It appears that China’s war against Winnie the Pooh rages on.
The latest casualty? The new Disney film “Christopher Robin,” which has reportedly been denied release in China.
The lovable, portly bear has been a target of Chinese censors since at least 2013 when social media users began drawing comparisons between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Winnie the Pooh. A meme ― and symbol of political resistance ― was soon born, one that Chinese censors have been known to suppress online.
The Hollywood Reporter suggested that Chinese officials blocked the release of “Christopher Robin,” a live-action/CGI movie starring Ewan McGregor, as part of the government’s crackdown on images of Pooh. As the magazine noted, the film is the second Disney movie to be denied release in China this year; the other was “Wrinkle in Time.”
It’s possible that the new Pooh film was blocked for a less nefarious reason. As The Guardian noted, China only allows a limited number of foreign films to play in its theaters every year, so it’s possible that the movie simply didn’t make the cut.
Chinese censors have, however, been ruthless in their scrubbing of Pooh material from the web. In June, references to both HBO and John Oliver were blocked on the Chinese Internet after the “Last Week Tonight” host challenged President Xi on a host of issues during his show, including human rights and China’s recent decision to abolish presidential limits. Oliver also teased Xi about the whole resemblance-to-Winnie-the-Pooh thing.
“It’s true. Apparently, Xi Jinping is very sensitive about his perceived resemblance to Winnie the Pooh,” Oliver said. “And I’m not even sure it’s that strong a resemblance, to be honest. But the fact that he’s annoyed about it means that people will never stop bringing it up.”
Chinese censors have been known to block any words or phrases deemed critical of Xi and the ruling Communist Party online. Following the removal of presidential limits from the Chinese constitution, censors began cracking down on mentions of George Orwell books and the word “disagree” on social media sites. The letter “N” was also briefly banned.
Victor Mair, a University of Pennsylvania professor and Sinologist, suggested at the time that critics may have been using the term “N > 2,” with N (a signifier for an unknown quantity) referring to Xi’s possible terms in office.
Pooh was also a victim of that purge.