China has outdone itself. The country has banned Winnie the Pooh.
The world’s most populous country has a penchant for banning all things progressive. From Gmail to Facebook to Twitter to YouTube, China has successfully banned all globally recognised channels of social media. In fact, the Chinese government, according to the New York Times, tightened its control over the internet on July 18 by disrupting the services of WhatsApp, one of the most popular — and widely used — instant messaging apps in the world.
Clamping down on channels of free speech and cutting off the Chinese citizens from the outside world by restricting internet access is one thing. But banning a beloved fictional anthropomorphic teddy bear has bizarre and paranoid written all over it. As BBC reports, the Chinese name for and images of the honey-loving bear are being blocked on social media sites after bloggers in the country started comparing him to China's president Xi Jinping.
The comparisons between Jinping and Winnie the Pooh have existed on the China’s internet since 2013, when users first noticed that a picture of the Chinese President walking next to US President Barack Obama looked a lot like Winnie the Pooh walking with Tigger. The comparisons did not end there.
Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe — with their awkward handshake — found themselves being compared to Winnie the Pooh and Eeyore shaking hands.
And then there was Jinping’s head — popping out of the roof of his limousine — that looks very much like Winnie the Pooh’s popping out of his tiny toy car.
As per a CNN report, if one tries to send the photo of Xi and Obama next to Pooh and Tigger in a group chat on China's most popular social networking platform WeChat, other users won't be able to see the picture. Additionally, users have also found that a set of animated emojis featuring Pooh Bear and his friends has been removed from the platform.
On Weibo, China's answer to Twitter (because Twitter is blocked in China), searching for "Winnie the Pooh and Xi Jinping" in both Chinese and English will prompt a message that reads: "In accordance with relevant laws and regulations, results are not displayed.”
In fact, one can’t even post the phrase "Winnie the Pooh" in Chinese languages in any comments, because the moment you do, a message window pops up warning users that their comment was against the platform's rules and Chinese laws.
More than meets the eye
Gone are the days when one could say that any other country would find comparisons like these about their leaders harmless — close to home, standup comedy group AIB were massively trolled for their dog-filtered Modi meme and even face an FIR for it — but one can say with certainty that China can beat any country when it comes to having totalitarian policies, even beyond their own banning standards. (Because Chinese citizens have seen bans on Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp). Banning Winnie the Pooh may not even seem like an overreaction by the Chinese authorities, but is there more than meets the eye?
There is a growing suspicion among the Chinese people that a different photo may also be a possible trigger for the bizarre restrictions. There exists a photo of the now deceased Nobel Peace Prize-winning Chinese human rights activist and dissident Liu Xiaobo, as he and his wife each hold a Winnie the Pooh mug, smiling at the camera. Xiaobo died of liver cancer on July 13 while still in state custody, where he was serving an 11-year sentence for calling for democracy in China.
In 2010, when Xiaobo was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his “long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China”, the Chinese government refused to release him from prison to attend the ceremony in Norway and prevented his family from accepting the award on his behalf. The award was thus presented to an empty chair. Reportedly, even images of empty chairs have been censored on Chinese social media platforms in the past.
Is this China’s attempt to suppress the name, the identity and the work of Xiaobo for good? One can’t put it past the authoritarian communist government. The Xi Jinping government has already made it impossible for people to use the name of the activist on WeChat. As is the case with Winnie the Pooh photos, the receiver will never see them.
On the face of it, banning something as adorable and innocuous as Winnie the Pooh may seem bizarre, funny and even stupid. But dig deeper and one can see that the Dragon banning the teddy bear is as insidious as it gets.