A popular Taiwanese video game was banned in China because of another joke about Xi Jinping looking like Winnie the Pooh.
Bitter Winter reported last year about the curious ban in China against Winnie the Pooh, the beloved teddy bear created by British author Alan Alexander Milne (1882–1956) and made even more famous by Disney. The reason of the ban is a 2013 joke implying that President Xi Jinping looks like Winnie the Pooh.
The story has generated both attention and ridicule throughout the world. After almost six years, it is not going away. In the last few weeks, it created new turmoil in the world of video games.
Red Candle Games is a phenomenally successful Taiwan video game company, founded (coincidentally) in 2013, the same year the Xi-Winnie joke started, by Taiwanese game designer Coffee Yao (姚舜庭). Riding on the success of its first video game, Detention (返校), Red Candle released a new product, Devotion (還願), on February 19, 2019. The new game is a horror story about a Taiwanese family in a haunted home.
Some of the family’s problems are of supernatural origin, and Fulu (符籙) talismans are used for protection. In Taoism, Fulu are religious practitioners who can write talismans that, in various ways, control spirits.
A few days after the game was launched, users noticed that in the four corners of some Fulu talismans in the games were the characters 呢, 嘛, 叭, and 唭. As such, the characters do not form a meaningful sentence. However, when read out loud, they sound like 你媽八七, meaning “your mother is 87,” or alternatively “you are an idiot.” Since 87 is Chinese Internet slang for “idiot,” the sense is “your mother is an idiot” or “you are an idiot.”
In one particular Fulu talisman in the game (see image), a red seal was visible, which reads “Xi Jinping Winnie the Pooh” (習近平小熊維尼). When read in combination, the sense may be that Xi Jinping looks like Winnie the Pooh and is also the son of an idiot mother, or an idiot himself.
Between 22 and 23 February 2019, the image was noticed by Chinese gamers, which led to the game being delisted in 24 hours from the Chinese Steam store, censored in Weibo, and removed as a discussion subject from gaming forums, and to a suspicious number of negative reviews being posted on the Internet from China, most of them probably not from private users. The word “Devotion” was also excluded as a research term from Baidu. The specialized magazine SpielTimes made the story international. In the end, Red Candle had to apologize and state that a private and inappropriate joke between programmers was inadvertently left in the released version of the game.
That the incident generated such a quick reaction and became such a big deal in China confirms the paranoia of the CCP, which sees any criticism and even joke about Xi Jinping as a dangerous “counter-revolutionary” maneuver.