Why Winnie-the-Pooh makes Xi Jinping uncomfortable

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WINNIE-THE-POOH he is a good, trustworthy bear. That makes him an unlikely protagonist for a slasher film. “Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey”, which was released earlier this year, has been freaked out by moviegoers around the world. In Hong Kong it was pulled by cinemas before it opened. It didn’t even make it that far in mainland China. That’s not because of the unbelievable amount of gore that’s being poured out, or because the entire premise of the film is idiosyncratic. Any picture of Pooh is sure to attract the attention of the Chinese authorities. Why?

When Xi Jinping visited Barack Obama at the White House in 2013, a social media card commented on how the two resembled Pooh and Tigger, the bear’s fictional friend. The president of America was tall and lithe; The Chinese leader, by contrast, seemed squat and tiny. Mr. Obama’s wire frame reaches 1.87 meters. Mr Xi’s height, although a secret, is believed to be between 1.75 and 1.78 metres. Whatever the truth, a meme was born.

Censoring China’s Internet is a game of whales. Direct criticism of the Communist Party and its general secretary is quickly accepted, so netizens have to find creative ways to protest or ridicule before the authorities catch them. For a while, a harmless bear became an elusive mole. Arch’s online reference to Pooh was known to refer to the Chinese leader. In 2015 a photo of Mr Xi pushing through the sunroof of a limousine during a military parade was widely compared to one of Pooh sitting in a toy car. It became China’s most censored image of the year, according to Global Risks Insights, a political risk research group. Before 2017 小熊维尼, the Chinese characters for Winnie-the-Pooh (literally “Little Bear Winnie”) were actually banned on the Chinese internet.

Since the comparison to Mr. Xi was often light, the response may have seemed overly sensitive. World leaders often try to cloak their authoritarianism with an attractive alter-ego, after all: Mr Xi himself once enjoyed the moniker “Xi Dada”, on used a lot by the state media, until some people started mocking him for it. But the Chinese leader suffers from an even more common trait among authors: thin skin. Mr Xi has amassed more power than any of his predecessors since Mao Zedong. Like Mao he has ignited a cult of personality, in which he must be regarded as infallible. He is obsessed with an image. Party leaders are expected to learn Xi’s wisdom by heart. There is no room for ribbing, no matter how gentle.

And so China sends out forces of censorship and secret police to intercept online posts. Internet companies employ moderators in their tens of thousands to spot and delete banned comments and images – including terminally ursine ones – within seconds. The sensitivity of censors can approach the ridiculous. Last year a man came alive eating cake. Authorities objected that the cartoon looked like a tank, so it was pulled from the air for fear it was referring to those who were evicted from Tiananmen Square by a murderous force. in 1989. Last year China’s Cyberspace Administration implemented a rule that all comments on Chinese news sites will be screened before they can be posted.

In 2000 Bill Clinton famously predicted that China’s authoritarian regime, bent on policing what people say about it, would be incompetent in the age of smartphones and online information distribution. line freely. Indeed Mr Xi’s government – a few fake bears aside – has shown that it is capable of maintaining control. As AA Milne (a connoisseur of Winnie-the-Pooh, as it happens) said: “Organizing is what you do before you do something so that it’s not all mixed up when you do it.”

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