Research materials

The material for the analysis was selected among the “Chinese cartoons” YouTube query results. The criterion for selection was to be related to Chinese ethnic groups’ matters. Three Chinese cultural experts confirmed the choice made with evaluations ranging from “good” to “very good”.

All research participants confirmed that they had shown the selected videos to their children or even watched them themselves. In the predominance of cases, these animations were produced by Shanghai Animation Film Studio, Sichuan Fine Arts Institute, Guangxi TV Station, Guangxi Millennium Legend Film and Television Co. LTD, or the Communication University of China. More precisely, the current paper focused on the following video animations:

  • Heroic Little Sisters of the Grassland (1965)—a legendary story about two girls who save a flock of sheep from a natural disaster, a snowstorm. Risking their lives, the heroines led the sheep to the pasture and managed to save them from hunger.

  • The Story of Afanti (1980)—an animation created by Shanghai Animation Film Studio telling about Afanti, a famous figure of Xinjiang’s Uyghur people. This animation became popular not only in China but also beyond its borders.

  • The Three Monks (1981)—traditional animation about the changes in Chinese society after the Cultural Revolution. It has become the first in the new Renaissance period of Chinese culture, and therefore, it carries not only cultural but also historical value.

  • The Peacock Princess (1982) – a 40-min animation telling the story of a young prince and his beloved peacock princess, whom a wizard enchants. The prince goes off to fight, and in the meantime, his wife is tried to be killed. The ending of the story is positive. The heroes defeat the evil wizard and live happily ever after.

  • Riyuetan Pool (1996)—animation about the Gaoshan nationality.

  • Fire Festival (1998)—animation based upon a traditional festival, the motifs of which have become the basis for many art forms. It is dedicated to the legendary wrestler Atilabia and his feat of saving people from an invasion of locusts using a torch made of pine.

  • The Touching (2008)—animation about the Li nationality.

  • Long Hair Girl (2015)—animation dedicated to the problems of the Dong ethnic group.

  • White Bird (2017)—animation of the joint Chinese-Kazakh production.

  • Tounggu Legend (2018)—animation about the Zhuang nationality produced by Guangxi Millennium Legend Film and Television Co. LTD.

Research procedure

As research participants, this study involved two groups of experts. Group 1 was composed of ethnocultural experts (n = 24) and graduates of cultural specialties (undergraduates and masters), n = 102. Group 2 involved preschool, primary, and secondary school teachers, n = 112.

Ethnocultural experts were exclusively from China (n = 24) and were invited by the researcher in person. The rest of the Group 1 sample were graduates of cultural specialities (undergraduates and masters) (n = 102) living both in China and other world countries. All of them were fluent in English and worked in fields united by cultural studies − World Culture, History of Culture, Sociocultural Communication, Cultural Relics and Museology, Sociocultural Management, and History of Art. They were sent an invitation letter outlining research aim and objectives and specifying their fields of expertise.

Apart from the specialization, the selection criterion for both groups was to have their own children aged from 2 to 15, as these children were the main target audience of the animation. According to [21], virtual communities functioned as a space for people interested in ethnic culture issues with different degrees of professional competence and desiring to exchange impressions.

In total, about 850 invitations to participate in the study were sent out. Of this number, only 214 positive responses were received. Precisely these people, as well as 24 ethnocultural experts invited by the author personally, made up the overall research sample. The survey was conducted by filling out a Google Form in English. Respondents’ age, gender, and nationality were not taken into account.

Research tools

Engagement and interest scale

The theoretical basis for evaluating viewers’ engagement and interest was an article on the analysis of YouTube videos [22]. The methodology used is quite simple and familiar to almost every YouTube user as it is based on the quantification of three parameters:

  • Like/Dislike (rating)—a direct form of feedback; it expresses a non-verbal approval or rejection.

  • Share with your contacts—the content is so interesting that the user wants to tell their friends about it; the natural way of sharing content on YouTube.

  • Comment—the content provoked a desire to say something; it testifies to the highest level of participation because it takes time and effort.

In addition to these three, researchers also used the Subscribe parameter [22]. However, they were studying specific YouTube channels, and in the context of animated videos about Chinese ethnicities, it seems inappropriate, as the animations were not tied to specific animation channels, and the rest of the content was dedicated to other topics. Respondents were asked to choose which animations from a list of ten they liked, which they wanted to share, and which they commented on.

Their engagement and interest (EI) levels were determined in accordance with the following formula:

$$text{EI} = text{Num. likes} + text{Num. Share} + text{Num. comments}$$

(1)

Critical media literacy skills scale

The theoretical foundation for evaluating critical media literacy was the model of Social Emotional and Media skills development through Imaginative pedagogies (SEMI) [23]. Its modified version includes four perspectives:

  • Pedagogical—role-playing, animated stories, moral imagination.

  • Developmental—empathy, emotions.

  • Social—self-awareness, affective and cognitive empathy.

  • Cultural—understanding of history and culture.

The original SEMI model [23] includes the same four perspectives except for the cultural one—it is substituted by the theoretical perspective, which contains popular pedagogical theories, which, however, do not meet the goals of this study. For the sake of evaluation, respondents were asked to rate each animation on a four-point scale (4—“very influential”, 3—“somewhat influential”, 2—“slightly influential”, and 1—“not influential at all”).

On the recommendation of the experts, additional explanations were made for the respondents in the questionnaire in order to eliminate ambiguity in the understanding of the terms. Hence, it was clarified that the pedagogical perspective sought to unveil whether the animation has a certain moral context, instructive example, or a way of behaviour worth imitation. Developmental perspective was concentrated on whether the animation evokes emotional reactions and empathy. Social perspective was focused on whether the animation implies social functioning and describes real social interactions and relationships. The last, cultural perspective, intended to unveil whether the story provides information about the cultural and historical characteristics of the ethnic group in question.

Statistical analysis

The research put forward the null (H0) and alternative (H1) hypotheses about the similarities and differences between Group 1 and Group 2. While H0 assumed no statistically significant similarities between the groups, H1 conjectured statistically significant differences between them. Checking these assumptions’ truth was carried out by means of chi-squared testing (significance level 0.05). The χ21 (engagement and interest) and χ22 (critical media literacy) criteria were used to test these hypotheses. It is important to note that if the calculated values for the criteria were less or the same as the critical ones, then Group 1 and Group 2 characteristics were related. Otherwise, their difference was statistically significant. As a characteristic of the group, the research accepted the average (for ten videos) rating for each parameter.

The critical value χ21 at a significance level of 0.05 for 3 degrees of freedom was 7.815. The calculated values (Table 1) were 5.16 for the Like, 6.12 for the Share and 4.24 for the Comment indicators, which means the absence of statistically significant differences in evaluations.

Table 1 χ21 values for Group 1 and Group 2

The critical χ22 value at a significance level of 0.05 for 4 degrees of freedom was 9.49. The calculated values (Table 2) were 10.05 for the pedagogical and 13.16 for social perspectives. This suggests statistically significant differences between Group 1 and Group 2 evaluations. The calculated value of no more than 7.13 for the developmental and cultural perspectives testified to the absence of statistically significant differences in the results collected.

Table 2 χ22 values for Group 1 and Group 2

All the calculations, as well as results presentation, were done using the Statistical Package for Social Sciences (SPSS 24) and the Microsoft Excel spreadsheet.

Research limitations

Unfortunately, it is plausible that several limitations and biases might have influenced the results obtained. First, there is no reliable evidence that study participants watched all of the animations from beginning to end and thus gave serious consideration to their participation and were able to provide an objective evaluation. Second, the research procedure did not include verification of the authenticity of the respondents’ ethnographic or pedagogical education or availability of children—these points were taken at their word. Third, Chinese animations about ethnic nationalities are quite scarce, they are less popular among international viewers, and it was difficult to find at least ten available on YouTube to use as examples. Fourth, the promotion of Chinese culture through YouTube, whether video or animation, inevitably faces a number of problems: small target audience, educational centration, and different views of the goals of animation by Chinese and Western viewers (for Chinese, it is important for the animation to show traditional virtues and have a pedagogical effect, while for the Western audience, it is primarily entertainment for children and adults). Statistical data shows the popularity of Chinese animation in neighbouring Asian countries, primarily Japan, but not in Europe and America. Therefore, the strategy of promoting Chinese culture through animation on YouTube proposed within the current study is exemplary and should be more flexible depending on the market it is aimed at.

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