Pooh’s pol­i­tics are not child’s play as China has now dis­cov­ered

The Daily Telegraph - - Comment - Me­lanie mcdon­agh

It was not, per­haps, a ter­ri­bly good idea for China’s au­thor­i­ties to sup­press ref­er­ences to Win­nie the Pooh on Sina Weibo, the Chi­nese Twit­ter plat­form. The aim is ap­par­ently to elim­i­nate any im­per­ti­nent com­par­isons be­tween China’s well­nour­ished Pres­i­dent Xi and Pooh bear – they first sur­faced in 2013 when a pic of Dis­ney’s Pooh and Tig­ger was put next to a photo of Xi and Barack Obama. Then when the Ja­panese prime min­is­ter, Shinzo Abe, came to visit, he was de­picted on so­cial me­dia as Eey­ore next to Mr Xi as Pooh.

The in­ten­tion is, it seems, to put a stop to the dis­re­spect be­fore au­tumn’s Com­mu­nist party con­fer­ence. But in­evitably the up­shot of the ban has been to en­sure that the joke has gone global; per­son­ally I am now un­able to think about Xi ex­cept as Pooh. Mind you, I’d say it’s bet­ter to be the bear of very lit­tle brain than Tig­ger, who is a com­plete id­iot.

It’s not just the satir­i­cal stuff that both­ers the Chi­nese au­thor­i­ties: in March the South China Morn­ing Post re­ported that China’s pub­lish­ers had re­ceived or­ders to cut the num­ber of for­eign pic­ture book ti­tles they pub­lish, as be­ing sub­ver­sive of Com­mu­nist party dogma.

Here they have a point. There is noth­ing so po­tent in the for­ma­tion of young minds as chil­dren’s books. It’s the lit­er­a­ture that stays with us, that gives us an idea of the world around us – es­pe­cially pic­ture books. They are the way we first en­counter good and bad, the weird and won­der­ful, the sense of a prop­erly or­dered uni­verse.

Chil­dren’s lit­er­a­ture con­veys the so­cial or­der for each generation. There is no more poignant de­scrip­tion of the Vic­to­rian class di­vide than The Wa­ter Ba­bies (think of the poor lit­tle chim­ney sweep fright­en­ing the nice lit­tle girl in her white bed­room) or of the di­vi­sion of the sexes than Peter Pan (Wendy is Mother and loves to darn socks; Peter and the boys do the fight­ing) or the sanc­tity of prop­erty than Shirley Hughes’ Dog­ger (Al­fie in­sists that Dog­ger re­mains his even af­ter it’s been lost; the lit­tle girl who bought it says she paid for it, so it’s hers).

The Wind in the Wil­lows

– Xi can thank heaven no one thought of com­par­ing him to Toad – is ex­plic­itly counter-rev­o­lu­tion­ary (re­mem­ber the over­throw of the stoats and fer­rets to re­store plu­to­crat Toad to his es­tate?). Grad­u­ally and sub­lim­i­nally, that’s how lit­tle cap­i­tal­ists are made.

The tar­gets of the al­leged Chi­nese book ban in­clude, yes, Win­nie the Pooh but also Peppa Pig and Char­lie and the Choco­late Fac­tory. One can only ap­plaud the crack­down on Peppa, be­cause it’s drivel.

As for Char­lie, it’s hair-rais­ingly ide­o­log­i­cal: Willy Wonka was a strike breaker who im­ported cheap for­eign labour (the Oompa Lom­pas could sub­sist on choco­late) to un­der­cut the lo­cal work­force (al­legedly to safe­guard com­mer­cial se­crets), in­clud­ing Char­lie’s grandpa. Pic­tures make the sto­ries stick: Quentin Blake has formed more young minds than most teach­ers. Dis­ney has had a less happy in­flu­ence.

But the only so­lu­tion is to pro­vide ap­peal­ing al­ter­na­tives. That’s the tricky bit. I re­view chil­dren’s books and I can’t tell you how many come my way de­signed to pro­mote di­ver­sity and how few au­thors – JK Rowl­ing is one, David Wal­liams an­other – make them suc­ceed as sto­ries.

The Chi­nese, mind you, can hardly com­plain. I bought a new edi­tion of Win­nie the Pooh yes­ter­day. And where was it made? That’s right; China.

read more at tele­graph.co.uk/opin­ion

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