How Peppa Pig became a gangster figure in China

Peppa Pig has disappeared from Chinese online video platform Douyin. Source: Netflix

British cartoon Peppa Pig has been blocked on a popular Chinese streaming platform after the character developed a "gangster" reputation.

Chinese video streaming site Douyin has wiped more than 30,000 clips featuring Peppa Pig this week after the character developed a "gangster" reputation among adults.

The British cartoon has become incredibly popular in China since it was first aired on state broadcaster CCTV in 2015.

Peppa Pig has had 13.4 billion views on streaming platform iQiyi and gets a high approval rating from fans on Douban.

Although Peppa Pig is aimed at preschoolers, the “cheeky little piggy” has developed a huge adult fan base after being associated with “people of society” – a slang term for gangster in China.

A man shows off his new tattoo on social media.
Chinese young people are getting permanent and fake tattoos of the "cheeky little piggy".

How did a cute cartoon become a subversive figure?

Peppa Pig has spawned thousands of memes and a wide range of merchandise for adults, including lolly-dispensing watches.

Temporary tattoos are the latest fashion accessory among young Chinese people.
Temporary tattoos are the latest fashion accessory among young Chinese people.

It’s even sparked a new tattoo craze and that’s particularly controversial because tattoos are frowned upon in China.  

A short rhyme that roughly translates to “get your Peppa Pig tatt, shout out to your frat” also went viral.

Peppa is not the first cartoon character to court controversy in China. Last year, Winnie the Pooh caught the attention of Chinese censor, as a result of viral memes which likened him to President Xi Jinping.

Chinese digital media and culture expert Haiqing Yu said social media users employ creative tactics to get around internet censorship. 

"In China’s strict environment, it’s hard to directly criticise anything so they use round-about, joking ways," Professor Yu, a senior research fellow at RMIT University, told SBS News.    

"Peppa Pig is supposed to teach kids about the importance of family which is quite acceptable to the Chinese culture, but the fact that young people have turned it into something associated with a thug or a gangster, that’s totally the opposite of what (Chinese President) Xi Jinping has wanted China to be." 

Those not prepared to permanently ink themselves have embraced temporary tattoos with several celebrities joining Peppa mania.

Photos of K-pop star Qin Fen, a member of South Korean band Legend, and Taiwanese personality Xiao Gui, sporting Peppa Big bags have been widely shared online.

Who brought down Peppa Pig?

Douyin is yet to make a statement about its decision although a photo of its community protocols appears to show Peppa Pig at the top of its banned list.

A screenshot of Douyin's community protocols listing Peppa Pig as a banned search has been widely shared.
A screenshot of Douyin's community protocols listing Peppa Pig as a banned search has been widely shared.

It’s unclear whether this content scrub is a case of self-censorship by Douyin or whether the site was pressured by official censors.

China’s media regulators have in recent months intensified monitoring of online content and focused on cracking down on what they term vulgarity.

Professor Yu said Douyin has previously been ordered by government censors to clean up its site, resulting in hundreds of accounts being shut down. 

While Peppa Pig appears to be the latest victim of the crackdown, Professor Yu said young people would find alternative ways to express themselves. 

"If Chinese young people can't use Peppa Pig as a way to vent their rebelliousness, I'm sure they'll come up with something else, because people's creativity is endless."

It’s understood concern from parents about Peppa Pig’s appropriation as a gangster figure may have played a part in the censorship.

State media The Global Times and People’s Daily also noted the proliferation of fake Peppa Pig merchandise might have a negative impact on children.

And Peppa mania is far from over though with two theme parks due to open in Shanghai and Beijing next year. 

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