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