喜羊羊与灰太狼:Of Children and Cruelty

喜洋洋与灰太狼 is a children’s cartoon that originates from mainland China and was first aired in 2005. Since then, it has become immensely popular with audiences and boasts a total of around 500 total episodes produced as well as two feature length motion pictures as well as numerous licensed merchandise for sale. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that 喜羊羊 is more or less the Mickey Mouse of China.

But after watching a few episodes and understanding the conceit and formula of the show, it becomes very clear that 喜羊羊与灰太狼 is not celebration of love or friendship or happiness; instead, this is a show that celebrates cruelty.

The first thing I should say is that yes, I am still learning Chinese and yes, I can’t fully understand the culture from being an outsider. As such, some may say my opinions about anything Chinese should be not validated and disregarded. I will say that I’m learning Chinese as best as I can and am always trying to keep an open mind. However, my opinions are my opinions and I want to express them with the hope that it will foster greater understanding of the Chinese culture. And besides, any anthropologist will tell you that an outsider to a culture is more suited to critique a culture since they haven’t been influenced and colored by the same forces the anthropologist is trying to isolate and understand.

At any rate this is just a blog about learning Chinese from watching Youtube videos, today’s being a cartoon, so let’s keep it in focus.

As I was saying, 喜羊羊与灰太狼 is a celebration of cruelty. The undeniably catchy theme song and cute cartoon characters don’t offset the show’s main messages of “might makes right” and “mercy is for the weak”. This show is all about a mob-mentality of bullying the weak and not showing mercy or compassion.

Let me explain. Without getting into the ridiculous back story about the war between lambs and wolves (which is important to the show), 喜羊羊 lives in a fortified compound with his cute companions under the guardianship and tutelage of the village elder. They are constant attack by 灰太狼, a wolf who wants to eat them. Each episode has 灰太狼 invent a wacky device or come up with a crazy scheme in which he can defeat and eat the lambs; likewise, the lambs (through the village elder) invent their own crazy inventions and armed with these as well as non-logical schemes of their own, always manage to best the wolf each episode. Having been defeated, the lambs humiliate the wolf is some violent method (ie. dynamite, tied to a rocket ship, etc) to which the wolf always screams revenge.

So far, this is your usual WB saturday morning cartoon. As Mel Brooks said, cutting a finger is tragedy, but walking into a open manhole and dying is comedy. Indeed, cartoon violence actually improves with each escalation; dropping a safe on someone’s head is only an unfunny act when compared to smuggling nuclear warheads in bassinets. Cartoon violence isn’t real violence, it’s comedy.

However, cartoon violence only works with cartoon characters who are usually two-dimensional in appearance and one-dimensional in character depth. Cartoon villans like Wile E. Coyote and Elmer Fudd are exceptional at receiving pain and punishment because they deserve it; they are just shallow characters designed to bear humiliation as well as our laughs.

With 灰太狼, this is arguably not the case for he appears to be the show’s most sympathetic character. Yes, in other words the evil guy just happens to be the nicest guy. What appears to be a self-contradiction can be easily explained.

Look. As the show has stated many times, wolves are evil because it is their very nature to be evil; in other words, 灰太狼 has no other way to act because he can’t help himself. He was born to eat lambs and has not learned any other way to act. While one can draw a quick paralell between 灰太狼 and a serial killer who preys on his victims, this turns out to be a bad comparison as a serial killer grew up in a society that (ideally) encouraged good ideals and morals, while a wolf is born into a food chain in which he plays a role in the circle of life (a phrase taken from some other cartoon about animals). In this light, while we do see that eating lambs is his nature, wolves are only evil from the perspective of lambs who are being eaten (as such, people who eat lambs and other animals could be called evil from this perspective). Basically, in this argument of “wolves are evil because it is their very nature” you are condemning a wolf for being a wolf and for no other reason.

However, what is more interesting is not what 灰太狼 can’t help himself from doing, but what he chooses to do. 灰太狼 has a wife, 红太狼, who berates him and commits all sorts of domestic abuse with a frying pan in the name of comedy. 灰太狼 appears to be the victim from a stereotypical relationship with a Shanghainese woman, a typecast known all throughout China as being domineering and bossy, and in the case of this cartoon, abusive.

While wolves can’t help being wolves and wanting to eat sheep because it is their nature, wolves don’t fall in love and get married, which is the relationship between 灰太狼 and 红太狼. They do love each other, and it is a choice that they have made to be with each other.

Look at the facts: 红太狼 is married to a loser who perpetually can not provide for her as a good husband should. She should not be with him. Likewise, 灰太狼 is married to an abusive wife who berates him both verbally and physically. She never supports him and is never satisfied with him. The truth is, this relationship is bad for both of them. They should both go find other mates who would be better suited for them.

However, 灰太狼 persists in this relationship. He attempts to catch lambs, fails and is humiliated, and then returns home where is humiliated some more. Why does he do it? It could be fear, it could be habit, but what comes across most in his explanations to his wife on how the most current scheme could never fail and “this time for sure!” is his undeniable love for his wife. He wants to please her, he wants her adoration and praise.

灰太狼 upholds the value and tradition of marriage in the family. By catching a lamb and bringing it back to his wife (and committing evil according to a lamb), he is supporting his wife and his marriage. We can all sympathize with this character because he is the working man that all of us are: he has a tough job, he loves his wife, he just wants to provide for his familiy. 灰太狼 is you or me; he is a good guy in a bad situation.

On the other side of the walled compound is 喜羊羊 and his friends who basically live a life of priviledge. They live in a fortified camp that was made for them 500 Sheep years ago, and when not fending off the attacks of 灰太狼, are simply living an easy life of looking cute and acting cute. From a superficial perspective, the life of 喜羊羊 and his friends seem to mirror that of an average Chinese child, one where he is the center of attention and has everything decided and provided for him, and lives in a protective shell of the family/country.

Sure, 喜羊羊 and his friends are cute, but why are they good in comparison to the wolf? Are they good because they are cute, or because they are fighting against the wolf, who is “evil”?

The answer is not so clear because the lambs are not inherently good. Let’s explain:

The wolf has been describes as “evil” because it is his nature. As well, the backdrop of this children’s show is that the conflict between the lambs and wolves is that of an age-old war between the two factions. In that sense, the lambs are fighting for their lives anytime they confront the wolf they could lose their lives. (I know, a kids show!)

So, this is war. This is life or death. This is win or lose. This is serious. (a kids show! I’m trying to remind myself!) However, in the case of war, we need to ask: is this a “take no prisoners” war? Is there any room for compassion in this war? As 喜羊羊 and his friends would have you believe, no, there is no room for compassion. Any time the lambs win (which is every show) they are sure to humiliate 灰太狼 in the most humiliating and most violent method possible. While this is makes for a great cartoon sight gag to enjoy, this act of comedy is really an act of single-minded ruthlessness: show your enemy no mercy. And so, these cute lambs are in fact the cruelest lambs without mercy you’ll ever meet.

Should we teach our children compassion, even to our enemies? Jesus said “love thy enemy” and “turn the other cheek” just as I’m sure many respected Chinese have over the centuries, but this message does not belong to the show 喜羊羊与灰太狼. Instead, it seems the show would approve of horrific acts of violence like the massacre of Malmedy in WWII in which Axis forces shot dead 84 Allied unarmed POW’s in an open field.

Wartime is a different time with different rules, and I have been blessed to have lived a life without having been directly affected by it. One can argue that letting these prisoners free would just be giving your enemy another chance a kill you on another day, or that escorting such a large number of POWs is dangerous and risky, or that “there are no rules in war” (see Geneva convention). All the same, the message of the show is the same as what happened in Malmedy: no mercy or compassion is to be given.

And while we always like to see the bad guy receive his comeuppance, is 灰太狼 such a bad guy? All he wants is to provide his starving family with food. 灰太狼 hardly has the ambitions of world domination as other cartoon bad guys such as Cobra Commander, Megatron or even Gargamel and whatever he wanted to do.

While it is easy to slander 灰太狼 as being evil since it’s in his nature, making such a statement makes the show even more morally complex. For while 灰太狼 is incapable of changing his behavior, what excuse do 喜羊羊 and his friends have for persistantly never offering 灰太狼 any mercy? Is it in their nature not to provide mercy? I hope not, because then you are dealing with an evil individual. Instead, offering mercy is a choice that we as individuals can give. It is a tough choice, it is not easy to forgive; but offering compassion and understanding and mercy can be the most enlightening choice you make in your life.

In a way, the choices have already been made for 喜羊羊 and his friends. When a group of people always act in a group and operate together as one, a mob-mentality can easily overtake the will of the individual. I know this is just a cartoon about a bunch of cute lambs who have adventures and hijinx, but I find it telling that the lambs operate as a group and the wolf as an individual. This happened in the Smurfs too, but then those little blue guys with the one blue chick had more conversations than these guys. As a transcript will show you (coming right up), these lambs really don’t do anything but look cute and destroy their enemies.

This isn’t to say that Chinese don’t know mercy and compassion, but this show designed for children is not getting this message across. Yes, there is some great culture in China and this blog will eventually find it, but this is not one of those great examples. 喜羊羊与灰太狼 basically teaches children to be cruel.

I don’t have a transcript of an episode ready yet, but here’s a transcript in both English and Chinese of the catchy main theme, with a glossary at the end. A few conclusions can already be gleaned from the lyrics, I find.


Happy Lambie, Beautiful Lambie, Lazy Lambie, Stewie Lambie, Slow Lambie, Puffball,
Scarlet Wolfhound, Grey Wolfhound

Don’t treat me as just a lamb
It is because of me the green grass is so fresh
It is because of me the sky is so blue
It is because of me the clouds are so soft

Don’t treat me as just a lamb
The craftiness of lambs is hard to predict
Like the sky our mood can be bold and unrestrained
Everyday we pursue the sun

Whatever difficult problem will impede me I will not get down
Whatever danger confronts me I will not get rattled
Even if I were to be the prey chased by a pack of wolves,
I would treat it as a game.

No matter the time I love being happy, smiles will soar
Even if I fall down I will get back up, forever will I never be dejected
In every type of weather, I will have the strength to greet people with a hearty laugh
Although I am just a lamb.

I thought so before and the lyrics confirm it, 喜洋洋 and his friends are all psychopaths.

沸 fei4 – Adj boiling
懒 lan3 – lazy, lethargic
柔软 rou2ruan3 – soft
难以 nan2yi3 – hard (to predict, imagine)
奔放 ban1fang4 – bold and unrestrained
追赶 zhui1gan3 – to pursue, to chase after
难题 nan2ti2 – difficult problem
牵绊 qian1ban – to impede
慌乱 huang1luan4 – frenetic, hurried, flustered
追捕 zhui1bu3 – to hunt and capture
摔倒 shuai1dao3 – to fall down and slip
沮丧 ju3sang4 – dispirited, dejected, dismayed
力量 li4liang – power, force, strength


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