LARGE swathes of the Chinese social media landscape has erupted into a flurry of criticisms against the Communist Party’s proposal to remove the term limit for the country’s president, with some netizens sharing images of Disney character Winnie the Pooh to draw parallels with their leader Xi Jinping.
On Sunday, the party’s Central Committee proposed a constitutional amendment to remove a clause which bars the president and vice-president from serving for more than two consecutive terms.
Following the announcement, one of the country’s largest social networking websites, Sina Weibo had comment sections removed from articles posted by state media outlets such as Xinhua, CCTV and Chinanews, according to the Hong Kong Free Press.
Some Weibo users even circulated a photo of an old post from Disney’s official account, showing the cartoon character hugging a pot of honey, with a quote that said “Find the thing you love and stick with it. – Winnie the Pooh.”
Many in China believe Xi shares a resemblance with Winnie the Pooh as the character has been used in the past as a political meme against the president, leading to its ban and censorship across social media and local television broadcasters.
Local reports said the recent resurgence of Winnie the Pooh memes has prompted China’s censors to ban Winnie the Pooh from appearing on Weibo, in accordance with “relevant laws regulations and policies”.
Other word searches that were banned also include “Yuan Shikai”, the name of the 19th century Chinese emperor, and also the subject of online comparisons.
Whats on Weibo, an English-language news site that highlights high traffic events on the social media platform, reported netizens posting photos of Winnie the Pooh dressed as a king.
The site also pointed out related terms like “two-term limit” had become unsearchable by Sunday evening.
A site that preserves censored Weibo posts called FreeWeibo on Monday morning saw words such as “ascend the throne,” “constitutional amendment,” “Winnie,” and “Yuan Shikai,” as the top searched terms.
Winnie the Pooh banned again in China in 3, 2 … pic.twitter.com/nIZNgP3ONu
— Josh Chin 李肇华 (@joshchin) February 25, 2018
“Last night I had a dream that we had returned to the republic, and Yuan Shikai declared himself emperor,” one censored post said.
Other netizens drew comparisons to North Korea’s ruling dynasty and charges of creating a dictator by a Hong Kong pro-democracy activist.
The social media reaction late on Sunday quickly saw China swing into a concerted propaganda push by Monday, blocking some articles and publishing pieces praising the party.
The proposal, if approved means that Xi, who also heads the party and the military, might never have to retire.
The proposal, which will be passed by delegates loyal to the party at next month’s annual meeting of China’s largely rubber-stamp parliament, is part of a package of amendments to the country’s constitution.
It will also add Xi’s political thought to the constitution, already added to the party constitution last year, and set a legal framework for a super anti-corruption superbody, as well as more broadly strengthen the party’s tight grip on power.
But it seems the party will have its work cut out trying to convince some in China, where Xi is actually very popular thanks in part to his war on graft, that the move will not end up giving Xi too much power.
Widely read state-run newspaper the Global Times said in an editorial the change did not mean the president will stay in office forever, though it did not offer much explanation.
“Since reform and opening up, China, led by the Communist Party, has successfully resolved and will continue to effectively resolve the issue of party and national leadership replacement in a law-abiding and orderly manner,” it said, referring to landmark economic reforms that began four decades ago.
The party’s official People’s Daily reprinted a long article by Xinhua news agency saying most people supported the constitutional amendments, quoting a variety of people proffering support.
“The broad part of officials and the masses say that they hoped this constitutional reform is passed,” it wrote.
Additional reporting by Reuters