The Indigenisation of Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) in China: From ‘Snow Sister’ and ‘Dolly Girl’ to Chinese Snow White (1940) and Princess Iron Fan (1941)

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Walt Disney’s animated film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was firstly released in Metropol Theatre and Nanking Theatre in Shanghai on 2 June 1938, following which it was soon screened by another seven local theatres, including Rialto Theatre, Uptown Theatre, Lafayetie Cinema, The Capitol Theatre, Zhejiang Theatre, Empire Theatre, and Willie’s Theatre. Thanks to localised advertising strategies, the film was a mass box-office success in China at the time, which achieved over 400 thousand views and more than 7 million RMB lucre across the country. The influence of Snow White in China was phenomenal and long-standing, as a result of indigenisation of technology, style, storytelling, and value of Disney’s animated film.

This essay explores how Disney’s Snow White was interpreted and indigenised in China during the 1930s and 1940s by examining the following four areas. Firstly, the essay investigates how Shanghai during the 1930s and 1940s—as a mixed, dynamic and unstable cosmopolitan metropolis—offered a perfect stage for novelties such as Hollywood film and Disney animation. The second section examines how localised advertising and marketing campaigns promoted Snow White, and how the film, in turn, bolstered the local economy and artistic creations. Thirdly, by a comparative analysis, the author rethinks the film Chinese Snow White, a live-action remake of Disney’s Snow White released in 1940 and acted by 8-year-old popular Chinese child star, Juanjuan Chen. Trying to retain the fidelity of the original animation in setting and movement designs, as well as embedding proletarian ideology and traditional Chinese moral values by slightly adapting the narrative, the film displays an inherent irreconcilability but worked well regardless as an early experiment of imitating Hollywood film during the war time. In the final section, the first Chinese animated feature Princess Iron Fan, which was widely considered as the Chinese version of Snow White in animation, is compared with Disney’s Snow White. Deeply influenced by Disney’s Snow White, despite telling a difference story, Princess Iron Fan employed a variety of animation techniques and borrowed the iconic aesthetics from Disney's Snow White. In all, this essay aims to offer an in-depth understanding of the indigenisation and influence of Disney’s classic Snow White in China in the 1930s and 1940s, which has been largely neglected by both Eastern and Western scholars.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSnow White and the Seven Dwarfs: New Perspectives on Production, Reception, Legacy
EditorsChris Pallant, Christopher Holliday
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2019

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