Why China censors banned Winnie the Pooh

July 18, 2017

The blocking of Winnie the Pooh might seem like a bizarre move by the Chinese authorities but it is part of a struggle to restrict clever bloggers from getting around their country’s censorship.

When is a set of wrist watches not just a set of wrist watches? When is a river crab not just a river crab? Inside the Great Firewall of China of course.

Winnie the Pooh has joined a line of crazy, funny internet references to China’s top leaders.

The Chinese name for and images of the plump, cute cartoon character are being blocked on social media sites here because bloggers have been comparing him to China’s president.

When Xi Jinping and Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe endured one of the more awkward handshakes in history netizens responded with Winnie the Pooh and Eeyore shaking hands.

And then there was the time President Xi popped his head out of the roof of his special Red Flag limousine to inspect the troops – a photo appeared online of a toy Winnie the Pooh popping out of his own little car.

It is not only that China’s censors will not tolerate ridicule of the country’s leader, they do not want this beloved children’s character becoming a kind of online euphemism for the Communist Party’s general secretary.

In other countries such comparisons might be thought of as harmless enough and some might even think that having Winnie as your mascot could even be quite endearing: not in China.

Here the president is Mr Grey. He doesn’t do silly things; he has no quirky elements; he makes no mistakes and that is why he is above the population and unable to be questioned.

The previous Chinese Leader Hu Jintao had a catchphrase of “promoting a harmonious society” or, in Chinese, hexie 和谐.

Bloggers started to refer to being censored as having been “harmonised” – bei hexie le 被和谐了 – but, by changing the tones in Chinese or changing the characters, you can fudge the meaning. So another hexie is river crab 河蟹。In other words, when you see an image of a river crab on the internet in China, it is likely to be a reference to something having been censored.

Another Chinese leader Jiang Zemin came up with a political theory called Three Represents, san ge diabiao 三个代表。If you switch that around a bit it becomes dai san ge biao 带三个表, or wear three watches. So the wearing of three watches became a cheeky way of referring to his contribution to China’s socialism “with Chinese characteristics”.

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