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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.

Manya Koetse

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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.

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

    Shandong Woman Dies after Suffering Abuse by In-Laws over Infertility

    Anger over Shandong abuse case: “Is this how the law protects women?!”

    Manya Koetse

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    The only photo of the victim on social media is a childhood photo.

    Just a month after the tragic story of a Chinese vlogger being killed by her husband triggered outrage on social media, another extreme domestic abuse case has gone trending on Weibo.

    This time, it concerns the story of the 22-year-old woman named Fang Yangyang (方洋洋) who lived in Fangzhuang village in Dezhou, Shandong Province. The woman passed away in 2019 after suffering prolonged abuse by her husband and in-laws. Chinese media report that the abuse was related to Fang’s infertility issues.

    Fang married her husband Zhang Bing (张丙) in November of 2016. It was an arranged marriage, with Zhang’s parents paying a bride price of 130,000 yuan (almost $20,000).

    When Fang did not get pregnant after marrying her husband, she started suffering severe emotional and physical abuse at the hands of her husband and in-laws, beginning in July of 2018. Zhang and his parents reportedly beat Fang with wooden rods, refused to let her eat, locked her up, and let her freeze outside in the cold.

    The in-law’s house on November 17, photo by Beijing News / Qiao Chi

    Fang, who weighed 180 pounds (80 kilograms) when she got married, only weighed 60 pounds (30 kilograms) in early 2019. Beijing News reports that Fang, malnourished and weak, died on January 31st 2019 after suffering another beating by her in-laws.

    The case received more attention on social media this week as the local Yucheng People’s Court (山东禹城法院) reviewed the case after an earlier verdict in January. The retrial is set to take place on November 27.

    In January 2020, the court sentenced Fang’s husband and his parents for the crime of abuse. The victim’s father-in-law, Zhang Jilin (张吉林), received three years in prison, her mother-in-law, Liu Lanying (刘兰英), got 26 months in prison, and her husband’s sentence was suspended with a three-year probation time, as reported by Sixth Tone and China Daily.

    The relatively light punishments triggered anger on Weibo, where the hashtag “Woman Suffers Abuse by In-Laws for Being Infertile and Dies” (#山东一女子因不孕遭婆家虐待致死#) has been trending for days, along with other similar hashtags (#女子因不孕被夫家虐待致死案重审#, #山东女子因不孕被虐待致死#).

    A statement issued by Yucheng People’s Court said the court gave the defendants lighter punishment because they were truthful about their crimes and, in advance, paid a voluntary compensation of 50,000 yuan ($7630). The verdict will now be withdrawn.

    In an interview with Southcn.com, Fang’s cousin stated the family had contacted police before when Fang’s in-laws would not allow the family to see her. The second time they contacted the police was after Fang had died.

    Sources close to the family state that Fang’s mother had been diagnosed with a mental condition, with Fang allegedly also showing signs of mental disability, although this has not been verified by official sources. There are also sources claiming that the father-in-law, Zhang Jilin, was a heavy drinker who would get aggressive when drunk.

    On social media, many people are outraged. “I just don’t understand it!”, one person writes: “It’s just because of societal pressure that this case is now going on retrial. But this is not justice!”

    Public anger about the case grew louder due to another case trending at the same time, in which a Shenzhen mother who beat her 12-year-old daughter to death received a ten-year prison sentence (#母亲失手打死12岁女儿获刑十年#).

    “This is unimaginable,” one Weibo user wrote: “Isn’t the idea of sentencing someone to actually punish them?!”

    “This pains me so much, is this the actual society we’re living in?”

    Besides the anger over China’s criminal justice system when it comes to domestic violence, there are also those who express disgust over the fact that the Zhang family apparently arranged a marriage for the sole purpose of producing offspring. “Are we still living in the Qing Dynasty?”

    Many of the comments online are similar to those that flooded social media after the death of Lamu: “Is this how the law protects women?!”

    We will report more on this story after November 27.

    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.

    ©2020 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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    China Insight

    Trump Versus Biden –The Sentiments on Chinese Social Media

    Is Biden the preferred candidate for most Chinese, as is often claimed? An overview of discussions on Trump vs Biden on Weibo.

    Manya Koetse

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    With nearly three billion views on the hashtag page, the ‘American elections’ are top trending on Weibo (#美国大选#). What are the current Chinese online sentiments towards Trump versus Biden?

     
    This is the “WE…WEI…WHAT?” column by Manya Koetse, original publication in German by Goethe Institut China, see Goethe.de: WE…WEI…WHAT? Manya Koetse erklärt das chinesische Internet.
     

    “Congratulations, it’s a boy!”, many social media users in China joked when Donald Trump was elected in November of 2016.

    At the time, What’s on Weibo was closely following how Chinese web users were responding to the news of Trump’s election, and found that many were quite positive.

    It was Trump’s “war on political correctness” and his new, pragmatic way of approaching politics that many said they appreciated. “A new broom sweeps clean,” was a recurring comment at the time. There was a sense of excitement about this new American president, this “funny businessman,” stirring up turmoil on the world’s political stage.

    There were also those saying that Trump was not the ideal candidate, but just that Hillary Clinton was much worse. With her focus on human rights, the feminist movement, and internet freedom, many thought of her as the most ‘anti-China’ candidate, and for that reason alone, were happy that Trump was elected instead of her.

    But in 2020, Chinese sentiments towards Trump – and the US in general – have shifted. As people all over the world are watching the developments surrounding the American elections with great interest, let’s go over some of the main views that surface in China’s social media sphere regarding ‘Trump versus Biden.’

     

    Shifting Views on Trump

     

    Although it seemed that people on Chinese social media, and even official media, showed a somewhat favorable stance towards Trump in the early days after the 2016 election, this generally positive view shifted to a more negative one after the president’s controversial phone call with Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen and the 2016 Fox interview in which Trump challenged the One China Policy. Many Weibo users called Trump an “idiot” and said he had “zero understanding of how diplomacy works.”

    In 2017, Trump’s then 5-year-old granddaughter Arabella, who had been learning to speak Mandarin, seemed to be part of America’s diplomatic ‘charm offensive’ in China. The little girl, daughter of Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner, featured in a short video that was shown to President Xi Jinping and ‘Chinese First Lady’ Peng Liyuan during an informal tea with Trump at the Forbidden City. Arabella, dressed in a Chinese-style dress, sung songs in Mandarin and recited some poetry.

    The video received millions of views on Chinese social media and was widely shared by netizens and Chinese official media outlets such as Xinhua, People’s Daily and CCTV. Many viewed the video and Arabella’s efforts to learn Chinese as a sign of better China-US friendship in the future, calling it “the best present” Trump could bring during his Beijing visit.

    But over the past two years, views on Trump have soured along with the deteriorating US-China (trade) relations.

    When the U.S. Justice Department officially filed charges against Chinese smartphone maker Huawei in 2019 for allegedly stealing trade secrets, seeking the extradition of chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou (the daughter of the company’s founder), the online narrative – reiterated by Chinese state media – was that the United States was using the judicial system for a battle that was actually politically motivated; it was not about Huawei, but all about China’s rise as a competing technological power.

    That same idea was spread by officials, media, and netizens, when Trump issued an American ban on Chinese apps TikTok and WeChat earlier this year. Many deemed that it was not about national security at all, but rather a fight over technological leadership.

    What also made Donald Trump more unpopular among Chinese was the fact that he pointed the finger at China after the outbreak of the new coronavirus pandemic, repeatedly calling it the “Chinese virus.”

    When news came out in October this year that President Trump and his wife Melania tested positive for COVID-19, it immediately became top trending all over Chinese social media.

    The news came right after China’s National Day, during the Golden Week holiday, and some jokingly said that the positive COVID-19 test was “Trump’s way of congratulating China during the national holiday.” Because the American president previously downplayed the severity of the COVID-19 crisis and continuously shifted the blame on China, the popular view on Trump getting infected was a simple ‘what goes around, comes around.’

    Donald Trump is often nicknamed Chuān Jiànguó (川建国) on Chinese social media, which basically means “Build the Country Trump.” The name is just one among many existing memes and jokes about the U.S. president on the Chinese internet. A reason to call him Chuān Jiànguó is to make fun of Trump’s words and actions, suggesting that his leadership only brings America down and in doing so, also further accelerates the rise of China. In doing so, Trump is sarcastically called “America’s gift to China.”

     

    ‘Pupu’ versus ‘Dengdeng’

     

    As the second and final presidential debate of the election campaign has finished and Election Day is nearing, the ‘Trump versus Biden’ topic is much discussed on Weibo, WeChat, and also on other Chinese social media platforms, such as the Chinese question-and-answer website Zhihu. In these online discussions, the two men are sometimes also jokingly referred to as ‘Pupu’ (普普) and ‘Dengdeng’ (登登), cute abbreviations for their Chinese names ‘Chuanpu’ (川普) and ‘Baideng’ (拜登).

    Although it has been reported by various international media that Beijing allegedly would prefer Democratic candidate Joe Biden over President Donald Trump, this supposed official stance is not necessarily reflected in social media discussions in mainland China.

    Western critics are also divided over whether or not Biden is the preferred candidate for the Chinese leadership. Some argue that Trump, who has weakened America’s traditional international alliances and has seemingly not been too concerned with human rights issues, is actually favored over Biden for basically strengthening China’s position in international society.

    Despite the fact that views on Trump have shifted throughout the years, the discussions on Weibo and other platforms are still multifaceted when it comes to the American president. Many are not impressed by Biden’s performances either. The Democratic presidential nominee is praised by some for being “mild,” “scholarly” and “refined”, but others criticize him for using a lot of “empty words” and “talking in cliches.”

    Some netizens support Biden merely for being “the enemy of an enemy.”

    “Trump’s pragmatic and business-like style is very convincing,” one blogger from Beijing wrote about the second presidential debate: “I think he did better than Joe Biden, who is all about talk and no action (..) I hope Trump wins.”

    In a recent lengthy WeChat blog about the US elections posted by state tabloid account Global Times, the author claims that when it comes to China, it actually does not really matter who wins the elections: “Regardless if it’s the Democrats or the Republicans, both hold a negative stance when it comes to the China issue. (..) No matter who comes to power in the future, there is a high probability that they will continue to suppress China.”

    The author further suggests that there might be “a difference in style” between Trump and Biden regarding China policies: “If Trump wins, we’ll see more of what we have already been seeing now, without much international support. If Biden wins, he will be more likely to seek international consensus to target China and make use of international organizations to put pressure on Beijing. Also, Biden is probably more concerned about human rights and democratic values than Trump is.”

    There are many Chinese web users who, for this reason alone, would rather see Trump win than Biden – it’s the ‘Build the Country Trump’ kind of reasoning. As one Weibo blogger from Dalian writes: “I hope Trump gets re-elected. It would just be better for China.”

    An online poll that was held by a popular Weibo blogger earlier this year asked people if they would like to see Trump be reelected. Of the 8736 people participating, 74% said they hoped Donald Trump gets elected again. Only 5% said they hoped he would not be reelected. Another 21% said they felt indifferent about the American elections, as it would not make much difference for China anyway.

    Although many people do care about the American elections, mostly because of how the outcome would affect China, others just enjoy watching the spectacle of U.S. politics. “I love how confident and unruly Trump is,” one commenter writes: “He is legendary. If Biden comes to power, the coming four years are going to be much more boring.”

    Image of Trump shared on Weibo (@香港文匯網)

    “Without Trump, the world’s just gonna be a lot less fun,” another person agrees.

    But there are also those who do not care for any more Trump memes, jokes, and spectacle. “Everyday I check my phone, it’s all about Trump,” popular U.S.-based Weibo blogger Zheng Jun writes: “I really hope that once the elections are over, I don’t need to look at any more Trump news.”

    By Manya Koetse
    Follow @whatsonweibo

     
    This text was written for Goethe-Institut China under a CC-BY-NC-ND-4.0-DE license (Creative Commons) as part of a monthly column in collaboration with What’s On Weibo.
     

    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.

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