Chinese authorities have always taken the brief for parental guidance for television viewing seriously, applying it liberally to all aspects of its citizens’ lives. After all, corruption of minds, young or old, makes for important state business, requiring as it does an ever-vigilant curation of a nation’s cultural life. “Too much” Western culture? Off with its head. Too much cleavage? Off with that, too. Homosexuality? Time travel? English alphabet “N”? Criticism of its leadership? Dr Who? Peppa Pig? Winnie the Poo? Why, get rid of those, too. There’s no escaping the overarching firewall of China’s State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT), the regulatory authority that determines what can be seen and what gets axed.
To this ever-expanding list of those-that-must-be-shunned gets added a new name: comedian John Oliver, host of Last Week Tonight on the American film and television production company HBO. His offence? In a segment of his June 17 show, Oliver took on President Xi Jinping, calling him the “creepy uncle who imprisons 8,00,000 people in his basement”and criticising him for his censorship policies and the removal of presidential term limits from the Chinese constitution. Not just that. He raked up an old wound by making fun of the Chinese premier’s aversion to being likened to Winnie the Pooh. It had resulted in a ban on A A Milne’s beloved bear in 2013.
Now, in this age of constant social media validation, where image is everything, we may all be forgiven a spot or two of narcissism. But as the head of one of the world’s weightiest superpowers entering a new phase of leadership, Xi would do well to develop a funny bone. After all, humour has a way of embedding itself into the social fabric of a nation, even if clandestinely. And being compared to a honey-loving bear might just be more meme-worthy than being called out for being the emperor with no clothes.