Jinping the Pooh

Andrew Donaldson writes on the exclusion of the "Christopher Robin" movie from China


CURIOUS news from the arts and entertainment department, but it appears the new Disney film, Christopher Robin, won’t be shown in China. No reasons were given for the banning of this umpteenth reboot of AA Milne’s beloved characters, but there was speculation about a protectionist quota system. 

China allows only 34 foreign movies a year. So, rather than some whimsy with a stuffed bear and other toys, the workers must endure more morally simplistic, action-heavy blockbusters, like Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War.

Thus, by permitting only selected screenings of foreign rubbish, the masses will have greater opportunity to enjoy the socially cohesive experience that is the bog-standard, patriotic Chinese potboiler.

This was more or less the thinking — if it even could be called that — with Hlaudi Motsoeneng’s SABC quota policies: away with imperialists and colonialists, and forward with the people’s culture. 

Except, of course, there was no people’s culture because the SABC did not pay its bills and the film producers went bust as a result, the musicians packed up their gear, and the various sporting bodies followed the money elsewhere. 

Come back, imperialists and colonialists. All if forgiven. 

But no, Auckland Park can’t pay them either, and we now have a national broadcaster that serves no purpose other than as a vehicle for the President’s conflicted, late night prattle about molesting the Constitution in order to steal land.

We digress. There is considerable opinion the real reason the Chinese censors banned Christopher Robin was due to President Xi Jinping’s apparent resemblance to Winnie the Pooh.

The little bear with a red shirt and no trousers was first compared to Xi in 2013, when a photograph appeared online of the Chinese leader walking alongside his US counterpart, Barack Obama, who, it was suggested, was Tigger, Pooh’s bouncing feline friend.

Beijing immediately ordered the photograph and an accompanying cartoon image to be pulled from the internet. But it was too late and critics and political commentators quickly adopted Pooh as a coded reference to Xi in a bid to circumvent censorship laws.

In 2014, a picture of Xi greeting Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe was posted online alongside an image of Pooh with his friend Eeyore, the depressed and anhedonic donkey. 

A year later, another image comparing Pooh and Xi during a military parade was also censored. Last year, the Chinese even temporarily banned the name “Winnie the Pooh” from social media. 

They also banned a number of other terms and phrases, including “personality cult”, “lifelong”, “the emperor’s dream”, “my emperor”, “named emperor”, “ascend the throne”, “incapable ruler” and, oddly enough, “I disagree”.

This followed the Chinese Communist Party’s decision in February to end term limits for the president; Xi, unlike his predecessors, who were limited to two five-year terms, could now rule indefinitely, much like the leader he most wanted to emulate, Mao Zedong.

Following in the chairman’s footsteps, he has even published his own “Little Red Book”: Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era

It’s not a terribly snappy title, is it? We’d have plumbed for something like Xi Who Must Be Obeyed

But perhaps Haggard puns (groan) are too unseemly for a man now considered the world’s most powerful politician. It is odd, though, that, as such, the mighty Xi should be terrified of a toy bear. But then that’s satire for you.

I was thinking of all this while taking in the new Pieter-Dirk Uys revue, When In Doubt Say Darling, at the Fugard Theatre on Thursday. It was a mostly nostalgic show, with the veteran trouper revisiting the characters that made his name back in the 1980s. 

Out they tumbled, these old apartheid skeletons. PW Botha was there, finger wagging and lizard tongue flicking away. So was Piet Koornhof, the former minister of “plural relations” who later had a Damascene conversion in the arms of his coloured mistress before joining the United Democratic Movement and then the ANC.

The latter, Uys said, would often take great delight in the way he was parodied — which somehow defeated the purpose. Satire is a weapon; it’s supposed to sting, to wound, to insult and denigrate. Otherwise, what’s the point?

More alarmingly, Uys revealed that a younger generation of theatregoers, unburdened by irony but nevertheless steeped in identity politics, had warned him against portraying Jacob Zuma as this was racist; as a white satirist, he was not permitted to mock or imitate black politicians.

Such is the unassailable rectitude of the coming order that we may yet be forced to adopt Chinese methods, here at the Mahogany Ridge, and look to stuffed toys for inspiration.

This article first appeared in the Weekend Argus.