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The rise and fall of Peppa Pig in China

 Chinese people have been swooning over Peppa Pig, a British cartoon character with a face shaped like a hair dryer, especially since she was jokingly cast as a "shehuiren" - slang for lowlifes and gangsters. Unfortunately these counterculture memes finally led to its downfall.

Peppa Pig was all the rage in China. Introduced to the Chinese in 2015 and aired on state broadcaster CCTV, the animated series has since become immensely popular. It is rated 9.2 on the review platform Douban, and its fifth season, released last October has been viewed over 14 billion times on video platform Youku.

And it's not just children who are addicted to this cartoon character, which has become the topic of countless memes, jokes and short videos on Chinese social media. On Weibo, the hashtag #societyperson'speppapig has been viewed nearly 30 million times, with fans sharing photos of themselves and Peppa. On e-commerce site Taobao, watches and bracelets with various Peppa Pig designs have sold over 100,000 units. On video sharing platform Douyin, footage of tattoos, both permanent and temporary, have become wildly popular.

Internet users have addressed Peppa as "shehuiren" - literally translated as "society people" - which depicts a gangster culture and people who are street-wise. The viral catchphrase "get a tattoo of Peppa Pig, give the applause to gangsters", firstly appeared in short videos on Douyin, later becoming a symbol of coolness and humour.

While young say these memes add a bit of fun and merriment to their dry and tedious lives, the Chinese government did not feel the same way. The state-run tabloid the Global Times wrote that "shehuiren" refers to "people who run against to mainstream values. They are usually uneducated and unemployed."

For reasons as yet unknown, videos with the hashtag #PeppaPig could not be searched on Douyin from May 2. According to Chinese media, there had been at least 30,000 related clips on the platform. The cuddly swine's downfall provoked considerable controversy among Chinese citizens.

It is said numerous parents complained about the bad behaviour their children learnt from Peppa, such as wallowing in mud, jumping on the sofa, and uttering the oink sound. One parent claimed that the series may have an influence on children's disposition and cause invisible harm to their development. But more people questioned what Peppa has done wrong to deserve this downfall. They still view the swine as an innocuous and cute cartoon character.

In recent years, a number of Internet subcultures largely fuelled by young people attracted the attention of the government. Two Peppa Pig theme parks are set to open next year in Beijing and Shanghai, just in the time for the Year of the Pig in 2019. It is unclear if those plans have been axed as well.


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