China Gives Winnie-the-Pooh the Boot
If you enjoy reading Electric Literature, join our mailing list! We’ll send you the best of EL each week, and you’ll be the first to know about upcoming submissions periods and virtual events.
A new Party edict targets foreign picture books
Don’t be fooled by their cuddly appearance and supposed adherence to Taoist principles — Winnie-the-Pooh and other residents of the Hundred Acre Wood are radical agitators dead set on poisoning the minds of children. Or at least that seems to be the new official position in the People’s Republic of China. According to reports from the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Press, Communist Party heads have instructed publishers to drastically limit the number of foreign picture books printed in country. In some cases, the edict is being interpreted as an outright ban. Late last week, the e-commerce behemoth Alibaba announced that its online shopping site, Taobao, would cease the sale of foreign books in order to “create a safe and secure online shopping environment to enhance consumer confidence and satisfaction.”
The new policy means that beloved children’s books like Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach and A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh series will soon be all but unavailable to the world’s largest population and its hundreds of millions of children. The limitations promise to dramatically shift the children’s publishing industry in China. According to the SCMP’s report, the PRC’s three bestselling picture books are all from foreign sources: Les P’Tites Poules series; (France), the Barefoot Books World Atlas (Britain); and Peppa Pig (Britain).
The justification behind the ban, in the words of an editor at a state-owned publisher in the PRC, is to reduce the “inflow of ideology” from western sources. The crackdown is part of a larger Party effort to halt dissemination and popularity of western ideas in the education sector.
Another editor told The Financial Times: “I can’t imagine this restriction to be possible, because its implementation is so difficult, and it also has no benefit whatsoever for the people or the country.”
Could that mean there will soon be an underground trade in Goodnight, Moon and The Little Prince? For the children’s publishing world in China, it’s a brave new world.