To most families around the world, Peppa Pig is a sweet cartoon character, whose greatest vice is occasionally jump in puddles.
But in China she is a symbol of the counterculture.
Last Saturday the short-video sharing site Douyin (see WiC405 for more background on this popular platform) removed all 30,000 clips dedicated to Peppa. A leaked document from the firm then purported to warn that the piglet had become a “forbidden element” and was to be treated in the same way as clips that contain nudity, cross-dressing and violence. The problem is that the bubbly piglet has become an icon of so called sang or “despondent” culture in China.
When the cartoon was first broadcast in 2015 it enjoyed a positive reaction from parents and the state media. The People’s Daily was complimentary, saying that the gentle nature of the cartoon helped to open up the “positive sunshine” of childhood.
But all that positivity was ripe for subversion, and netizens soon began adding dark sunglasses and leather jackets to images of Peppa and recasting her as more of a gangster.
The catchphrase, “Get a Peppa Pig tattoo, give a shout-out to ‘gangsters’,” was then blocked from searches on Sina Weibo, which advised it was acting “in accordance with relevant legal regulations”. Other scenes from the cartoons were modified to show Peppa behaving like a spoiled diva and, in another meme, a picture of her holding a trophy is captioned “the award goes to you, a bitch who is good at performing”.
One has to imagine that Entertainment One, the Toronto-based company that owns the Peppa franchise, hasn’t been happy with the homegrown spin-offs, not least because the Communist Party does not approve of ‘sang culture’.
Loosely translated as conveying the idea that you have lost something and are feeling awful about it, a sense of sang conveys a mixture of of anger and disappointment.
In a commentary last year the People’s Daily compared the culture to opium saying it “anaesthetised young people” and also “tempts them to deviate from normal life and work”.
“We cannot tolerate a culture of despondency,” the China Youth Daily agreed this year.
A more forgiving view is that the Peppa pranksters are simply showing the rebelliousness of their youth – and more than a sprinkle of creativity too. Some have enjoyed adding Peppa to the logos of luxury brands, such as Chanel, for instance. “It’s the juxtaposition between her innocence and the more worldly things she is combined with,” explained one netizen. “It’s just funny,” she added.
But the Global Times took a harder line, lashing out at the jokesters as “usually poorly educated with no stable job”.
“They are unruly slackers roaming around and the antithesis of the young generation the [Communist] Party tries to cultivate,” it fumed.
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