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Why Censors Are Targeting Winnie-the-Pooh in China

Social media users have compared the honey-loving bear to Chinese President Xi Jinping

(Walt Disney/ Picture from Ronald Grant Archive / Alamy Stock Photo)
smithsonian.com

When it comes to iconic characters of children’s literature, Winnie-the-Pooh is as loveable as they come. But the tubby little cubby has incited the ire of internet censors in China. As the Agence France-Presse reports, some mentions of Winnie-the-Pooh were recently blocked from Chinese social networks. 

Comments that mention “Little Bear Winnie”—as Pooh is known in China—now turn up error messages on the Twitter-like platform Weibo, while Winnie-the-Pooh stickers have been removed from the messaging app WeChat's official sticker gallery. Authorities did not provide any reason for the blacklist, but many have theorized that Pooh was given the boot because social media users have likened the honey-loving bear to Chinese President Xi Jinping.

The trend began in 2013, after photos of Xi and former President Barack Obama were compared to an image of Pooh walking alongside his more slender buddy, Tigger. In 2014, Xi’s rather uncomfortable handshake with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe drew comparisons to an encounter between Pooh and the perennially glum Eeyore.

The internet struck again when a photo of Xi standing through the roof of a parade vehicle was paired with an image of a plastic Winnie popping up in a toy car. The political analysis portal Global Risk Insights found that the composite image was “China’s most censored photo” of 2015, according to the AFP.

Comparisons to Winnie-the-Pooh may seem relatively benign (indeed, other world leaders have been likened to far less adorable creatures), but officials in China aren’t laughing. Stephen McDonell of the BBC reports that Chinese censors have been on edge as the country readies for the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party this fall, where new leadership in the party will be appointed.

“Xi Jinping will also be using the Congress, which marks the beginning of his second term in office, to further solidify his grip on power by promoting allies and sidelining those seen as a threat,” McDonell explains.

Qiao Mu, assistant professor of media at Beijing Foreign Studies University, tells Yuan Yang of the Financial Times that in the lead-up, “[h]istorically, two things have been not allowed: political organizing and political action.” But this year, online commenters are being detained for posting remarks about the president.

“I think the Winnie issue is part of this trend,” Qiao notes.

Pooh Bear isn’t the only one putting censors in a tizzy, according to Yang. After the death of Chinese dissident and Nobel Prize Winner Liu Xiaobo last week, Javier C. Hernández reported for the New York Times that the letters “RIP” and the candle emoji were swiftly blocked from Weibo.

About Brigit Katz

Brigit Katz is a journalist based in New York City. Her work has appeared in New York magazine, Flavorwire, and Women in the World, a property of The New York Times.

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