A popular Chinese video-sharing app has blocked content related to the British animated children’s program Peppa Pig, after the cartoon’s main character became a “subculture icon” on social media.
State media tabloid the Global Times reported users of the Douyin app, which allows users to upload, edit and share short videos, first noticed Peppa Pig clips had disappeared over the weekend.
Prior to the apparent ban, there were at least 30,000 videos posted to Douyin under an associated hashtag.
Peppa Pig has been very successful in China in terms of its preschool-aged target audience – there are even plans to open two Peppa Pig theme parks there, slated to begin operations next year.
But the character’s growing popularity among young adults has raised eyebrows.
Peppa Pig tattoos go viral
According to the Global Times, Peppa Pig became a “subculture icon” in China in recent months after memes featuring the pink cartoon pig were shared widely on the internet.
Social media users, including some celebrities with large followings, also posted photos of themselves with Peppa Pig stick-on tattoos and wearing Peppa Pig apparel. But not everyone was amused.
The Global Times reported Peppa Pig has come to be associated with the “shehuiren” subculture, which usually refers to people associated with organised crime, but can also refer to people who “run counter to the mainstream”.
“Some experts said the popularity of the cartoon demonstrates the social psychology of hunting for novelty and spoofing, which could potentially hamper positive societal morale,” the paper said.
People who fall into that category have not been having the easiest time in China of late. Earlier this year, China’s broadcast regulator banned entertainers who promote hip hop culture from appearing on television.
Just last month the country’s popular Sina Weibo social media platform banned all LGBT content, a move that was quickly reversed after a huge public backlash.
An icon for dejected millennials
Cyber policy analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Centre, Fergus Ryan, said while the Peppa Pig ban appears “pretty weird at first glance” it makes sense in the context of China’s ever-expanding censorship regime.
“There’s a top-down call from the authorities in China for there to be more positive energy in online content,” he said.
“This is something that [Chinese President] Xi Jinping himself talks about, and it’s sort of a way of exhorting the young people in China to in a positive way support the development of the country.”
However there has been a grassroots level push-back to that directive in the form of “sang” culture, which directly translates as “funeral” culture and refers to a feeling of dejection and social marginalisation.
“[Sang] is this cultural phenomenon where young people who have grown up with high expectations are sort of hitting reality, and are being disappointed with their prospects,” Mr Ryan said.
So they are expressing this disappointment in this tongue in cheek way, and it’s this kind of ironic sense of defeatism … It’s this sort of rebellion from China’s 380 million-odd millennials against this intense pressure to succeed.”
Mr Ryan said Peppa Pig was not the first cartoon character to fall victim to Chinese internet censorship.
Netflix’s Bojack Horseman was supposed to be available on a Chinese streaming site last year, but was pulled from the platform shortly after its debut.
“The character of Bojack Horseman has this sort of self-loathing cynicism attached to him, and so it sort of fed into this grassroots subculture,” he said.
Details of ban still not known
Specific reasons for why Peppa Pig content was removed from Douyin remain elusive, and the social media platform has not released any statement on its decision to pull the posts.
Mr Ryan said he suspected the ban may have been the result of a directive from Chinese authorities, who have been clamping down on social media content.
Last month a joke-sharing app was shut down after China’s broadcast watchdog said it had “caused strong disgust among netizens”.
The company responsible for the service promised to hire an additional 4,000 censors to vet content on its other apps, bringing their total number to a whopping 10,000.
“We may see either today or in the coming days some leaks of directives that make it clear that this is actually a decision by authorities,” Mr Ryan said.
“It’s also a possibility that Douyin is just trying to get ahead of what they think the authorities might want to crack down on, as they see that all these other companies … are being punished essentially for not controlling the content on their apps and platforms.”