Chinese video app removes Peppa Pig, now a subculture icon in China

By Shan Jie Source:Global Times Published: 2018/4/30 13:16:38

Peppa Pig products are available at a bookstore in Beijing. Photo: Li Qian/GT

Chinese web users are baffled that Peppa Pig has been removed from popular short-video platform Douyin.

Many users discovered on Saturday that video clips containing Peppa Pig had been deleted and a search of the popular cartoon produced no results.

In the meantime, a list of banned content that looks to be Douyin's official policy has started to circulate in cyberspace, including Peppa Pig, along with nudity, men dressing as women, displays of firearms, cult preachings and other controversial content.

The authenticity of the list could not be verified independently, as Douyin had not replied to an inquiry by the Global Times as of press time. But it's true the hashtag #PeppaPig has been removed from Douyin. Previously there were at least 30,000 video clips under this hashtag, according to the Securities Times newspaper.

Users have begun posting related content with alternative hashtags such as #Piggypiggy and #Peppapeppa.

The cartoon pig has been quite popular among Chinese children since it entered the Chinese market in 2015, but it has gone viral thanks to young adults only in the past few months, starting in late 2017.

The online fad has made the piglet become an unexpected cultural icon of shehuiren subculture in China.

Shehuiren literally means "society person," but in the online context, it refers to people who run counter to the mainstream value and are usually poorly educated with no stable job. They are unruly slackers roaming around and the antithesis of the young generation the Party tries to cultivate. 

Boom and disappearance

It takes a stretch of imagination to link the innocent Peppa Pig with China's shehuiren subculture, but since the piglet went viral in China, it has caused a lot of controversies.

The popularity of Peppa Pig in China shows a spirit of innovation, Chinese experts said, but it could also bring negative influence to the young generation if they overindulge in such a subculture.

In November 2017, reports of Chinese parents "complaining" that their children had become addicted to Peppa Pig caused widespread discussions. Parents said that their pre-school children began oinking and jumping into puddles after watching the cartoon, which has traditionally been seen as good material for early childhood education, especially for those learning English.

However, netizens soon came to believe that Peppa Pig is not simple enough to solely be a children's show, as the storylines in the cartoon present complex social realities.

The first video that became popular online in China was Peppa learning how to whistle: when Peppa found that everyone apart from her, including her "bestie" Susie Sheep, could whistle, Peppa felt betrayed and hung up the phone on Susie immediately. Netizens commented that this story shows "how fake friendships work."

Afterward, Peppa Pig emojis and spoof video clips with dubbing became widespread. For example, one video with the slogan "Tattoos on Peppa, claps for fella" went viral online.

Subsequently, tagged with the slogan, users began to post photos of their Peppa tattoos, mostly not real tattoo but rather stick-on tattoos, as well as other Peppa products, on Chinese social media platforms, including Douyin.

On Taobao, China's largest e-commerce website, in just one month, one online shop sold 30,000 Peppa Pig shehuiren tattoo stickers and 110,000 Peppa Pig-themed watches.

On Sina Weibo, China's Twitter-like microblog, the #PeppaPig hashtag had garnered 310 million hits as of press time. Also, episodes of the cartoon were viewed millions of times on Chinese video websites. 

A Thang-ga trader in Lhasa, Southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region, told the Global Times that they recently made a Buddha amulet featuring a Peppa Pig portrait as requested by a customer.

"All of my classmates draw Peppa Pig on their arms," an 18-year-old high school student in Beijing surnamed Zhang told the Global Times.

"Nobody knows why they do this," Zhang said. "I do not really care but I do it as well for fun."

For the young Chinese generation growing up in a relatively rich material life, they are concerned more with "special and funny" things, Li Yazheng, a communications PhD student at the University of Science and Technology of China, was quoted by the Ji'nan Daily as saying.

Young people participating in the Peppa Pig subculture, on the one hand, are proving they are "fashionable," on the other hand, it is a way to communicate in a relaxing atmosphere, Li said.

Monitoring and leading

At first glance, there is a great contrast between pink and childish Peppa Pig and the shehuiren gangsters. But their combination shows the power of online subcultures among young people, experts said.

After Peppa Pig started to take on this subversive hue and subsequently go viral, some experts said the popularity of the cartoon demonstrates the social psychology of hunting for novelty and spoofing, which could potentially hamper positive societal morale.

"If the subcultural thoughts and behaviors go out of control to the extreme, it could damage society," said Jiang Haisheng, chief of the Journalism and Communication Department under Shandong University of Political Science and Law.

Jiang told the Global Times that the subcultural phenomenon, supported by new media, may exist for a while, but it is inevitable that it will be replaced by other communication styles.

He said that the tendency for nonsense, spoofs and subversiveness will finally be replaced in time, as beauty and kindness will always be mainstream in society.

"When the young generation grows up, their cultural characteristics will deeply influence the progress and development of our society," Jiang said. "Therefore, it is necessary to conduct positive means such as monitoring and leading to improve the quality of young people and their self-understanding."

However, Jiang also suggested that Chinese society should also be understanding toward the subcultures of young people. "Young people's behaviors contain the spirit of innovation, which promotes the development of society," he said.

Understanding Peppa Pig from an adult's perspective and recreating the cartoon has made the little pig a "society guy," which is actually different from the modern citizen image that China advocates, Shi Wenxue, a Beijing-based film critic, told the Global Times.

Shi also said that since Peppa Pig targets school and pre-school children, labeling the cartoon with adult tags would mislead the younger generation, who could end up imitating adult behaviors on video platforms.


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