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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 founder and editor-in-chief of whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer, public speaker, and researcher (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends, digital developments, and new media in an ever-changing China, with a focus on Chinese society, pop culture, and gender issues. She shares her love for hotpot on hotpotambassador.com. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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    AC

    July 18, 2017 at 3:32 am

    Looks like BBC plagiarized most of this article without giving acknowledgement and of course putting their own propaganda spin on it. http://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-china-blog-40627855

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About Lipstick King’s Comeback and His ‘Mysterious’ Disappearance

After Li Jiaqi’s return to livestreaming, the ‘tank cake incident’ has become the elephant in the room on social media.

Manya Koetse

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Earlier this week, the return of China’s famous livestreamer Li Jiaqi, also known as the ‘Lipstick King’, became a hot topic on Chinese social media where his three-month ‘disappearance’ from the social commerce scene triggered online discussions.

He is known as Austin Li, Lipstick King, or Lipstick Brother, but most of all he is known as one of China’s most successful e-commerce livestreaming hosts.

After being offline for over 100 days, Li Jiaqi (李佳琦) finally came back and did a livestreaming session on September 20th, attracting over 60 million viewers and selling over $17 million in products.

The 30-year-old beauty influencer, a former L’Oreal beauty consultant, rose to fame in 2017 after he became a successful livestreamer focusing on lipstick and other beauty products.

Li broke several records during his live streaming career. In 2018, he broke the Guinness World Record for “the most lipstick applications in 30 seconds.” He once sold 15000 lipsticks in 5 minutes, and also managed to apply 380 different lipsticks in another seven-hour live stream session. Li made international headlines in 2021 when he sold $1.9 billion in goods during a 12-hour-long promotion livestream for Alibaba’s shopping festival.

But during a Taobao livestream on June 3rd of this year, something peculiar happened. After Li Jiaqi and his co-host introduced an interestingly shaped chocolate cake – which seemed to resemble a tank, – a male assistant in the back mentioned something about the sound of shooting coming from a tank (“坦克突突”).

Although Li Jiaqi and the others laughed about the comment, Li also seemed a bit unsure and the woman next to him then said: “Stay tuned for 23:00 to see if Li Jiaqi and I will still be in this position.”

The session then suddenly stopped, and at 23:38 that night Li wrote on Weibo that the channel was experiencing some “technical problems.”

But those “technical problems” lasted, and Li did not come back. His June 3rd post about the technical problems would be the last one on his Weibo account for the months to come.

The ‘cake tank incident’ (坦克蛋糕事件) occurred on the night before June 4, the 33rd anniversary of the violent crackdown of the Tiananmen student demonstrations. The iconic image of the so-called ‘tank man‘ blocking the tanks at Tiananmen has become world famous and is censored on China’s internet. The control of information flows is especially strict before and on June 4, making Li’s ‘tank cake incident’ all the more controversial.

But no official media nor the official Li Jiaqi accounts acknowledged the tank cake incident, and his absence remained unexplained. Meanwhile, there was a silent acknowledgment among netizens that the reason Li was not coming online anymore was related to the ‘tank cake incident.’

During Li’s long hiatus, fans flocked to his Weibo page where they left thousands of messages.

“I’m afraid people have been plotting against you,” many commenters wrote, suggesting that the cake was deliberately introduced by someone else during the livestream as a way to commemorate June 4.

Many fans also expressed their appreciation of Li, saying how watching his streams helped them cope with depression or cheered them up during hard times. “What would we do without you?” some wrote. Even after 80 days without Li Jiaqi’s livestreams, people still commented: “I am waiting for you every day.”

On September 21st, Li Jiaqi finally – and somewhat quietly – returned and some people said they were moved to see their lipstick hero return to the livestream scene.

Although many were overjoyed with Li’s return, it also triggered more conversations on why he had disappeared and what happened to him during the 3+ months of absence. “He talked about a sensitive topic,” one commenter said when a Weibo user asked about Li’s disappearance.

One self-media accountpublished a video titled “Li Jiaqi has returned.” The voiceover repeatedly asks why Li would have disappeared and even speculates about what might have caused it, without once mentioning the tank cake.

“This cracks me up,” one commenter wrote: “On the outside we all know what’s going on, on the inside there’s no information whatsoever.”

“It’s tacit mutual understanding,” some wrote. “It’s the elephant in the room,” others said.

Some people, however, did not care about discussing Li’s disappearance at all anymore and just expressed joy about seeing him again: “It’s like seeing a good friend after being apart for a long time.”

By Manya Koetse 

Elements in the featured image by @karishea and @kaffeebart.

 

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Backgrounder

More Than Just a Visit: Explaining the Chinese ‘Cuànfǎng’

‘Cuànfǎng’ became a popular word on Chinese social media and in official Chinese discourse this year. But what is it?

Jin Luo

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Since Pelosi’s stopover in Taiwan, the word ‘cuànfǎng’ has been all over Chinese social media to refer to this controversial visit. But ‘cuànfǎng’ is more than just ‘visiting’ alone. Jin Luo explains.

It was a sleepless night for many Chinese people when U.S. House Speaker Pelosi flew to Taiwan on August 2nd of 2022. A new Chinese word created in recent years, cuànfǎng (窜访) appeared in the official statement that was issued by the Chinese Foreign Ministry at 11 pm that night, and subsequently it appeared all over social media.

Meanwhile, a pop song released more than 30 years ago titled “Tonight, Are You Coming or Not” (“今夜你会不会来”) suddenly became a Weibo hot topic before it was taken offline. What is this word lost in translation, and why did people suddenly get nostalgic over an old romantic song?

 
Cuànfǎng: A ‘Sneaky Visit’
 

Here is the original wording in Chinese and the official translation to English from the statement of the Chinese Foreign Ministry on the evening on 2 August:

In disregard of China’s strong opposition and diplomatic discontent, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi visited China’s Taiwan region” (“美国国会众议长佩洛西不顾中方强烈反对和严正交涉,窜访中国台湾地区.”) The word ‘visited’ in Chinese that is used here is “cuànfǎng” 窜访.

While the English verb “visit” is a neutral word by itself, the Chinese “cuànfǎng” 窜访 has much stronger connotations. According to the Wiktionary, the word is a derogatory, officialese way to say “to visit.” But it is not an easy word to translate, as there is no direct equivalent in English, and both the literal and implied meaning of the word need to be understood.

Cuànfǎng is actually a compound word: cuàn 窜 refers to fleeing, escaping, hiding, or running away; fǎng 访 refers to inquiring, seeking, or visiting.

Cuan as a compound character (Sohu).

To make matters more complicated, cuàn by itself is also a compound character. It is written as ‘竄’ in traditional Chinese: the top radical ‘穴’ means ‘hole,’ and the lower part is the character ‘鼠’ which means ‘mouse.’ The character, having the shape of a mouse hiding in a hole, therefore has the meaning of ‘hiding’ and ‘escaping.’

The origins of the character ‘cuan’ explained, image via Sohu.com.

The mouse or rat is an animal that is more often associated with negative things in Chinese culture. They are often considered sneaky, dirty, running around everywhere, and able to reproduce quickly. With mice so often carrying a negative association, cuàn ‘窜’ also refers to a kind of hiding and escaping that is negative or objectionable.

The second character fǎng 访 is a neutral word that simply means “to visit.”

At the New York Times, Chris Buckley captured the underlying meaning of this word in writing: “The Chinese word used in the official statements for ‘visit’ — cuanfang — connotes a sneaky or illicit encounter, not an aboveboard meeting.”

 
The Evolution of Cuànfǎng
 

Although it is a relatively new word, cuànfǎng already existed before the Pelosi incident and was not created in light of this controversial visit.

Since the word’s first appearance, translators have had some difficulties in properly translating the term into different languages.

Research papers in translation studies and international relations in China suggested that cuànfǎng is a “new derogatory term invented in recent years, specifically for the purpose of maintaining national security and unity, and condemning and exposing the national separatists” and “demonstrated the big wisdom of Chinese diplomatic discourse users; vividly described the image of the separatists, that they go on the run sneakily, just like thieves and mice” (source, in Chinese).

Other sources interpret it as “the unjust, improper visit conducted in order to reach hidden political agenda, to agitate and peddle the separatist ideas,” and:

1. You went somewhere where you were not supposed to go;
2. The visit was not accepted or welcomed by the (Chinese) government;
3. The purpose is to shake justice and create conflicts
” (source, in Chinese).

Cuàn was mainly meant to add an emotional aspect to the term and shows the contempt of the person who uses it.

Image via Wainao.

The word was first prominently used in Chinese official discourse when the Foreign Ministry in 2006 referred to the Dalai Lama’s visit to Israel. Since cuàn has the meaning of fleeing, it is especially suitable when referring to political dissidents who went into exile overseas.

Since then, it has been used again for further visits of the Dalai Lama to other countries (US 2014, Mongolia 2017), as well as for Rebiya Kadeer, Lee Teng-hui, Shinzo Abe, Joshua Wong, and others.

Although it is clear that the term is not only applied to Chinese dissidents, it is generally applied to those who conducted visits that were perceived to be hostile towards China, with Nancy Pelosi’s Taiwan visit serving as a clear example.

Since the Dalai Lama has been living outside of China and conducted numerous visits to other countries, cuànfǎng was previously mostly used in this context until Pelosi’s visit, which ended up being good for more than 80% of the search results of cuànfǎng on the Chinese Foreign Ministry website.

If cuànfǎng is a word with such strong emotional connotations, why was it simply translated as “visit” in official English-language documents? Some say it is because of the mere difficulty to translate this word, while others say it is the routine sanitization of English translations by the Foreign Ministry.

David Gitter, president of the Center for Advanced China Research based in Washington D.C., said that the external goal of Beijing can be different from the internal goal towards the nationalist domestic audiences, and that “more accurate yet counterproductive translations … [often] breach normal diplomatic language.”

At this point, it remains up for debate whether this is a linguistic constraint or a political choice.

 
Tonight, Are You Coming or Not?
 

While the term cuànfǎng has been widely used in official discourse, it has also become a popular online word. Chinese netizens seemed to be as passionate as the Chinese Foreign Ministry – and perhaps even more so –  in condemning Pelosi’s Taiwan visit and demanding radical countermeasures.

Chinese netizens were watching the entire event unfold with mixed feelings – on the one hand, there was a strong sense of patriotism and anger, on the other hand, the massive attention to the event also turned it into something that was almost as exciting as a celebrity drama.

On that specific evening of Pelosi’s nearing arrival in Taipei, Chinese netizens were doing two things: watching real-time tracking of Pelosi’s flight, and listening to a classic pop song released in 1991 titled “Tonight, Are You Coming or Not” (今夜你会不会来) (video). Back in the previous century, Hong Kong singer Leon Lai expressed the emotions of someone waiting for his lover to arrive in this melodic song, singing:

“你是否愿意为我停留

Would you be willing to stay for me

今夜你来告诉我

Tonight, you tell me

你是否愿意陪我走过我的梦

Are you willing to accompany me through my dream?

我的所有

My everything

(Chorus)

今夜你会不会来

Tonight, are you coming or not?

你的爱还在不在

Is your love still there or not?

如果你的心已经离开

If your heart has left already

我宁愿没有未来

I would rather not have a future

今夜你会不会来

Tonight, are you coming or not?

你的爱还在不在

Is your love still there or not?

别让我所有的等待

Don’t let all my wait

变成一片空白

Go all in vain

 

In the middle of the uncertainty about whether Pelosi would come to Taiwan or not, this song served as entertainment for netizens and became a “collective carnival” of people jokingly applying the song to Pelosi, turning her into a ‘mysterious lover’ that might or might not show up. (Later, some were unable to play the song anymore, although it remains unclear if this was due to geographic restrictions or because the song was actually taken offline by censors.)

“Taiwan has been preparing for your cuànfǎng ‘sneaky visit’, are you coming or not tonight?” some netizens wrote, combining the title song with the cuànfǎng term. In doing so, Pelosi became both a ‘sneaky mouse’ and ‘mysterious lover’, both a target of condemnation and subject of fun and banter.

All jokes and cuànfǎng references aside, Pelosi did end up realizing that visit, and its aftermath, including a second Taiwan visit by a U.S. congressional delegation, has had a substantial impact on U.S.-China relations that were already strained before the move.

Will there be more cuànfǎng to Taiwan? It’s likely not an issue of if, but when. For next time, at least we’ve got cuànfǎng covered.

 

By Jin Luo 

Featured image by Alexa from Pixabay

 

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©2022 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.
 

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