WHAT’S THE STORY?
THEY may seem an unlikely threat but Peppa Pig and Winnie the Pooh are the latest victims of the Chinese Government’s war on Western ideology.
The children’s favourites are part of a crackdown by the Communist Party which will also affect the Harry Potter books and popular titles by Roald Dahl.
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Publishers in mainland China have been told to make a drastic reduction in the number of foreign children’s books because of the “influx of ideology”.
Although the official government order has not been made public one of China’s biggest online platforms has already announced a ban.
Taobao, which is owned by Alibaba, the Chinese equivalent of Amazon, has said it will no longer sell foreign children’s books unlicensed by the Government.
One publisher said: “Communist party officials had complained that foreign storybooks had caused an intolerable “inflow of ideology” from the west. The Government has deliberately decided to constrain imported books and protect those written by Chinese authors.”
It is not the first time Western children’s books have been treated as suspect by Chinese authorities.
Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was banned as far back as 1931 because of its anthropomorphised animals. Censor General Ho Chien said attributing human language to animals was insulting to humans and could lead to people regarding animals and humans as equals which would be “disastrous”.
WHAT EFFECT WILL THIS HAVE?
IN recent years sales of foreign children’s books in China have soared and any crackdown will hit publishers hard.
It is a huge market with 220 million potential readers under the age of 14 and demand in the last few years for foreign books has seen their sales far outstrip local ones which tend to focus on teaching Chinese morals.
Children’s books are now by far the most lucrative part of the Chinese book market with more than 40,000 published in 2016 including imported ones. The market is predicted to keep growing as Chinese parents are keen to invest in early education.
One book editor, who wanted to remain anonymous, said the crackdown was “disastrous” for the industry with some planned book releases left in limbo.
Best-sellers on China’s JD.com shopping website are the British Peppa Pig series while JK Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows features in the top ten on Amazon’s Chinese website. Also popular is Guess How Much I Love You by Northern Ireland’s Sam McBratney and four of the other top ten best sellers are by foreign authors, mostly American.
Jo Lusby, managing director for Penguin Random House North Asia, said: “The children’s market is substantial and growing in China, in particular in the pre-school and picture book area.”
WHAT DID POOH DO?
CHINESE leader Xi Jinping is particularly sensitive about Winnie the Pooh. Despite trying to cultivate a persona as an avuncular, benevolent ruler, he responded unfavourably to a playful comparison between him and the fictional bear. In 2015, the most censored picture on social media was one of the president taken at a parade alongside a toy car emblazoned with Winnie the Pooh’s image.
Chinese netizens saw the comparison as harmless fun but the Chinese Government believed it was an attempt to undermine the president’s dignity and the seriousness of his position as leader of the people.
The censorship of the image was regarded as an over-reaction by many but it heralded a more serious crackdown on all types of media that has even stretched as far as Hong Kong where many Chinese citizens buy books that are banned on mainland China.
Last year, five members of staff at a Hong Kong bookseller that specialises in banned books were arrested by the Chinese authorities, sending shockwaves through the industry.
“The fact that a publisher is ‘disappeared’ in what seems to be a move to discipline and even silence possible dissent is unprecedented,” said Lisa Leung Yuk-ming, an associate professor at Hong Kong’s Lingnan University. “We are beginning to see a fuller picture of increasing blatant attacks on related freedoms, both in universities and in the publishing world.”
ANY OTHER CENSORSHIP?
THE move to limit the number of western children’s books that can be accessed in China follows the introduction of even stricter regulations on the internet.
Social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook along with many foreign news websites are not available in China and new rules prevent foreign companies from publishing online content that has not been approved by Chinese regulators.
Perhaps more worrying is that dissidents based outside China claim they are being targeted to stop them publishing anything regarded as critical of Beijing.
Germany based writer Zhang Ping claimed that three of his siblings had been detained in China to pressurise him into ceasing his criticism of China in the German media. Wen Yunchao, who is based in the United States, has made similar claims.
Beijing also insists that foreign nationals obey Chinese laws in any interaction with internet services in China.
German satirist Christoph Rehage’s Weibo account was closed by the Government after he suggested that Lei Feng, a Chinese communist hero, would make great kids with legendary warrior Hua Mulan, who is now known worldwide because of her transformation into a Disney film character.