Chinese President Xi Jinping apparently hates being compared to Winnie the Pooh, the world-famous cartoon bear. If you thought that was weird for a man who recently cleared all hurdles to staying president for life, China has blocked global television channel HBO. The reason: US-based British comedian John Oliver tore into the Chinese strongman in an episode of his 'Tonight Show with John Oliver'.
John Oliver has become part of the staple diet of online late night TV hosts whose shenanigans become an instant part of public discourse in the US. Part of the format of his show is the about-20-minute narrative pieces which are part-journalistic and part-comedy which he calls 'deep dives'. These pieces feature Oliver speaking into the camera and often come with stinging criticism cloaked in a pointlessly transparent veneer of slapstick comedy. His influence on public opinion and policy making in the US has been refered to as the 'John Oliver effect'.
The latest episode features a 'deep dive' on Xi Jinping. Oliver's reasoning for focussing on Xi: China is a huge country with a huge economy where things are changing really fast, and "we should know about them".
Oliver repeatedly ribs the Chinese social media comparison of Ci's appearance to Winnie the Pooh, and his reported irritation with this. He equated Xi's irritation to a deep insecurity over his hold on power in China. This is similar to the lashing that Oliver continues to throw at US President Donald Trump's apparently 'tiny hands'.
People in China cannot access sites like YouTube, Facebook or Twitter, thanks to a strong censorship structure that has come to be called the 'Great Firewall of China'. So, the only way Chinese residents may have been able to watch Oliver's clip would have had to go to HBO's China website. That's why it has been blocked.
Watch the clip here:
Of course, the block is not only over the Winnie the Pooh references. There is plenty in the clip that would make the Chinese government see red (irony). Last year, there hadn't been reports of censorship when Oliver broadcast his interview with the Dalai Lama, whom the Chinese government considers a terrorist.