Thursday 22nd November 2018

China’s social media censors block Winnie the Pooh and the letter ‘n’

Cleo Chalk
by on 2nd March 2018

A suggestion by China’s Communist Party to remove presidential term limits has prompted an ongoing negative reaction on social media, with some social media users reporting accounts have been temporarily disabled and certain phrases and letters censored.

The social media reaction also prompted China’s censors to temporarily ban the letter “n” through fear the letter was being used to represent the number of terms in office, as per the mathematic equation n > 2.

As in America, the Chinese constitution mandates that leaders are restricted to serving no more than two consecutive terms. However, on the 25th February, the Communist Party’s Central Committee registered an interest in removing that restriction, in effect allowing President Xi Jinping to rule indefinitely.

The news didn’t go down well with everyday social media users. Taking to platforms such as the Twitter-like Weibo and WhatsApp equivalent WeChat, users denounced the plans by sharing memes of Winnie the Pooh ascending the throne – a thinly veiled dig at the President.

The Chinese leaders appear to believe that any comparison between the bear and President Xi Jinping — known, perhaps not-so-affectionately, as Winnie the Pooh – undermines their leader and his office. As such, China’s internet censors were quick to block all images of Pooh from social media.

The signalled interest to remove presidential term limits led one online commentator to note “Amendments to the constitution are usually supposed to promote people’s freedom and limit public power. An amendment that proposes to do the exact opposite is so unheard of, I didn’t expect to encounter it at all.” They added: “What a great era we live in.”

Meanwhile, another Weibo user stated “Our emperor has received the Mandate of Heaven, so we have to kneel and accept.”

While still more made the connection between China and North Korea’s social media policies, with one user saying “We’re following the example of our neighbour.”

According to The Verge, and in addition to banning Winnie the Pooh, social media platforms also censored phrases including “constitution amendment”, “re-elected”, “two-term limit” and “proclaim oneself as emperor.”

And this is not the first time it’s happened. The Pooh-bear controversy first arose back in 2013, when an image of Xi with then-President Barack Obama was circulated online comparing them to a picture of Pooh-bear and Tigger. At the time, the Chinese government were swift to ban all related images.

Qiao Mu, an assistant professor of media at Beijing Foreign Studies University, told the Financial Times in 2017 that users who have been known to comment on the Chinese leadership have found themselves detained by the authorities.

“Historically, two things have been not allowed: political organizing and political action. But this year, a third has been added to the list: Talking about the president,” he said.