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Why Disney’s Christopher Robin Is Not Released in China (And It’s Not Just Because of Winnie)

Recently, many foreign media reported that Disney’s ‘Christopher Robin’ (2018) will not be released in China due to an alleged “nationwide ban” on Winnie. But there is more to this than meets the eye.

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Disney’s latest film Christopher Robin will not be released in Chinese cinemas. Many English-language media claim it is for the fact that the movie’s main star, Winnie the Pooh, is regarded too politically sensitive in the country. But these reports are clouded by misconceptions: Winnie is not banned in China, and it is common for Western films not to be released in the PRC. What’s on Weibo explains.

 
With contributions from Luka de Boni
 

Christopher Robin, denied Chinese release, is the latest victim in China’s war on Winnie the Pooh,” writes Vox. “China gives Winnie the Pooh the enemy-of-the-state treatment,” says a recent New York Post headline.

Over the past days, the fact that Disney’s new 2018 film Christopher Robin will not premiere in mainland China has made headlines in many English-language media, first reported by The Hollywood Reporter.

Most sources allege that the movie, inspired by A. A. Milne and E. H. Shepard’s book Winnie-the-Pooh, will not be released in the country’s theatres because “Chinese leader Xi Jinping is prickly about comparisons between him and the lovable cartoon character, who has become a symbol of the resistance there” (Vox).

Film poster for Christopher Robin (Disney 2018).

BBC linked the film’s absence from Chinese movie theatres to Winnie and the supposed “nationwide clampdown on references to the beloved children’s character.”

But to what extent are these allegations true? There seem to be some misconceptions in many media about the scope of censorship on Winnie, and the release of non-Chinese films in mainland China.

 

What’s up with Winnie?

 

Over the past four years, Winnie the Pooh has, at times, been used as a political and satirical meme on Chinese social media, first becoming a target for China’s online censors when netizens compared Barack Obama and Xi Jinping, who met at the California Summit, with Pooh and Tigger in 2013.

In September of 2015, an image of Pooh became trending again on the day of the military parade. During the Beijing Parade that commemorated the 70th anniversary of WWII, President Xi Jinping drove around in a car (image), inspecting the troops.

When someone watching the parade then posted an image of Pooh bear in a toy car on Weibo, it was shared 62.000 times in little over an hour. Online responses included: “As I watched [the parade], I told my mother and father the similarities [between Pooh and the President] were uncanny.” The post was then soon deleted from Weibo.

This image of Pooh was censored in 2015.

The same happened in February of 2018, when images of Winnie the Pooh as a king emerged on Weibo after the end of China’s two-term limit on presidency was announced.

Although the censorship of Pooh at these specific moments are reason enough to call the bear some sort of “symbol of defiance against censorship,” it is not reason enough to assume the bear is at the epicenter of “a nationwide clampdown,” as BBC suggested.

 

“Winnie the Pooh is not banned from China, neither online nor offline.”

 

Winnie the Pooh is not banned from China, neither online nor offline. The bear is quite popular, just as in many other countries, and people walk around wearing Pooh t-shirts and accessories in Chinese cities every day.

A current search on Chinese search engine Baidu for ‘Winnie the Pooh’ (“小熊维尼”) generates 8.5 million results. Taobao sells countless Winnie items on its e-commerce platform, and on social media site Weibo, thousands of Chinese netizens post photos of their Winnie-themed merchandise or favorite characters.

Random selection of Winnie-related posts on Weibo today (compilarion What’s on Weibo).

Disney’s Christopher Robin is also discussed online; not just by netizens but also by state media.

The moments that Pooh was censored on Chinese social media in the past, were times that China’s censorship machine was going at full-speed already. Any time that President Xi is taking part in an important meeting or event, whether it is a BRIC summit, military parade, or bilateral meeting, social media is more controlled than usual.

Because netizens were using the image of Pooh in a way that was meant to make fun of these high-profile political occasions and figures at particularly these times, they were censored. In other words: the Winnie images were censored along with many other things at particularly sensitive times for mocking a political event or figure.

Although it makes sense to say that Winnie the Pooh is perhaps more ‘sensitive’ than other cartoons (although Peppa Pig and Rage Comics had their share of censorship, too), it is questionable if this sensitivity is enough of a reason to ban Disney’s new blockbuster Christopher Robin.

 

Chinese Summer: Not a Time for Western Films

 

But if not for the bear itself, what would be a reason not to release a promising Disney movie? China’s strict foreign film import quota may play an important role.

Since the 1990s, China has a ‘foreign film quota.’ In the early years, this meant that just a small quote of foreign films were allowed to be imported into China, and in 2012, this was increased to 34 foreign movies per year. The amount of revenue that foreign producers can take from these movies is restricted to 25% (Latham 2007, 185; Ma 2017, 193).

Although Hollywood lobbyists have been negotiating with Chinese film authorities to allow more foreign films to be imported under revenue-sharing terms, there’s been little progress for now – the ongoing looming trade-war has not benefited the situation.

Besides the longstanding cap on foreign films, China also has unofficial ‘Hollywood black-out periods’ in which Hollywood blockbusters are prevented to enter the market so as to boost sales of local productions, a phenomenon dubbed “Domestic Film Protection Month” (国产电影保护月).

The term was allegedly coined in 2004, when Chinese media reported about an order restricting screening foreign films between June 10 and July 10 each year. Although the measure was never officially admitted by government officials, this unspoken policy has been executed for the past 14 years (read more here). As a consequence, it is common for big American productions to not be released in China during the summer months, the period where cinemas make the most revenues. 

In 2011, for example, the Harry Potter blockbuster of the year was premiered in China five weeks later than it was in the rest of the world. Last summer, both Dunkirk and Spider-Man: Homecoming had their release dates delayed by several months, most probably to give the patriotic, local production Wolf-Warrior 2 a boost in sales. 

These black-out periods can also serve another purpose. According to CNBC, they can also be used to give Chinese film authorities additional bargaining power in their negotiations with US lobbyists. With these negotiations increasing in importance lately, as a result of deteriorating US-China trade relations, it might make sense that Chinese authorities would want to put themselves in the most favorable bargaining position.  

Each year, it is unclear when the ‘black-out period’ starts and ends. Generally, it can start as early as mid-June and finish as late as late-August.

 

Goodbye, Christopher Robin?

 

With many netizens and various state media (including China Global Television Network) posting about the release of Christopher Robin on Weibo and beyond, it is unlikely that political sensitivity over Winnie is the (only) reason why the film will not be shown in Chinese cinemas this summer.

Whether or not the film will definitely not come out in China is also not clear. The process of translation and censorship checking for films can take a long time and will sometimes mean films come out much later in the PRC.

Even when not reaching the big screens, most Hollywood blockbusters will eventually be available for viewing on online channels such as Youku or iQiyi.

Goodbye Christopher Robin (2017), another movie focusing on the story of Winnie the Pooh, is available for viewing on iQiyi and other (paid) streaming sites in China.

Many netizens would welcome a delayed release of Christopher Robin in China. The movie’s hashtag (#克里斯托弗·罗宾#) has already been viewed nearly three million times on Weibo.

While for many, the bear has no political connotations, there are also those who are still trying to post pictures of President Xi Jinping as Pooh – those will soon be deleted.

“I just wanted to see if it would be deleted,” the Weibo user says: “But actually, I really do think he’s cute.”

For more on this, check out today’s feature on BBC World Update (video by What’s on Weibo).

By Manya Koetse, and Luka de Boni

References

Latham, Kevin. 2007. Pop Culture China! Media, Arts, and Lifestyle. Oxford: ABC Clio.

Ma, Winston. 2017. China’s Mobile Economy: Opportunities in the Largest and Fastest Information Consumption Boom. Cornwall: Wiley.

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

©2018 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Manya Koetse is the editor-in-chief of www.whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer and consultant (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends in China, with a focus on social media and digital developments, popular culture, and gender issues. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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China Memes & Viral

Dutch Vlogger Discovers Her Boyfriend’s Photo on a Chinese TV Drama

Dutch vlogger Rianne Meijer was surprised to discover her boyfriend being somebody else’s lover in this Chinese television drama.

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The Dutch influencer Rianne Meijer has gone viral in the Netherlands and on Chinese social media after she posted a TikTok video in which she shared the discovery of her boyfriend’s photo in a Chinese TV drama.

“Remember this picture? This is a picture that I posted with my boyfriend a while ago,” Rianne says in the TikTok video, then showing a scene in Chinese TV drama in which a photoshopped photo of Rianne’s boyfriend is featured.

Although Rianne stood next to her boyfriend in the original photo, her face was replaced in the photoshopped edition featured on the Chinese TV drama.

“They look good together, it’s fine!” Rianne jokingly responded to the scene.

Rianne Meijer is an online influencer and YouTuber with some 1.5 million fans on her Instagram. She is known for often posting funny videos and photos, sometimes together with her boyfriend Roy.

The scene featuring Roy’s photo comes from the Chinese TV drama Summer Again (薄荷之夏), which premiered on iQiyi in the summer of 2021.

The scene shows a lady named Mi Ya (played by actress Li Borong 李柏蓉) talking about her relationship with a man named ‘Andre.’

On the Chinese social media site Weibo, many netizens found the incident “embarrassing” and did not understand why the staff would just steal someone’s portrait: “Couldn’t the production team even find a foreign guy to take a picture?”

Others also thought the incident was very funny: “This is the reality of our global village. You’d think nobody would find out, but it’s really not so secret.”

According to Rianne’s most recent Tiktok post update, the show’s production staff has since sent her an apology. She also writes it’s “all good,” adding: “They are so sweet and this gave us a good laugh.”

By Manya Koetse

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©2021 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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China Arts & Entertainment

Chinese Musician Song Dongye Canceled (Again) after Complaining about China’s Cancel Culture

Song Dongye was shut down by Weibo after airing his grievances at being shut out from China’s entertainment circles.

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Five years after being caught with drugs, Chinese singer Song Dongye went on Weibo to share his grievances on still being ‘canceled’ and asking for another chance to restart his career. Instead, he got criticized and blocked.

Chinese folk singer Song Dongye (宋冬野) has become a major topic on Chinese social media site Weibo this week after he posted a lengthy statement on his account airing his grievances regarding how he was shut out from China’s entertainment world after being caught with drugs.

In Song’s Weibo post of October 11 titled “I Need to Say Something” (“我需要说一些话”), the singer complained that one of his performances was canceled and that he has not been able to perform since he was detained for drug use five years ago.

The Beijing singer was scheduled to hold a concert in Chengdu on October 16th, but local authorities eventually canceled the show after receiving reports about Song being a drug addict.

According to Song, it is not the first time that one of his concerts is suddenly canceled for no apparent reason. In his post, the Beijing artist shared how disappointed he is that yet another performance was called off, even though it was previously approved and was organized in compliance with all strict regulations.

It seems that Song Dongye just cannot get rid of his tainted reputation.

Song Dongye

The 34-year-old Song Dongye started his career as a musician in 2009 and signed with the Modern Sky record label in 2012. One of his biggest hits is the 2013 song ‘Miss Dong’ (董小姐) (link), after which Song’s career further flourished.

Things went sour in 2016, when Song was arrested for smoking marijuana in Beijing after someone allegedly tipped off the police. Not long after news on his arrest made the rounds, Song himself posted a statement on his Weibo account on October 25th of 2016, apologizing to everyone for violating the law and promising to better himself.

Song is not the first Chinese celebrity to have been caught with drugs. There is an entire list of celebrities who were caught doing drugs, especially in the 2014-2016 years – including names such as Jaycee Chan, Kai Ko, and Zhang Mo.

In Song’s most recent Weibo post, the solo artist explains how his former drug abuse deeply affected him and his family, and that he has never touched drugs again since his ten-day prison sentence five years ago in 2016.

Song Donye’s lengthy Weibo post of October 11, in which he shared his grievances regarding still being ‘canceled’ five years after being arrested for drug use.

Despite the fact that Song complied with court orders and became an anti-drug advocate, he apparently is still not able to perform – even though the prescribed three-year ban on performing (in accordance with regulations provided by the Ministry of Culture) has officially ended two years ago.

The musician writes that he feels wronged. As a former drug abuser, he feels it was right for him to be punished, but he also says that drug users are actually the victims, claiming that drug trafficking is the real crime. Song argues that it is very difficult to be in the entertainment industry and that it is not easy to say no to drugs when you are down, depressed, and pressured.

In his Weibo post, the artist actually suggests he has been victimized in two ways: firstly, as a depressed artist lured into taking drugs, and second, as a canceled celebrity who keeps on being shut out from China’s entertainment circles.

“I can’t understand it, I’m confused,” Song writes: “I’ve violated the law, but I’ve been punished! I’ve been detained and then I also received five years of verbal abuse! I’ve been educated! I understand! I never messed up again! I got up again, and I changed! I became a better person! Is that still not enough for me to be able to make a living? Why? I’m not doing anything but playing some small offline gigs in order to get by! I’m just a singer-songwriter! What else do you want me to do? (..) Shouldn’t society give people who have broken the law another chance?”

Song concludes his post by saying that, regardless of the challenges he is facing, he will not give up on his work.

Song’s Post Backfires

Soon after Song Dongye posted his short essay on Weibo, thousands of reactions started flooding in. Many netizens did not feel sorry for the artist, but instead blamed him for “playing the victim.”

The issue triggered a major discussion on Chinese social media on whether or not artists with a bad reputation should be allowed back into the limelight.

A recent article by What’s on Weibo on 25 ‘tainted celebrities’ in China (25 ‘Tainted Celebrities’: What Happens When Chinese Entertainers Get Canceled?) shows that Chinese entertainers who previously got ‘canceled’ generally do not return to the big stage, either because they have simply fallen out of favor with most people or because they are being shunned and sidelined in the entertainment industry (or a combination of both).

Many people felt that Song Dongye was being a hypocrite, not just because they felt he was excusing his former drug use by saying drug traffickers are the real offenders, but also because Song allegedly did do multiple commercial shows over the past five years and has been actively setting up new businesses since his 2016 arrest.

For official media accounts, in the meantime, this apparently seemed to be a good moment to highlight their anti-drug informational posts.

State newspaper People’s Daily posted a series of photographs on October 12th featuring police officers who got injured while doing their work combating drug trafficking and drug use, stating that over thirty staff members of the law enforcement against drugs were killed since 2017.

The post’s message was clear: these Chinese officers in drug law enforcement were unable to get a second chance in life – why would Song, as a drug abuser, be allowed to get another chance to restart his career as a performer?

That idea resonated with many, who wrote: “We should have a zero-tolerance policy [towards drugs]. We can’t ever revive these police officers!”

Another image circulated on social media with the tagline “taking drugs and selling drugs is the same crime,” showing a musician offering money for drugs and a law enforcement officer being shot on the job (image below).

On that same day, Song’s Weibo account was temporarily suspended. The hashtag “Song Dongye’s Weibo Suspended” (#宋冬野微博被禁言#) received over 620 million views in the days following the ban.

Many people on Weibo share the view that those who chose to take illegal drugs for their own pleasure can never be a public figure again, earning money from commercial appearances.

Others wrote that Song should have never posted his essay at all since it only caused him to be labeled as a ‘tainted celebrity’ again, even though many people had already forgotten about his former drug use. They think that Song’s real problem hindering his future career now is not his 2016 offense, but his 2021 Weibo post.

Song Dongye’s post did not just affect him, it indirectly also affected other Chinese ‘tainted celebrities.’

A planned concert by Chinese singer Li Daimo (李代沫), a previous contestant of The Voice of China (中国好声音), was also canceled this week following the Song Dongye controversy.

Li Daimo continued his music career after his 2014 drug offense.

Li Daimo was arrested in 2014 for possession of drugs and was later sentenced to a fine and nine months in prison. After being released from prison, Li resumed his music career. Although his tainted past was still sometimes discussed on social media, he was one of the few artists who seemed to have made some sort of a comeback to the entertainment industry after such a major controversy.

The Song Dongye situation, however, also made people (and authorities) reflect on Li’s current career.

Over the past year, Chinese celebrities have become a target of authorities and state media have consistently been reporting on the importance of Chinese stars setting a good example for their fans.

But amid all controversy, there are also people who come to Song’s defense: “If an artist has been punished for three years, we should give people the opportunity to reappear. It might [even] be more beneficial to the anti-drug campaign.”

“I really like his songs,” one person wrote about Song: “But he did drugs, and I can’t forgive him for that.”

At this time, it is not clear when or if Song Dongye will be allowed to post on his Weibo account again. Although his Weibo page is still there, it currently says: “This account has temporarily been suspended for violating Weibo guidelines.” It is not clarified which specific guidelines Song violated with his post.

By Manya Koetse

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2021 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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