Nothing gets past the censors manning the Great Firewall. Not even a somewhat dimwitted, quite endearing, though anthropomorphic teddy bear. Winnie the Pooh, of course, is no dissident — he is far too “cuddly-wuddly” for politics. But the honey-loving character’s rotund face and cute little nose are, to some, reminiscent of President Xi Jinping, something meme maestros across China were quick to pick up on. Now, GIFs and memes of Pooh have been blocked from WeChat — China’s messaging app — and even by the one-party communist state’s standards, the ban on a beloved children’s character seems a bit over the top.
Analogies between Pooh and Xi date back to at least 2013 when an image of the Chinese President and his then US counterpart was made part of a split-screen image. Xi was, of course, analogous to the charmingly chubby yellow bear while Barack Obama was his lissome companion Tigger (a tiger). Since then, the comparison has resurfaced periodically and has been a way for internet users to circumvent the tight grip the state holds on social media. The current crackdown by the would-be superpower on a teddy bear is likely in light of the Communist Party Congress this autumn. The party Congress is a place for internal intrigue and Xi cannot afford to seem a yellow, cuddly stuffed toy as he tries to place his loyalists in positions of influence. The Chinese censors, however, in their choice of bear to ban, betray their lack of political acumen.
An identification with Winnie the Pooh just makes the stern Xi more accessible and relatable. If subversive bears are what Chinese officials are afraid of, Hanna Barbera’s Yogi Bear is what they should be hunting. After all, he’s “smarter than the average bear” and certainly more so than Pooh. He constantly undermines state officials and bureaucracies, and most importantly, he can make important figures look the fool. Pooh may give people a punchline or two at the expense of the great leader. But if the social media guerrillas in China discover Yogi, Xi may just have an opponent.