China Musings #16: How Peppa Pig became a Gangster symbol and got banned


Here is something both absurd and hilarious … the Chinese government has banned Peppa Pig because it promotes – not kidding – “gangster attitudes.”

This all happened after Peppa Pig became the unexpected cultural icon of the "shehuiren" subculture in China. "Shehuiren" literally means "society person," but what it refers to is people who run counter to the mainstream values and are usually poorly educated with no stable job. Mostly unruly slackers, roaming around and the antithesis of the young generation the Communist Party tries to cultivate.

How did Peppa become the symbol of an anti-establishment? Well, Peppa Pig grew in popularity across China after it was introduced in 2015. And Netizens soon came to realize that Peppa Pig is not just children's show, but a cartoon with storylines that present complex social realities. The first video that become popular in China was Peppa learning how to whistle: when Peppa found that everyone apart from her, including her "bestie" Susie Sheep, could whistle, Peppa felt betrayed and hung up the phone on Susie immediately. Netizens hyped this scene as a story that shows "how fake friendships work."

So as Peppa grew popular, memes popped up, emojis were exchanged, songs were dubbed, fake (and real tattoos) were shown off. On Taobao, China's largest e-commerce website, in just one month, one online shop alone sold 30,000 Peppa Pig tattoo stickers and 110,000 Peppa Pig-themed watches. And before you knew it, these "shehuiren" claimed Peppa as their icon.

So for these "shehuiren", since they are not actually gangsters, nor want to be really ordinary people, they have found in Peppa what they were looking for: by wearing Peppa watches and fake Peppa tattoos, they are mocking the big tattoos and golden Rolex watches of the real tough guys, while also distinguishing themselves from mainstream culture and fashion. The irony of the trend is that by ridiculing themselves through the use of the silly Peppa Pig, with her uncool and hairdryer-shaped head, they are now finally what they wanted to be all along: a pretty cool subculture, with a pretty gangster pig as an icon that has set a nationwide trend.

And while Peppa Pig videos were taken down, the hashtag was banned, and Peppa Pig was put on censorship lists for all sorts of content apps, it really just fueled Peppa’s popularity as a symbol on shirts, products, fake tattoos, and whatnot. Two days ago I saw this guy with a fake Gucci X Peppa shirt and asked him to take a pic. As you can see, Peppa is all well and thriving.

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