Mao Zedong, Founder of Communist China, to Get Animated Film Treatment

Mao Zedong's face already adorns every bank note, and a portrait of "the Great Helmsman" continues to grace the gates of the Forbidden City in the heart of the country's capital, Beijing. Now China's founding father is set to feature in an animated film about his teenage years.

The cartoon is being made to help propaganda efforts to boost Mao's image. China has an ambiguous attitude towards Mao. While he is revered for leading the revolution that brought about China's foundation in 1949, he is also resented because of the disastrous agricultural program known as the Great Leap Forward, which caused a famine that killed tens of millions of rural Chinese, and the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), which is often referred to as “the 10-year catastrophe.” In today's China, the Great Helmsman is commonly described as 70 percent good, 30 percent bad.

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The idea behind the cartoon When Mao Zedong Was Young is to show Mao in a positive light. It is being made by the movie and TV production subsidiary of propaganda flagship Qiushi Journal and two filmmaking companies based in Hunan, the South China Morning Post reported.

The movie poster shows Mao as a skinny teenager, sporting a braid, a typical hairdo during the Qing dynasty (1644-1911), looking cheerful and assured.

Lu Huasheng, art director at Qiushi's film and TV centre, told the newspaper that the cartoon was meant to reach out to young people who know little about revolutionary heroes.

"Children like to watch cartoons. The old and stereotypical style [of presenting leaders] can't engage them anymore. This is the 21st century. We can't be stuck in the old ways. We need to be innovative," said Mr Lu.

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The plan is to the have the 30 million yuan ($4.9 million) project ready for Dec. 26, the 120th anniversary of Mao's birth in 1893.

The movie is a departure, as normally it is not permitted to show Chinese leaders in cartoons. Mao has been sympathetically depicted in several high-profile movies recently.

Lu said Qiushi was also planning a series of animations about the teenage years of other revolutionary heroes. The next one will be Mao's right-hand man, late premier Zhou Enlai, and toons dedicated to former president Liu Shaoqi and Marshal Zhu De are also in the works.

"We can't use the old and dull methods to cultivate [young people's] patriotism," Lu added.