A children’s cartoon character has become an unlikely victim of China’s ongoing push to clean up cyberspace.
Douyin, a Chinese video-sharing platform popular with millennials, has stopped users sharing what state media said were “subversive” memes involving Peppa Pig, the British animated series for preschoolers.
The state-run tabloid Global Times reported Monday that at least 30,000 videos under the #PeppaPig hashtag had been removed from the platform.
Peppa Pig is hugely popular and broadcast around the world. It has long been a favorite of Chinese parents and toddlers, but in recent months the character has become popular among certain celebrities and their fans, who shared images and videos of Peppa merchandise.
“I don’t know how the Peppa Pig meme took off from Douyin, but to me, it’s like a stress reliever as it looks so innocent and dumb,” said Nanxin Cao, a 25-year-old analyst working at a consulting firm in Beijing.
Peppa mania has even crossed over into street culture in China, with some teens and twentysomethings getting Peppa tattoos depicting the innocent piglet as a gangster or pirate. There’s even a trending phrase that some translate as “get your Peppa Pig tatt, shout out to your frat.”
An internal Douyin memo dated last week and reviewed by CNN said censors had demanded the platform stop publishing videos that showed Peppa Pig “spreading negative social influence.”
Bytedance, Douyin’s parent company, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. Peppa Pig-related content doesn’t appear to have been affected on other social media platforms.
Chen Nian, an analyst with Gsdata, a consultancy which monitors Chinese social media, said in a statement Peppa’s streetwise reputation in memes and spoofs was a “massive nonsensical joke” that was a way for young people to rebel.
“The contradictory traits of a ‘thug’ and the innocent Peppa Pig make people laugh,” Chen said. “It’s an act of subculture rebellion.”
If Peppa’s popularity is all a joke, the government doesn’t seem to be getting it.
Global Times remarked that the Peppa gangster meme has a “subversive hue” that could “potentially hamper positive societal morale.”
China already has one of the world’s most controlled online environments, and censors have been intensifying efforts to rein in the country’s fast-growing social media after President Xi Jinping called for the creation of a “clean cyberspace.”
Online content that has fallen victim to tightened censorship rules includes LGBT and feminist voices, hip hop and “vulgar” jokes – a trend that’s affected some of China’s biggest and hottest online platforms, and alarmed business analysts and rights monitors.
The Peppa Pig series was officially introduced to China in 2015 by China’s state broadcaster CCTV. Its popularity quickly exploded among young children and parents, with 34 billion views on the three leading domestic online video platforms combined.