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“Chinese Cartoons” is a term used to refer to anime,, both ironically and un-ironically. The un-ironic usage is usually a mistake made by people unfamiliar with anime, while the ironic use is often to parody or poke fun at these people. It is also used as a way to ridicule anime fans and japanophiles.
The expression “Chinese cartoons” is in wide use by those unfamiliar with anime subculture and Japanese culture in general, due to the common Western confusion between Chinese and Japanese cultures. The first registered instance of its use to refer un-ironically to anime was a thread on 4chan’s anime and manga board /a/. Posted on February 28th, 2008, the post featured a joke about anime elitism and “intellectual animation”.
Beginning as a synonym of anime and as a way to troll anime fans and japanophiles on 4chan, the usage spread to other communities like Tumblr. On May 10th, 2012, Urban Dictionary user icantfeelmyarms submitted an entry for “chinese cartoon”, defining it as “what normal people call anime.” On November 29th, 2013, user Lanik submitted a thread on the MyAnimeList forums asking why people call anime “chinese cartoons”; users responded that the term was a joke.
Note: Search interest for the ironic use of “Chinese Cartoons” also represents search interest for cartoons of Chinese origin. Top search results are mixed, with ironic usage and un-ironic usage returning about an equal amount of results. However, any results before 2008 refer to cartoons of Chinese origin.