Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP’s) ban on Winnie the Pooh, in force since the character has been compared to President Xi Jinping in 2013, reaches new extremes.
Published by Bitter Winter
By Massimo Introvigne
Bitter Winter readers may not be familiar with Theme Park University, a publication devoted to Disney and other theme parks around the world. Yet, the issue of November 24, 2018, was well worth reading. It reported rumors that Shanghai Disneyland may be compelled to eliminate all references and attractions featuring Winnie the Pooh, the beloved teddy bear character created by British author Alan Alexander Milne (1882–1956) in 1925 (for a Christmas short story; the first book appeared in 1926) and made famous by Disney’s animated versions that started in 1966.
“That’s right, Theme Park University commented, no more character meet and greets, no more merchandise and the attractions could get rethemed.” This refers to two popular Shanghai Disneyland attractions, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh and the teacup ride Pooh’s Hunny Pot Spin. The popular news site Inquisitr commented that this may be very expensive for Disney: “the re-theming of the two attractions would be very costly”—“but there may be no choice.”
No, we are not in April and this is not an April Fool’s joke. In fact, the CCP is cracking down on Winnie the Pooh and his friends as if they were a xie jiao, a banned heterodox movement. As CNN had already reported in 2017, in the tightly controlled Chinese Internet, those who search for “Winnie the Pooh” may receive a message telling them that distributing information about Milne’s teddy bear is actually illegal, and references to the Pooh are also banned from popular Chinese platforms such as WeChat and Sina Weibo.
Has the CCP gone mad? In fact, all started in 2013 when somebody compared to an image of Pooh and his friend Tigger a picture of President Xi Jinping and Barack Obama, who met at the G20 in Saint Petersburg (some sources incorrectly link the image to a visit by Obama to China in 2013, while this visit happened in 2014). This was regarded as lese-majesty in China, in a climate of increasing personality cult of Xi Jinping and paranoia suspecting “counter-revolutionary” activities behind any criticism or even joke about the CCP.
Notwithstanding, or perhaps because, it was banned, the image of Xi Jinping as the Pooh went viral. As the crackdown escalated, Winnie the Pooh became a symbol of resistance to the regime. Dissident Liu Xiaobo (1955–2017) and his wife were photographed in the hospital where Liu had been admitted, both holding Pooh mugs.
In August 2018, it was announced that Disney live action movie Christopher Robin, which features Winnie the Pooh, will be banned and will not be released in China. In the trailer of the new popular video game Kingdom Hearts 3, Winnie the Pooh has also been censored in China. A white spot replaces the teddy bear, while the other characters are still there.
The matter is becoming deadly serious. It offers a grim picture of the siege mentality of Xi’s CCP. If even Winnie the Pooh is banned, what hope of freedom can exist for ideas and groups more seriously disturbing the regime?