Why is Winnie the Pooh like Ai Weiwei? Both have landed in political hot water with the Chinese government. The artist Ai has a long history of running into trouble with the Chinese authorities. In fact, earlier this week, Ai’s Beijing studio was demolished for reasons unknown (though perhaps you can take a guess). And Pooh’s become an equally worthy dissident, all because he bears an unfortunate resemblance to President Xi Jinping. Judging by his waistline, President Xi is obviously settling in to his cushy job with too much tea and honey. And he’s feeling sensitive about it. So much so that Disney’s upcoming film about Pooh bear, ‘Christopher Robin’, has been banned in China.
How did the world’s most successful authoritarian regime get so touchy about a cartoon bear? It all started in 2013, when Xi met Obama. The picture that came out of the meeting shows the two men walking side-by-side – one of the better diplomatic pictures to have come out of world leader meetings, you might think. That was until someone, rather astutely, posted the pic next to a picture of Pooh walking with the rather taller, thinner Tigger. The resemblance was – and is – quite amusing, but I’m not sure Beijing is known for its humour.
Censors quickly took down the image. And just as any common sense could have told you, this repression made the easygoing tongue-in-cheek comparison into an irresistible big red button. Cue Chinese ‘netizens’ conducting experiments on social media to see if their Pooh will be deleted. Some of them were, some of them weren’t. But even if the censorship wasn’t a blanket ban, the harm had been done. AA Milne’s loveable bear had now been turned into a fully-fledged symbol of sarcastic resistance in the meme age.
The resemblance really is uncanny. Here’s a picture of Xi meeting Shinzo Abe, the Japanese Prime Minister, in 2014:
And here’s a censored picture from 2015 when Xi inspected the troops in a Beijing parade:
Perhaps President Xi and his gaggle of censors can learn from Milne. As Christopher Robin says to Pooh: ‘you’re braver than you believe’. As leader of the world’s rising power, it’s time Xi learned to brush off these small trivial acts of rebellion.