Chinese video app removes undesirable subculture icon Peppa Pig

By Shan Jie Source:Global Times Published: 2018/5/1 16:43:39

Chinese video platform Douyin removed cartoon Peppa Pig, as it has become an unexpected cultural icon of "shehuiren" subculture.

Shehuiren refers to people who run counter to mainstream values and are usually poorly educated with no stable job.

A replacement Chinese cartoon emoji, Dudu Pig, is being promoted on domestic social media

People dressed up in Peppa Pig costumes attract hordes of onlookers in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province. Photo: VCG

Chinese web users are baffled that Peppa Pig has been removed from popular short-video platform Douyin. Many users discovered Saturday that video clips containing Peppa Pig have been deleted and an online search of the popular cartoon produced no results.

A list of banned content, allegedly Douyin's official policy, was circulated in cyberspace over the weekend. The list includes Peppa Pig along with nudity, men dressing as women, displays of firearms, cult preachings and other controversial topics.

The authenticity of the list could not be verified independently, as Douyin did not reply to an inquiry by the Global Times as of press time. But what is true is that the hashtag #PeppaPig was 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 became hugely popular among Chinese children after entering the Chinese market in 2015. Starting in late 2017, the piglet went viral after becoming an unexpected cultural icon of "shehuiren" subculture among young Chinese adults.

Shehuiren literally means "society person," but in the online context, it refers to people who run counter to mainstream values and are usually poorly educated with no stable job. They are considered unruly slackers and the antithesis of the young generations of Chinese the Party hopes to cultivate.

Peppa Pig watch  Photo: VCG

Screen grab of Taobao

Boom and disappearance

It takes a stretch of the imagination to link the seemingly innocent Peppa Pig with China's shehuiren subculture, but after going viral, the piglet has caused considerable domestic 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-aged children began oinking and jumping into puddles after watching the cartoon, which was once regarded as positive material for early childhood education, especially for learning English.

However, Chinese netizens soon came to believe that Peppa Pig was not simply a children's show, as its storylines presented complex social realities.

The first video that became widely popular online in China was Peppa learning how to whistle. When Peppa finds out that everyone apart from her, including her "bestie" Susie Sheep, can whistle, she feels betrayed. Netizens commented that this story shows "how fake friendships work."

Peppa Pig emojis and spoof video clips with audio dubbing soon became widespread. One slogan "Tattoos on Peppa, claps for fella" inspired users to post photos of their own Peppa tattoos (mostly stick-ons), as well as other Peppa products, on Chinese social media platforms.

Xiao Meng, a Beijing-based Douyin user, purchased a Peppa Pig watch for 14 yuan ($2.2). The so-called watch does not actually function, but rather contains several pieces of milk-flavor candy inside it.

"I bought the watch and other Peppa Pig stuff because I want to be a shehuiren," Xiao said. "But I don't know what shehuiren really means."

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

On Sina Weibo, China's Twitter-like microblog, the #PeppaPig hashtag has garnered 320 million hits as of press time. Episodes of the cartoon have been viewed millions of times on various 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; I do not really care, but I do it as well for fun."

The younger Chinese generations growing up in a relatively rich material life are more concerned 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 rising Peppa Pig subculture are proving they are "fashionable," and it is a way to communicate in a relaxing atmosphere, Li said.

A yellow car with Peppa Pig graphics  Photo: VCG

Screen grab of Taobao

Monitoring and leading

At first glance, there is a great contrast between pink and childish Peppa Pig and shehuiren slackers. But the combination of the two demonstrates the growing power of online subcultures among young Chinese people, experts said.

After Peppa Pig started to take on this subversive hue, some experts said the popularity of the cartoon among adults reveals the social psychology of hunting for novelty and spoofing, which could potentially hamper China's positive societal morale.

"If subcultural thoughts and behaviors get 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.

Apart from Peppa Pig, a new Chinese-created emoji called Dudu Pig was the latest hot topic on Weibo, garnering over 44 million views and 167,000 posts as of press time. Most netizens posted food and scenery photos with Dudu Pig's emoji.

It is not clear yet whether this domestic pig can quell subversive enthusiasm for Peppa Pig. But an article circulated widely last year revealed that, among the Chinese middle class, there is a "disdain chain" in terms of cartoon choices.

Children born to a middle class family will watch Peppa Pig and they disdain those watching domestic cartoons such as Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf, read the article.

Jiang emphasized that the tendency for nonsense, spoofs and subversiveness will be replaced in time, as beauty and kindness will always be mainstream in any society.

"When China's younger generations grow 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 leadership, to improve the quality of young people and their self-understanding."

However, Jiang also suggested that Chinese society should show more understanding toward subcultures. "Young people's behavior contain a 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 children and even infants, labeling the cartoon with adult tags has misled the younger generations, who could end up imitating adult behavior seen on video platforms.
Newspaper headline: Pigging out

Posted in: IN-DEPTH

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