A little boy with sausage lips, small eyes and a school uniform is the unofficial city face of Nanjing. His name is “A Mei” (阿槑) and he is the main character in a video called “Memories of South Nanjing”.
This series of cartoon videos, produced by Nanjing Linglongtian Animation, tells the audience of traditional Nanjing culture, while the company’s founder, Jin Lifeng, is a local citizen of the city who can speak Nanjing dialect very well. For this reason, he himself was selected as the cartoon voice of A Mei.
There are eleven short films in the series, recalling childhood stories of the generation born during the 1980’s in Nanjing. A Mei uses a relaxing and humorous way to introduce the culture of Nanjing and to urge people to protect it. He shows us his daily life through the videos, which include many conversations with his family members. For example, in the morning, his grandmother tells him to hurry to school. From their dialogue, we realise that “jin guan” (进馆) in Nanjing dialect, which means “going to school”, differs greatly from the Mandarin version “shang xue” (上学).
In addition, A Mei introduces Nanjing's traditional breakfast, such as “pidu noodles”, “black rice roll with youtiao and two salted duck eggs” and “doufu jelly with scallion pancakes and tea eggs”.
Besides online videos, A Mei can be seen in many places in Nanjing, such as the Sun Yat-sen Mausoleum, Xuanwu Lake, Confucius Temple and the Presidential Palace, as well as on cultural products in the Xinhua and Phoenix International bookstores.
A Mei represents contemporary culture of Nanjing, one of the most ancient capitals of China. From his appearance, we can see how simple and unadorned he is, as are Nanjing’s citizens. His name is so unusual that every Chinese who hears it wants to know its origin and meaning because they do not use the word “mei” (槑) anymore. By way of explanation, the word carries the same pronunciation as the ancient Chinese word “梅”, part of the name for Nanjing city flower.
A Mei (阿槑) was initially named “A Dai” (阿呆), meaning someone who is a little daft. However, the design team thought this name was too simple and full of mockery. For this reason, they finally had the idea of A Mei (阿槑), which combines two “Dai” (呆), thus keeping the cuteness of the image.
In creating “A Mei”, Jin said that he wanted to try his best to preserve the culture of Nanjing by spreading this cartoon image. In terms of his memory, the south of Nanjing suffered a wide range of reconstruction with the development of the city. As a local citizen living in this area, Jin was so concerned about the disappearance of those ancient buildings that he went around carrying his camera to take photos everywhere. “I wanted to keep those moments”, Jin said with tears in his eyes. “However, I found that it was difficult to keep that kind of feeling and soul of our ancient Nanjing.”
Jin’s dream has now come true as he has been successful in introducing Nanjing's traditional cultures to people, whether they be a Nanjing citizen or not. In 2012, “Nanjing A Mei’” was awarded as one of China’s ten Happy City Image Ambassadors by Sina, a major domestic web portal and telecommunications company. What’s more, this little boy even spread Nanjing culture to the outside world, by representing Nanjing during the 2015 Expo in Milan, Italy.
When asked about the future of A Mei, Jin said, “I am planning to open three to four shops in two years in Nanjing which will sell many things about A Mei”. He also added there will be various kinds of products, such as dolls, postcards and suitcases, on all of which will be the image of “A Mei”. At the same time, he plans to set up some A Mei restaurants in popular shopping malls. Together, these further actions will help more people to know about A Mei and arouse awareness for protecting Nanjing’s culture.