The absence of Yuzuru Hanyu fans relieves the paranoid censors of Pooh in China
This winter’s decision to hold the Beijing Olympics behind closed doors will rob the Games of one of its most telegenic moments, but it will also allow organizers and sports officials to avoid what could have easily turned into a geopolitical crisis.
All because of a boy and his bear.
When a bloodied and bandaged Yuzuru Hanyu last competed in China – in a heroic free skate at a 2014 Grand Prix that saw the young superstar earn a silver medal despite multiple crashes – the crowd responded with a standing ovation and a shower of plush toys on the ice of the Shanghai Oriental Sports Center.
They included dozens of Winnie the Pooh bears inspired by the now famous Skater’s Tissue Box, which features the Disney character based on the works of author AA Milne.
In the years and competitions that followed, as Hanyu won his second Olympic gold medal and “Yuzu-mania” took hold of the skating world, the bear deluges only increase in size – with flower girls and event staff sometimes struggling to get them off the ice in time for the next skater to compete.
Hanyu, like most of his fellow Japanese athletes, is apolitical in public. And while Pooh himself “ran” for US president three times – at marketing events between 1968 and 1976 that featured campaign songs and rallies at Disneyland – he’s not even sure. he is registered to vote in the Hundred Acre Wood.
Yet an internet phenomenon that has linked him with Chinese President Xi Jinping has made Pooh a central figure in international politics — as well as one of the most censored characters in popular culture.
Starting in 2013, when a photo of Xi with then-US President Barack Obama was compared to an illustration of Pooh and his companion Tigger, Chinese netizens sought to use images and memes featuring featured Pooh to mockingly criticize Xi and the ruling Communist Party. Party without attracting the immediate attention of state censors.
Later, an awkward handshake between Xi and then-Prime Minister Shinzo Abe led to similar satires, with Pooh returning as Xi and Eeyore playing Abe.
As a result, images of Pooh – along with his name and related phrases – are frequently made inaccessible by authorities through China’s “Great Firewall”, which blocks many popular Western sites such as YouTube, Twitter and Facebook.
‘Christopher Robin’, a Winnie the Pooh live-action movie, was denied a Chinese release in 2018, while Devotion, a Taiwanese horror video game that referenced the Pooh-Xi meme in a hidden easter egg, was later removed from the Steam game. platform in 2019. That same year, the famously lewd animated comedy “South Park” used Pooh to parody China’s policies, leading to the long-running series being later banned from the country.
While Hanyu’s post-performance Pooh bear worship gesture appears to be ripe for censorship in China, user-uploaded highlights of his routines are widely available on Bilibili, one of the world’s most popular video platforms. country.
Footage from the Sochi and Pyeongchang Olympics from CCTV, China’s state broadcaster, indicates that Pooh bears thrown onto the ice were seen by Chinese viewers. This isn’t necessarily by choice, however, as Olympic broadcasters all rely on the competition feeds provided to them by the International Olympic Committee.
Hanyu, for his part, will not have his famous Winnie the Pooh tissue box at his side when the men’s competition takes place on February 8 and 10 at the Capital Indoor Stadium in Beijing. This is not due to action by local organizers, but as a result of an Olympic rule banning such ‘mascots’ from the competition area – likely to avoid any potential trade disputes.
It’s not even known when Japanese skating fans will be able to throw the toys on the ice again, which Hanyu donates to local hospitals and charities. This is because they have been banned from throwing flowers or gifts to skaters since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
Still, while Pooh will likely be absent from Beijing broadcasts, he won’t be out of reach for local Hanyu fans. In 2019, the Japanese branch of Disney released a box of “Yuzu Pooh” tissues featuring the character holding a yuzu fruit – a not-so-subtle nod to the world-famous skater, who soon started using it himself. even the new design.
The box and a similarly designed plush toy sold out quickly, but were made available for reservation again on January 21 – with fans set to receive their orders from August, well in time for the 2022 season. of the Grand Prize.
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