Winnie the Pooh has reportedly become too politically sensitive to be mentioned on Chinese social media allegedly due to comparisons between President Xi Jinping and the illustrated bear.
A Chinese literature academic confirmed to The Bookseller that “some blocking of Winnie the Pooh's name” had taken place as Freedom of expression organization, Index on Censorship, said censorship in the country had risen following the recent death of author and Nobel prize winner Liu Xiaobo.
Posts including the Chinese name of the fictional bear were censored on Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter-like platform over the weekend, according to the Financial Times, while a collection of animated gifs featuring the bear were removed from social messaging app WeChat.
While no official explanation was given, commentators have suggested the crackdown was related to previous comparisons of Chinese President Xi Jinping with the bear created by A A Milne, which went viral. Allegedly attempts to post the Chinese characters for Winnie’s name on Weibo returned the message this “content is illegal”, although some users have apparently managed to dodge the block.
Michel Hockx, professor of chinese literature at America's Notre Dame University, confirmed to The Bookseller that “there has some blocking of Winnie the Pooh's name and images but it's hard to tell exactly how much”.
He said: “The search term is certainly not blocked and it is easy to find many posts about Winnie on the popular microblogging site Weibo. Apparently it is okay to write 'Winnie the Pooh' in a post or to search for the term, but it is not okay to write it in a comment on another post. Weibo users are mystified and so am I."
Hockx, formerly the director of the China Institute at SOAS, University of London, added: "It's probably safe to say that there has been some sensitivity surrounding Winnie images that are circulating in order to spoof the Chinese president. It all started out a few years ago with the image [of the president walking with Barack Obama, leading to comparisons with Winnie and Tigger] which was widely circulated and enjoyed because of the striking resemblances.
"It does say something about the creativity of Chinese [internet users], and the global fame of Winnie the Pooh."
Image from The Art of Winnie the Pooh (© The Shepard Trust, reproduced with permission from Curtis Brown)
Editor of the Index on Censorship Magazine, Rachael Jolley, told The Bookseller there had been previous attempts to censor the A A Milne character from Chinese life. She added it was part of a wider crack down following the death of author Liu Xiaobo. The democracy activist died aged 61 on Thursday 13th July.
Jolley said: “Index condemns rising censorship in China in the past few days that appears to relate to worldwide interest in the death of author and Nobel prize winner Liu Xiaobo.
"As the world recognises the commitment of Liu Xiaobo to his battle for more human rights and more freedom in China, the Chinese authorities clearly have decided to increase censorship even further.”
She added: “This atmosphere appears to have resulted in another ban on the name and images of Winnie the Pooh. The comparison with Pooh and the Chinese leader has been happening for years, and there have been previous attempts to censor the AA Milne character from Chinese life.”
Jolly said the bear had been censored in Europe previously. She said: “The children's character also has a record of being banned outside China, it also faced the wrath of censors in Poland, for looking non gender specific, and not wearing trousers.”
She added: “Chinese citizens often use metaphors and cartoon characters to avoid the attention of the censors, but this method of communication is increasingly under attack.”
Comparisons between Mr Xi and Winnie the Pooh first originated four years ago during Mr Xi’s visit with then US president Barack Obama. A photo of Mr Obama walking with Mr Xi was combined with a picture of Winnie the Pooh and his friend Tigger.
In 2014 the comparison was extended to Mr Xi’s meeting with Japan’s prime minister Shinzo Abe, who was pictured as Eeyore, the sad donkey, alongside the bear.
A photo of Mr Xi standing up through the roof of a parade car, next to a picture of Winnie the Pooh in a toy car, was announced as the “most censored image of 2015” by political consultancy Global Risk Insights.
In March, publishing sources told the South China Morning Post that an order from Beijing would “drastically cut the number of foreign picture books for children published in mainline China”. The order was allegedly part of a new campaign to reduce the influence of foreign ideas and enhance ideological control, restricting animal cartoons and fairy tales.
Last month, the author Margaret Atwood told Index on Censorship Magazine that she would like to see those who have been killed in the fight to protect free speech honoured, either through a statue or a wall in London's Hyde Park. One of her nominations included London printer John Twyn who published a pamplet justifying the right to rebellion and then refused to say who had commissioned it.
Egmont, which publishes Winnie the Pooh in the UK, has been contacted about the censorship allegations as has Milne’s literary agency Curtis Brown. Both declined to comment.
Winnie-The-Pooh, the first collection of stories about the bear, was illustrated by E H Shepard and published in 1926.
An illustrated book featuring previously unseen sketches by Shepard, as well as correspondence between him and Milne, was announced today (17th July), and will be published in September. The Art of Winnie the Pooh, published by LOM Art (pictured above), draws on the collaboration between the author and illustrator. The author, James Campbell, is married to Shepard's great-granddaughter and has had responsibility for the oversight of the illustrator's artistic and literary estate since 2010.
"Goodbye Christopher Robin", a film about Milne, is released in October and in the same month, Winnie the Pooh: The Best Bear in All the World will be published by Egmont. An exhibition, “Winnie-the-Pooh: Exploring A Classic”, will open at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London from 16th December to 8th April.