Guess who was just banned in China? Here’s a hint: He wears an undersized red shirt, lives in the Hundred-Acre Wood, and has an incurable weakness for “hunny.” Yes, that’s right — Winnie the Pooh has just been axed from social media platforms in China for being too politically sensitive.
Over the weekend, users on the Chinese micro-blogging site Weibo found that any mention of the fictional character was being blocked. Typing the Chinese characters for Pooh’s name in comments produces the message “content is illegal,” according to the Financial Times. Animated GIFs and illustrations of the bear have also been taken down from the official gallery of the messaging app WeChat, though user-generated images still exist.
No official explanation has been provided for why Christopher Robin’s cuddly best friend has been deemed dangerous by the Chinese government, though pundits speculate it’s probably because of a viral meme that has likened Chinese President Xi Jinping to Pooh.
“Oh, bother” — a long history between Xi and Pooh
The comparisons began in 2013, when Chinese social media users began circulating a picture of Xi walking with President Obama next to a picture of Pooh walking with his taller, more slender friend, Tigger. The resemblance was too uncanny (and too adorable) to ignore.
The comparison continued in 2014, when a picture of Xi posing next to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at an international conference was likened to an image of Pooh with his donkey friend Eeyore.
Chinese Internet users FTW. #APEC2014 pic.twitter.com/6wFDvhlaNv— Josh Chin 李肇华 (@joshchin) November 10, 2014
And in 2015, a collage that placed a picture of Xi standing up through the roof of a parade car next to a picture of Pooh in his toy car became the most censored image in China for that year, reported Global Risk Insights, a political analysis group founded in London. Right after the parade, a picture of just Pooh in his toy car was shared more than 65,000 times on Weibo before it was taken down, reported the BBC.
Pooh is the latest victim in an ongoing crackdown
While many Chinese netizens have been tickled by the repeated comparisons between Xi and Pooh, the humor is lost on the Chinese Community Party, which sees these memes as demeaning to Xi, the general secretary for the CCP. Tensions are particularly high in light of the CCP’s upcoming national congress — a twice-a-decade event that often marks important changes in party leadership.
So even though the government’s ban on Pooh has been thrust into the media spotlight over the weekend, the yellow bear is really just the latest victim in an ongoing crackdown on political content that might threaten the smooth handover of power this fall.
Last week, the letters “RIP” were blocked on Weibo following the death of the Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo. Other symbolic references to Xi, such as the Chinese breakfast food "baozi," which is a reference to the president's nickname, "Steamed Bun Xi," have also been taken down. The nickname was popularized in 2014, after Xi was photographed eating at a steamed bun restaurant in Beijing. Xi’s visit was seen by many as an attempt to show that he was in touch with the common folk, but the symbol of “baozi” has since been appropriated by protestors to call on the government to address their economic woes.
Yet despite their efforts, it’s not clear that this ban will end all comparisons between Xi and Pooh. This meme has persisted for years, even though the government has consistently removed posts that evoke it. More likely than not, Chinese netizens will find a way around this ban once a photographer snaps a shot of Xi that even mildly resembles a scene from the Hundred-Acre Wood.