This little fox is big business
A RED fox named Ali, which wears shorts and has cute facial expressions, is probably the most popular fox in China.
Not only has it inspired animated films, but it also has its own merchandise, ranging from dolls to flip-flops to game cards.
Xu Han, the creator of Ali, came up with the character in 2006.
The fox became famous online when bulletin-board systems and blogging became more popular in China.
Ali's popularity continued to grow as Xu, 33, came up with more funny and vivid expressions for the fox, whose character is used by Chinese instant-messaging-service users as an emoticon.
The cartoonist has since published two picture books of the red fox - Ali's Dream Castle in 2009 and Ali's Eternal Stop in 2010 - which have sold more than 1.5 million copies.
"Before I started graduate study, Ali was only a cartoon image," said Xu, who started drawing the fox when he was in middle school.
Back then, cartooning was a way for him to kill time in class. He first drew the cute fox in an attempt to woo a female classmate.
Studying brand visualisation at Tsinghua University enabled Xu to understand the value of his cartoon brand.
Along with partners, he set up Beijing Dream Castle Culture Company in 2009.
The cartoonist is in charge of drawing Ali's stories and designing cute expressions to be posted online, while his team runs the company and promotes Ali and its products.
With the fox's rising popularity, the company went on to make short animated films. Now, the team is considering producing an Ali film.
Although the animated design has developed fast, Xu still insists on drawing by hand, as he said each line and colour shows his emotions.
"People ask me whether I will create other cartoon images. I think it's a lifelong career to make more stories to keep Ali alive. It has always been my dream," the cartoonist said.
CHINA DAILY/ASIA NEWS NETWORK