Despite a ‘Gangster’ Reputation, ‘Peppa Pig’ Heads to China’s Silver Screen

It was the dial tone heard ’round the world.

The popular meme of Peppa Pig savagely hanging up the phone after discovering that her friend Susie Sheep could whistle while Peppa could not quickly broke the Internet, making the innocent titular character of the British preschool animated television series an unlikely rebel icon in China.

In China, state broadcaster CCTV introduced Peppa Pig in 2015. Within two years, the porcine protagonist was a full-fledged Internet sensation across popular video streaming sites like Douyin and Bilibili, in part thanks to Peppa’s forceful reaction to friend Susie. Internet users in China quickly dubbed Peppa Shehuiren, a slang term for gangster. Fans began posting drawings and tattoos featuring the piglet in “gangster” garb.

But the popularity of the wee pig as a subculture icon upset authorities who worried that such imagery was a bad influence on young people. Peppa was censored on some Websites this year, such as the live-streaming app Douyin.

However, Chinese media wants to reclaim the popular pig and her cleansed reputation through the production of a new feature film. Alibaba Pictures, the film unit of China’s largest e-commerce company, is co-producing a film with Entertainment One, Peppa Pig’s rightsholder and China’s film regulator.

The film will present a wholesome, family-loving Peppa Pig, as was originally intended in the British series. The movie, Little Peppa Pig’s New Year, will tell the story about how two Chinese children spend Chinese Lunar New Year with their family. China’s domestic film industry often promotes values that align with the ruling Communist Party, such as “positive energy” and the importance of family.

News of the Peppa Pig film comes shortly after China released a stamp for the next Chinese Lunar New Year— fittingly, early 2019 will usher in the Year of the Pig. The stamp features three piglets and could be a nod towards plans to lift restrictions on the number of children a family can have.

This isn’t the first stamp to possibly foreshadow a policy change in China. In 2016, the year’s stamp featured a mother monkey hugging two baby monkeys. Shortly after its release, China eased up on its decades long one-child policy. The year of the pig will also welcome two new Peppa theme parks—given the cartoon character can successfully shed her gangster persona.

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