A cherubic British cartoon character has become an unlikely target of China's censors as fans use her porcine likeness in rap videos and "gangster" tattoos.
The bright pink swine's subversive alter-ego has made her a viral hit but also an apparent target of government workers who police the internet.
Videos with the hashtag #PeppaPig could not be searched Wednesday on Douyin, a popular video app. The catchphrase, "Get a tattoo of Peppa Pig, give a round of applause to 'gangsters,'" was also not searchable on the Weibo microblogging platform, which posted a message saying it was acting "in accordance with relevant legal regulations."
Regulators have been ratcheting up control over Chinese blogs and apps in recent months. A controversial cybersecurity law was introduced last June as part of President Xi Jinping's efforts to tighten control over what China's public can see and say online while still trying to reap the economic benefits of internet use.
It was not clear whether the censorship of Peppa on Douyin was prompted by a government mandate. Bytedance, the company that owns Douyin, did not respond to requests for comment.
Bytedance saw its social networking app Neihan Duanzi shut down by the State Adminstration of Radio and Television last month. The app was a hub for GIFs, memes and often-vulgar humor which the authorities deemed "unhealthy." The company's chief executive, Zhang Yiming, said in an apologetic statement at the time that he would increase the size of the content-monitoring team to 10,000 employees.
Chinese media said there had been at least 30,000 clips under Peppa's hashtag on Douyin. Variations on the name, such as "PigPig" or "PeppaPeppa" are still searchable.
Internet users have aligned Peppa with the culture of "shehuiren" — literally "society people" — which connotes a gangster attitude and street smarts.
The Global Times, a state-run newspaper, wrote Monday that the moniker "refers to people who run counter to the mainstream value and are usually poorly educated with no stable job. They are unruly slackers roaming around and the antithesis of the young generation the (ruling Communist) Party tries to cultivate."
The party newspaper People's Daily likewise warned last week that Peppa "should not be allowed to destroy children's childhoods." It noted that Peppa has been used to sell merchandise not connected with the original brand.
Xi, who strives to rally citizens around the idea of a "China Dream," has emphasized in speeches the importance of young people's contributions to the country's "rejuvenation" following foreign incursions and civil war over the last 150 years.
Despite such entreaties from the Communist Party, a number of internet subcultures fueled largely by young Chinese — from despondent "sang" people to lackadaisical "Buddhist youths" — have resisted the president's call to "roll up your sleeves and work harder."
Peppa Pig is not the first fictional creature to be targeted by China's censors for political and sociological reasons. References to Winnie the Pooh were recently scrubbed from the internet after users began employing the cuddly bear as a proxy for the somewhat corpulent Xi when he engineered a move this year to remove presidential term limits from the constitution. Among the popular postings, Winnie was shown hugging a jar of honey alongside the quote, "find the thing you love and stick with it."
On her show, Peppa and her animal friends partake in mundane activities such as bike riding and swimming. But "society people" have co-opted innocuous lines from the program for their own satirical takes, such as playing lewd rap songs after a scene in which Peppa says: "I like this. It's very grown-up."
The topic "'Society Person' Peppa Pig" has been viewed nearly 30 million times on Weibo, with fans sharing photos of themselves and Peppa paraphernalia along with the tag "society person." Some users have juxtaposed images of Peppa with racy pop lyrics, or edited Peppa videos to include techno lighting.
Users also encouraged one another to get Peppa tattoos. Tens of thousands have purchased temporary tattoos featuring the pig on e-commerce site Taobao.
In a post reflecting on Peppa's puzzling popularity, verified Weibo blogger Cao Zhi mused, "Peppa Society People have added a bit of fun and merriment to our dry, tedious lives."