Notes from the Middle Kingdom: Let’s Censor like Lions and Tigers and Bears.

Words: James Kramer
Sunday 10 September 2017
reading time: min, words

Oh my! Our man in Beijing is back with an unconventional approach for Nottingham's 2023 City of Culture bid. The real question is, how deep is your love?


Let’s be honest: Nottingham’s got a lot to be proud of. International city of literature, London Grammar by way of Sleaford Mods, from Fothergill to Forest Fields. Yet to put in its bid for the 2023 City of Culture we’re going to need to garner some real spotlighted attention. So how can take that next great leap forward? What, Nottingham, is our five-year plan? While some may think that the solution must be drastic in order to propel us to international fame and notoriety (Are you as tired as I am of having to mime that bow and arrow when answering the question as to where it is that you come from?) the remedy is in fact a great deal simpler so long as we apply some good old-fashioned Chinese tactics to the issue. As always, Notes from the Middle Kingdom is dutifully present to bring Beijing style-innovation to our own humble shores.

If Nottingham is to win said 2023 title, then we need to steal ourselves some inter/national recognition now, make the headlines, and score some gratifyingly heady click bait. Sure, we could continue to work and strive to develop our already glorious artistic and cultural repertoire, or we could simply take the easy way out. In China, the expression 差不多(Chabuduo) literally translates to mean “almost enough”; however it’s idiomatic use is to state “good enough.” It is an expression most commonly heard (in my experience) when allowing a team of migrant workers into a crowded sixth floor walk up bathroom to fix that darned open electrical socket directly underneath the leaking showerhead, an exercise that is completed by the cramming the holes of said socket with the splintered shards of chopsticks (I kid not) and covering the whole thing with a good two reels of clear sellotape just for safety’s sake.

Chabuduo as prevailing cultural attitude, once borne from necessity during harder times, has been cited by many better social critics than myself as being a major contributing factor behind the continuing low standards within the Chinese construction industry, the ‘made in China’ phenomenon and the continued lack of adequate quality control when it comes to food safety. A few hundred students in Jilin get severely poisoned via the school cafeteria? Just close off the campus, ban the media from discussing it and quarantine the kids at home under guarded curfew; Chabuduo.

So it is with this relaxed ‘take the fastest, easiest option possible’ kind of attitude that I propose we get Nottingham some international recognition. A while back now, a picture circulated Chinese social media showing Xi Jing Ping taking a rather gentle June 8th garden stroll with the then president Barack Obama. Because of the gait and size of the Chinese leader, when paired next to his American counterpart, a striking resemblance was picked up by some intrepid and keen eyed online scamps who decided to immediately juxtapose the political snapshot with a similar looking picture of a particular cartoon bear with a penchant for honey and avoiding trousers. With Barak sidelined as his bouncing tiggerific sidekick you’d have thought that this could have been a major PR win for Beijing, signifying as it did the Chinese (rather than the American) leader as the titular protagonist, but unfortunately ‘Xi Jing Pooh’ was not about to become an endorsed popular public campaign worthy of t-shirt sponsorship à la ‘Run-D.M.Corbin’ and was quickly censored into a dull silence.

What was then the nature of Beijing’s calm and calculated response to the unrequested political spotlight being suddenly thrust onto the maddeningly optimistic Americanized version of the rotund little woodland critter? It was by and large to ban the bear from social media. Winnie emojis disappeared, he vanished from many Baidu (Chinese Google) searches and became but a chubby ghost from many a website where his presence had once been. A virtual scorched earth policy was brought to the Hundred Acre Wood where the mere mention of the anthropomorphized cutesy mammal brought down the censors hard on your online content.

Given the original satirical nature of the teddy bear, designed as it was to mock a previous president (Theodore Roosevelt), perhaps this is then a fitting tribute to Winnie’s humble origins. But I can't help but feel that we here in Nottingham can equally benefit from our own shameless grab for attention by taking needless offence at an undisputedly beloved public figure’s visual similarity to our own regional icon. It is with this in mind that I propose and am calling for the complete and absolute ban of circa 1970s era Barry Gibb.

Now before public outcry greets me, I am not suggesting that Barry Gibb himself should be banned. I was just as thankful as any other sensible music connoisseur to hear that the rather uncalled for and nasty hoax about the singer’s death was just that. No, what I am calling for is only the totalizing ban of circa 1970s era Barry Gibb, just to make that clear. However, this era’s particular ban does mean that no longer will we be able to hear those falsetto tones grace our ears amid drunken karaoke nights. Gone forever must be that particular songs place from novelty themed nightclub evenings and uninventive wedding after parties. Circa 1970s era Barry Gibb must be eradicated from our collective consciousness and referred to no more.

Why circa 1970s era Barry Gibb I hear you cry? Well, because of his clearly mocking, nay insulting, similar visual proximity to that of our own iconic Left Lion. That proud, luscious mane of flowing golden locks, those piercing, majestic eyes are clearly in unapologetic jest towards that of our stone king of the jungle. Oh sure, I could have banned Simba or ‘Dog the Bounty Hunter’ Chapmen or Ron Perlman from the 1992 adaption of Stephen King’s Sleepwalkers, but for this to be truly as effective as and accurately mirroring that of the Beijing model, we need to go after a figure that it is almost impossible to dislike (don’t say Simba isn’t dislikable, he represents the outdated institution of a tyrannous monarchy!) and so therefore I’m putting forward my (unilateral) vote for circa 1970s era Barry Gibb.

How can we enforce this policy? Easily. Recently in Hebei province a man was arrested and sentenced to jail time for commenting negatively about the food in a hospital canteen. All we need to do is take a similar approach. If you hear either friend or family member mention circa 1970s era Barry Gibb simply report them at once. Cast aside any previous affection that you might have foolishly felt, dial up that official number and ‘eat cheese’ as they say; rat on that elderly relative. If China can make over 50 Taiwanese musicians disappear from the internet overnight due to opinions that they may/may not have had or voiced over their country’s role within new China, surely we as a city can enforce a policy that mandates Mrs Bolton down at no. 42 to burn her archaic VHS copy of Saturday Night Fever in the backyard, can’t we?

We must unite behind this. In this, our shameless bid for public attention, let us wantonly display our impossibly fragile egos and proud sense of face and cut from the records and history books circa 1970s era Barry Gibb from our collective minds. Nottingham, we have nothing to lose but our manes!

Next time on Notes from the Middle Kingdom: In support for Beijing’s DIY music scene: Music to see in the winter to end all of days.   

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