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Winnie the Pooh on Weibo – from Cute Bear to Political Meme

Over the past four years, Winnie the Pooh has gone from an innocent bear to a political meme on Chinese social media. As the bear has resurfaced on Weibo, online censors are busy, once again, tracking down and removing the cheeky bear’s image. The online ‘bear hunt’ has now made Little Pooh a symbol of defiance against censorship.

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Over the past four years, Winnie the Pooh has gone from an innocent bear to a political meme on Chinese social media. As the bear has resurfaced on Weibo, online censors are busy, once again, tracking down and removing the cheeky bear’s image. This online ‘bear hunt’ has now made Little Pooh a symbol of defiance against censorship.

On July 15, Wang Xiaochuan, the CEO of China’s search engine Sogou, posted an image of Winnie the Pooh on his Weibo account, writing nothing but “Little Pooh” along with it. Among his 2,7 million followers, around 500 people liked his post and over 200 shared it. Nothing special, it would seem – but over the past few years, Pooh bear has become more of a political meme in China than just a cute little Disney bear.

“You’ve got balls to post this,” one person responded. “Won’t this cause trouble for your company?”, others wondered: “Aren’t you scared to post something so sensitive?”

Over the weekend, rumors about Winnie the Pooh censorship circulated on social media in China as posts containing the bear’s name or image were taken down from Weibo and Wechat. It led many netizens to write about Winnie to test if their posts would be deleted.

 

“As I watched, I told my mother and father the similarities were uncanny.”

 

Although Financial Times reports about a thorough Winnie the Pooh “crackdown” in China, many of these posts also remain uncensored, triggering discussions on social media platforms about what is and is not ‘harmonized’ (censored).

“Obviously I can write [about Pooh], you can also find ‘Winnie the Pooh’ search results on Sina, and on video websites I can also see Pooh’s cartoons. Why don’t you first verify these things? I really hate this kind of fake news,” one annoyed girl wrote on Weibo.

“My posts about Winnie have already been removed 5 times, so it’s really true,” one other microblogger said. Many others also posted photos of how their Pooh-related content was being banned from Weibo and Wechat.

Person on Weibo posting image of Winnie on July 15.

It is not the first time for Pooh to become a target for China’s online censors. It all started with an image of Pooh and Tigger in 2013, following the California summit between Barack Obama and Xi Jinping. Chinese netizens found a resemblance between the two leaders and the friends from the Hundred Acre Wood. The image soon went viral and was then taken down by censors.

Netizens compared Pooh and Tigger to Xi Jinping and Barack Obama; the image went viral in 2013 and was then taken down by censors.

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 posted an image of Pooh bear in a toy car, 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.

Despite censorship – or actually because of it – a new political meme was born. Throughout the years, Pooh has resurfaced on Chinese social media at several times, also including other figures from the world of Pooh.

Another friend from the Hundred Acre Wood. Abe resembled Eeyore during this chilly handshake.

When President Xi had a somewhat chilly meeting with Japan’s Shinzo Abe in 2014, for example, an image of Eeyore and Pooh was shared online when netizens discovered another ‘eery resemblance.’

 

“An outcry against the very policies that forced it to become a secret symbol.”

 

This time, the resurface of Pooh seems to be more than just a humorous comparison to China’s president: the bear has become a symbol of defiance against online censorship. Had his image never been censored in 2013 and afterward, it would not carry the meaning it has today. Posting about Pooh is now showing resistance and messing around with China’s army of online censors.

In this way, Winnie the Pooh is somewhat similar to the Grass Mud Horse, one of China’s most famous memes. The 3-character phrase ‘cao ni ma’ (草泥马) literally means ‘grass mud horse’, but is pronounced in the same way as the vulgar “f*ck your mother” (which is written with three different characters).

A mythical animal?

In 2009, the ‘grass mud horse’ became some sort of mythical creature that resembled an alpaca. Everyone knew that it was actually a big middle finger to the authorities; it was netizen’s way of showing censors that they could avoid them through creativity. Chinese artist Ai Weiwei ‘adopted’ the ‘cao ni ma’ grass mud horse, spreading images of himself riding it, or holding it in front of his private parts.

Is Winnie the Pooh the new ‘grass mud horse’?

According to An Xiao Mina in “Batman, Pandaman and the Blind Man: A Case Study in Social Change Memes and Internet Censorship in China,” the grass mud horse became “an outcry against the very policies that forced it to become a secret symbol” (2014, 361). Similarly, it is also the somewhat bizarre ‘bear hunt’ for Winnie that has given the character its new status on Chinese social media.

 

“What did Winnie the Pooh ever do wrong?!”

 

Pooh’s resurface comes at a time of tightening censorship. The recent death of Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo has added to the crackdown of any potentially politically sensitive content on Chinese social media.

For many netizens, posting about Winnie has simply become a game. “Why is the name Winnie the Pooh being censored? Hahahaha!”, some post, with others replying with just the name “Winnie the Pooh” to see how quickly their posts will disappear. “I heard the word Winnie the Pooh has been banned so I am just writing this post to check it out,” many people write.

But there are also people who are angered over the alleged ban on Pooh: “What on earth has Winnie the Pooh ever done wrong!?”

“See you next time, Winnie,” some netizens write, posting a picture of Piglet hanging up a picture of Pooh.

Some commenters think Pooh might not be back on Weibo anytime soon. They post his image and say goodbye for now: “Let’s say farewell to Winnie the Pooh.”

By Manya Koetse

References

Mina, An Xiao. 2014. “Batman, Pandaman and the Blind Man: A Case Study in Social Change Memes and Internet Censorship in China.” Journal of Visual Culture, 13(3): 359–375. http://doi.org/10.1177/1470412914546576

©2017 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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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 Insight

Can’t Enter Uni Because of Daddy’s Bad Social Credit – The Blacklist Story That’s Got Weibo Talking

When one bad social credit listing affects the entire family.

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The story of a Chinese student who got admitted to a renowned university and was then denied access because of his father’s bad social credit has got Chinese social media talking.

Getting access to a top university is not easy in China’s fiercely competitive education environment. For one student from Wenzhou, Zhejiang province, the results of his gaokao (national university entrance exams) were so good that he received the happy news that he was accepted into one of these renowned universities in Beijing.

Unfortunately for him, that news was later followed up with an update that he could not be accepted due to his father’s bad social credit standing.

The story, which was widely covered by Chinese state media (including the English-language CGTN), received much attention on Chinese social media this week.

The young man’s father, named only as ‘Mr. Rao’ (饶先生), ended up with a bad credit standing after owing a debt of 200,000 RMB (±US$29,900) to a local bank for more than two years. Since Rao did not succeed in paying off his debt after warnings given, he was informed by a local court that he had ended up on a so-called “lose trust list” or “black list” (失信名单/失信黑名单).

Towards a More Credit-Based Society

In 2014, China’s government first announced plans of its “Social Credit System” (社会信用体系) that focuses on accumulating and integrating information, and will create measures that encourage ‘trustworthy behavior’ and punishes those who are not ‘trustworthy.’

The system is planned to go national by 2020, and is currently implemented in various regions across the country.

However, the public black list was introduced before this time, with Chinese courts in 2013 starting to publicly give out the names online of people who have not complied with court orders.

Additionally, In 2006, the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) also already began operating its own independent Credit Reference Center tasked with managing a national commercial and consumer credit reporting system. With the recent launch of the so-called ‘trust alliance’ (信联), a new unified platform that has access to an enormous number of personal credit data, China’s credit-based society has taken another leap – with state level and commercial organizations joining forces in further developing China’s credit systems.

In recent (English-language) media reports, the lines are often blurred between the Social Credit system and a number of private programs, including the Sesame Credit program. These misunderstandings partly come from the fact that both the government’s plans on introducing their ‘Social Credit System’ (社会信用体系) and the Central Bank’s endeavors to build a stronger personal credit industry (个人征信行业) were major developments in the period from 2013-2015 up to the present. Together with the 2013 judicial online blacklist, these policies and programs all built on a stronger credit-based society that governs both economic and social areas.

The ‘system’ (there is not one system in place yet) works through rewards and punishment mechanisms. In the city of Zhuhai, for example, individuals or companies with good credit are put on a “red list” which potentially means they could be praised online (Zhuhai credit website) or given rewards, whereas those put on the “black list” (f.e. due to serious misbehavior or promise-breaching) will be subject to various restrictions (Zhang & Zhang 2016, 157).

Those restrictions could include a halt on loans or a national ban from traveling by air or train. Since private programs and institutions also have access to the public blacklists, one company or person’s bad credit status can affect their status among various platforms and for various institutions – and thus, potentially, could also influence their children’s access to schools and universities.

A Controversial Measure

The recent story of Rao’s son paying the price for this father’s bad credit listing has stirred controversy online over children being affected by their parents’ bad credit listing.

One Weibo news thread on the issue received nearly 30,000 comments.

One of the most popular remarks on the story said: “If it is okay to treat those who are associated with an offender as guilty (连坐), then it’s time to punish the sons and daughters of corrupt officials, too.”

“A father’s bad credit has nothing to do with the children!”, another Weibo user said.

But another popular comment called the measure “effective,” with others agreeing: “If he waited two years to pay off his debt, he was basically asking to be on the blacklist. That his bad credit influences his child’s education is just to reap what one has sown.”

Various Chinese media, including financial newspaper Caijing, report that the boy’s father was previously warned by the local court that his bad credit standing could potentially have consequences for his children too, but that he still did not comply with court orders to pay back his loans.

Since Rao’s son has been denied access to the university as long as his father has a bad credit standing, Rao has allegedly paid back the loan and has asked the local court to be removed from the blacklist.

There are also commenters on Weibo, such as @闪电McQueen, who say the university’s actions are nothing newsworthy: “This is just the [political] examination of people’s records, it’s not specifically about the black list, it’s common knowledge, let’s not make it all about that black list.”

This commenter’s reaction reiterates the idea that the social credit system and black list system is actually not that new, as Rogier Creemers has previously described in Foreign Policy (2016): “The Chinese Communist Party government has always sought to keep tabs on its citizens, for instance through the “personal file” (dang’an) system of a few decades ago.”

Another person on Weibo says: “The people who are saying the child is the victim here should also know that people who end up on the blacklist are generally not people without money, their kids have enough opportunities, it’s just that if they owe money [to the bank], paying the tuition fee for their kids would become a problem.”

As for Rao’s son, whether or not he will be able to start at his new university in Beijing in the new semester, now that his dad has paid off debts, is yet unclear. Some commenters say it would be better if he didn’t: “Who wants to go to a university who does this anyway?”

UPDATE (7.16.18): Jeremy Daum at the ever-insighful China Law Translate blog has further looked into this case and found that the institution in this article, which has not been named in Chinese media, is most probably a private academy. He was also able to verify that this concerns a real story with no fake names used – he was able track Rao down in the public blacklist.

By Manya Koetse, with contributions from Miranda Barnes

References

Creemers, Rogier; Peter Marris; Samantha Hoffman; Pamela Kyle Crossley. 2016. “What Could China’s ‘Social Credit System’ Mean for its Citizens?” Foreign Policy, Aug 15
http://foreignpolicy.com/2016/08/15/what-could-chinas-social-credit-system-mean-for-its-citizens/ [15.7.18].

Zhang, Keting, and Fang Zhang. 201. “Report on the Construction of the Social Credit System in China’s Special Economic Zones.” In: Yitao Tao and Yiming Yuan (eds), Annual Report on the Development of China’s Special Economic Zones (2016): Blue Book of China’s Special Economic Zones, 153-171. Singapore: Social Science Academic Press.

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China’s “University Counseling” Business: High School Graduates Pay over $7,500 to Pick the Right University

How much is the selection of the right university worth?

Chauncey Jung

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Photo by Line Today.

Many Chinese high school graduates are willing to pay a high price for the right selection of their higher education institutions. Paying over US$7,550 for so-called ‘university counselors,’ Chinese students pay a higher price for the process preceding their uni years than the total cost of their entire college education.

A recent news item reported by China News Agency on the growing popularity of university counseling services has generated discussions on Chinese social media.

University counseling services have become an especially hot business now that the gaokao, China’s national university entrance exams, are over.

These kinds of counseling services help students to choose the best available institution based on their exam results, but they also include personality tests and the exploration of the potential future majors students could take on.

Promising to help students through big data and one-on-one consultations with experts, these university counseling agencies charge high prices. Service prices range from a few thousand Chinese Yuan to as high as ¥50,000 (±US$7,550).

According to Tsinghua University’s official admission guidelines, undergraduates are generally charged a ¥5,000 (±US$642) annual tuition fee, meaning that (parents of) high school graduates are willing to pay much more for the selection process of the university than the entire 4-year tuition of the educational institute.

Unlike university applications in western countries, Chinese high school graduates generally face stricter limitations in their selection of future colleges and universities. A high mark in the gaokao does not necessarily guarantee the admission to a top-level university; competition is fierce, and, depending on the location, universities will reserve spots for students depending on their hukou (residence permit).

Chinese universities are generally not flexible in letting students switch university majors, meaning that even if students change their preferences, they are still likely to stick to their majors for their entire undergraduate life. This also adds to the weight of the decision to enroll in a certain university programme.

 
Real Demands
 

Besides the high price, there is another downside to these consulting services. According to the China News Agency, these consulting services are not always reliable, as the ‘experts’ and ‘big-data analysis’ are not always subjective but promotion-focused.

Those downsides, however, have not halted the boom in demands for these counselling services.

Statistics from the Chinese Ministry of Education show that as of 2016, there are 2596 universities and 506 different majors in China. For high school graduates and parents with little knowledge of university admissions, anyone helping them find their way in this world of higher education is of great value to them.

Chinese media outlet Jiemian notes that China’s different provinces have different rules for filing university enrollment applications. In Inner Mongolia, for example, there is only one opportunity to apply for a higher education institution, for which students can select a maximum of six majors. If these students do not have an effective application strategy, they might end up going to a second-level institution.

Those with limited knowledge of Chinese higher education are also more prone to fall for one of the many scams; non-MOE-approved ‘universities’ take advantage of the sometimes confusing names of Chinese universities by luring students into enrolling at their fake university that has a name very similar to a top-notch one.

Although high school teachers sometimes assist their pupils in the search for the right college, they are not capable of helping all students – most students end up doing the university application themselves.

 
A Waste of Money?
 

On Weibo, this topic has sparked some discussions among users, especially those who have negative experiences with these expensive services.

“I spent a lot of money on these services,” one Weibo commenter says: “Now I am in a school in a rural suburb that takes 90 minutes to get to. If I were to see that consultant again, I would beat the crap out of him.”

Other users deem the services unnecessary: “I don’t think it is necessary to spend that money. Asking friends and elders will be enough.” Another user also does not believe in wasting money on a service that he sees no value in: “I am glad I saved that ¥50,000.”

There are also people, however, who do think the booming university counseling business is helpful: ” I think there are many problems people get to deal with at university. If you’re clueless, it is good to get other people’s advice.”

“There are many universities in China. It might be easy for those who can make it to the ‘985/211’ [the top level schools in the PRC], but not for the others,” another commenter suggests.

Both sides have a clear point: some counseling services may not be reliable and will not offer their clients the best university selection. But there are also those who actually benefit from getting their advice. In the end, it is the university counseling companies that get the short end of the stick.

By Chauncey Jung

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.

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What’s on Weibo provides social, cultural & historical insights into an ever-changing China. What’s on Weibo sheds light on China’s digital media landscape and brings the story behind the hashtag. This independent news site is managed by sinologist Manya Koetse. Contact info@whatsonweibo.com. ©2014-2018

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