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Cartoons, games and technology: G20 host Hangzhou draws on creativity to promote itself as ‘city of innovation’

Chinese cartoonist Misha Zhang has a job that many artists would envy. The 32-year-old has online followers, flexible working hours and a decent income.

“I enjoy my work. There are many platforms now on the mainland and as long as I deliver good work I needn’t worry about where it should go,” said the young artist, who is one of the most popular cartoonists at Hangzhou’s leading cartoon company, Fanfan.

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Zhang is just one of hundreds of thousands of workers who have joined Hangzhou’s cultural and creative industry in recent years, helping the industry contribute 22 per cent of the regional gross domestic production last year.

Hangzhou’s growing focus on creativity and high technology resulted in an economic growth rate of more than 10 per cent in the first half of the year, while the overall Chinese economy slowed to 6.7 per cent.

The host city of the two-day G20 summit, long known as an ancient Chinese capital with beautiful scenery, rebranded itself as a city of innovation as it welcomed state and business leaders.

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Over the past decade the city has created a cartoon and games industry valued by the local government at 6 billion yuan (HK$7 billion) last year.

Shen Hao, president of Fanfan, said as cartoons became more commonly used in different fields, including on public transport, they were an important way to showcase the essence of the city to visitors to the G20 summit.

“As Hangzhou becomes more internationalised … we will definitely obtain more recognition locally, and have more opportunities for collaboration internationally,” he said.

The company, which is an agent for Japanese book and video game publisher Shueisha, was one of many established when the municipal government started to develop a cartoon and games sector in the early 2000s.

Renowned Chinese cartoonists, including Cai Zhizhong and Zhu Deyong, were invited to set up studios in the city and an annual international cartoon and games festival has been held since 2005.

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“There are now many cartoon firms in Hangzhou, and we have held this festival for 12 years, Zhang said. “In such an atmosphere the industry is becoming increasingly attractive, especially to young people.”

The “information technology economy”, an official term to cover sectors that include the mobile internet, e-commerce and digital content, is another engine that powers Hangzhou’s innovation, said professor Cai Ning, from Zhejiang University’s National Institute for Innovation Management.

The city is home to about half the e-commerce companies on the mainland, including the Alibaba group, which owns the South China Morning Post.

Government statistics show that 23 per cent of its GDP last year came from the information technology economy.

Cai said the cultural and creative industry and information technology economy showed great capabilities, and he believed they would lead Hangzhou’s future growth.

Rich private capital resources in Hangzhou and the province, dubbed a cradle for private enterprise, translated to strong support for innovation and entrepreneurship, he said.

However, the city’s drive for innovation is being hampered by a lack of skilled personnel, local businessmen said.

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Ru Fangjun, founder of a start-up company in 3D computer vision technology in one of Hangzhou’s flagship incubators, Dream Town, said businesses in his industry were struggling to find skilled employees.

“There’s been an acute shortage in high-end professionals in 3D computer vision, so most of the core technologies are monopolised by foreign companies,” Ru said.

He said there were less than five Chinese companies in the field that were capable of core technology development.

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A similar problem is hobbling the cartoon industry. “There’s still a big gap between China’s original cartoons and those from developed countries such as Japan, in terms of specialty and techniques,” Shen said.

“There are few really good cartoonists or editors to lead this industry, which is something rooted in other cultures,” he said.

“In addition, few colleges or universities have cartooning as a major and even at those that do, the teachers often do not specialise in the subject, but in illustration or animation instead.”

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