Pooh ban shows China trapped in past

Editorial | Mary Ma 6 Aug 2018

Disney's movie Christopher Robin, featuring cartoon character Winnie the Pooh, is banned in the mainland, with no official explanation yet offered.

A probable reason attributed by the US media is the ban may have to do with China's quota on foreign films. Another speculation is it has nothing to do with the quota, or the film's title character Robin. The boy is now a grown-up family man, but his best friend since boyhood is Winnie the Pooh.

While the quota is blamed, the ban is consistent with what's been happening in recent years in the mainland, where the chubby honey-loving Pooh Bear has become a subject of intense censorship by authorities overseeing social media. The Pooh has been censored because of its striking resemblance to President Xi Jinping - in both the face and physique.

The resemblance was first raised in mainland social media in 2013, during Xi's visit to the United States for a summit with then-US president Barack Obama. The comparison should have been little more than fun, but Winnie's fate in China has been sealed ever since. While Obama's walk was likened to the steps of Pooh's good friend Tigger, Xi's stroll was taken to resemble that of the Pooh Bear, which shares a similar waistline.

It's plainly undesirable for the mainland movie market to be full of booby traps or taboos for the unwitting filmmaker.

Due to the unflattering comparisons with the top leader, Winnie the Pooh has fallen victim to the censors' ax - a phenomenon hostile to creativity that requires a free and apolitical environment to nurture.

While Hollywood may still be the global capital of the movie industry, both South Korea and India - not China - have been catching up rather quickly, with acclaimed productions that impress international audiences.

Fantasy film Along with the Gods: The Last 49 Days, which is currently playing in Hong Kong cinemas, may not appeal to every viewer, but it's certainly a blend of thrilling Hollywood-style special effects and a critical review of Asian moral values, giving the South Korean production an identity as unique as the film rightly deserves.

A story of deceased soul Su Hong and his three afterlife guardians going through the trial of the seven hells in their search of reincarnation, it's a movie that goes far beyond action. I doubt South Korean films would have developed as successfully as they have, had challenges of philosophical values become a religious political taboo for producers there.

American special effects are undoubtedly first class. But their productions are hollow in spirit, a gap the South Koreans and Indians have been filling in quickly with their cultural identities.

Contrary to creating a sphere where creativity is to be favored, the ban on household character Winnie the Pooh by mainland censors is deepening concerns. The damage being done is no less than what US President Donald Trump's trade war is capable of.

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