Peppa Pig got big in China. Then she got censored

Key Points
  • Douyin, a Chinese short video platform, has removed some 30,000 video clips featuring animated character Peppa Pig, the Global Times said.
  • The children's cartoon has been used in online memes in China.
  • Specific details on the removal of Peppa Pig-related content are unclear.
Characters from the Peppa Pig animated series.
Julian Paker | UK Press | Getty Images

Peppa Pig — the anthropomorphic pink pig from the eponymous British animated series — is the latest cultural product that's been given the axe on a Chinese platform.

Some 30,000 video clips featuring the children's cartoon character have disappeared from social media platform Douyin, according to Chinese state-owned tabloid Global Times. The videos had previously been searchable on the platform under the hashtag "#PeppaPig," which now shows zero search results.

Douyin, an app that allows users to create and publish short videos, is owned by Beijing-based new media company Bytedance.

Zhang Yiming, the chief executive of Bytedance, last month said on social media that the company would increase the number of employees handling censorship at Toutiao — a popular news app that's also part of the social media giant — to 10,000 after being temporarily banned earlier this year.

Given the recent developments, "it is not surprising that the platform has become more paranoid in the interpretation of parodic content," said Severine Arsene, managing editor of AsiaGlobal Online, a digital journal published by the University of Hong Kong.

Specific details surrounding the removal of Peppa Pig-related content, such as whether it was the result of an official directive, remain unclear, but self-censorship is understood to be a common practice.

"In many cases, [platforms] tend to over-censor, particularly during sensitive periods," Arsene said.

Douyin, meanwhile, has not publicly discussed its latest move. The company did not reply to a request for comment.

Subcultural icon

Part of the move appears to be due to the character's popularity as a subcultural figure of sorts — Peppa is a popular face in online memes on the mainland.

In particular, the cartoon character is associated with "shehuiren" subculture, referring to those who "run counter to the mainstream value and are usually poorly educated with no stable job," said the Global Times, which called Peppa Pig an "unexpected cultural icon."

The tabloid added that such individuals were also "unruly slackers roaming around and the antithesis of the young generation the Party tries to cultivate."

That provides clues as to why Douyin might be concerned with the online activities of subcultural Chinese youths.

Given how the state had spent time building up a new middle class, "[a]ny deviation from the mainstream, or irony, is seen as a threat to the credibility and legitimacy of the [Chinese Communist] Party in bringing [an] idealized way of life to reality," Arsene told CNBC in an email. She added that the recent move reflected a "strong stigmatization of poorer categories" in society.

While Peppa Pig was made scarce on one online platform, plenty of chatter about the cartoon character cropped up on other platforms. Website What's on Weibo reported that internet users had taken to discussion boards Baidu Tieba and Zhihu to iron out what exactly constituted "shehuiren" subculture.

The popularity of the animated series, which saw its local debut on China Central Television network in 2015, on the mainland has resulted in plans for Peppa Pig theme parks to be built in Shanghai and Beijing as early as 2019.

Entertainment One Group, which owns Peppa Pig, had not responded to a request for comment as of publishing time.