‘original’ Xinjiang setting. I wanted to make an ethnically-accurate Mulan, suffused with Xianbei weirdness. I wanted to tell stories of the Taiping religious fanatics, or the pirate king who stood up to the Manchus. But every idea came with potential triggers – too tribal, too controversial, too likely to be shut down for ‘historical nihilism’, that catch-all Party category for any historian who dares to question current assumptions. Those same censors later turned around and waved through Pixar’s Coco because ghosts are okay after all if they have hearts, or something. Eventually, I gave up even trying.”
Over at All the Anime, I reminisce about what might have been, while reviewing Bloomsbury’s new Chinese Cinema Book.