On Jan. 17, a short film entitled “What is Peppa” went viral on Chinese social media. It depicts the touching quest of a loving grandfather, who has spent all his life living in rural areas, doting on his grandson by crafting a “Peppa Pig”. The grandfather began his journey by trying to figure out what Peppa is exactly after hearing from his grandson over the phone that he wanted a “Peppa” for Chinese New Year.
The lack of access to the internet got him no where. So he resorted to going from door to door asking the same question, which is seen as quite abrupt and perhaps rather embarrassing. His relative told him, “A pig. Pink.” and nothing more. Thus, in an old fashioned way, he crafted a steampunk pig-shaped metal toy, purely out of his imaginations, that looked just like the shape of Peppa Pig’s head.
The short film is actually a trailor of a British and Chinese co-produced film that will be airing on the first day of the lunar year called “Peppa Pig Celebrates the New Year”. Despite its efforts in integrating the iconic cartoon characters of both countries, its marketing strategy is typical, targeted, and very successful. According to the lunar calendar, 2019 is also the year of the pig, which is the twelfth animal in the 12-year cycle of Chinese zodiacs.
Peppa pig has its origins from a English pre-school animation, and later evolved into a Chinese subculture, until memes and pictures of getting Peppa Pig tattoos went viral on social media. With the online saying that goes: “Get your Peppa Pig tatt, shout out to your frat”, it is now a character that’s widely loved by all age groups in China and not just school kids.
The commercial was so popular firstly due to the timing of its release to celebrate the coming Chinese New Year, a day of family reunion and national celebration. This is a day where middle class families, regardless of which cities they’ve settled in, return to the countryside where most of them grew up. The family in the commercial is a typical traditional Chinese one that has migrated from the countryside to the city. They connected with each other, with an obsolete flip phone, a smart way to show how powerful the signal of the sponsor company China Mobile is.
The commercial played the humorous scenes well, and the rough acting depicted the plot well, as the director selected commoners as actors from a rural village in Zhangjiakou in the Hebei Province. The leading actor, 57 years old, makes his living by working at a nearby movie base. He really didn’t know what Peppa Pig was prior to the commercial shoot, which made his acting all the more genuine and convincing.
The flip phone used in the commercial, however, was just a filming tool rather than an accurate depiction of real-life conditions. Even in rural areas, the old-school flip phone had long been phased out and replaced by new generation smartphones. The fact is that some villagers had already began to communicate in WeChat groups, sending WeChat red packets, memes and so on.
Ever since the release of the commercial, the discussions have escalated from a family anecdote to contradictions between a rural and urban context. It had an underlying prerequisite that we unconsciously classified ourselves as “elite” urbanites who watch foreign cartoons and American TV series, have McDonald’s burgers and drinking pop, enjoy the best part of civilization, while rural folks are so “closed off”, sealed inside the mountains and could only reach out to the outer world with internet access and poor phone signals.
This depiction can be seen as biased and exaggerated compared to real life. The rural-urban gap has long been closing at a fast pace.
The leading actor told media reporters that due to the development brought by the 2022 Winter Olympics held in Beijing and Zhangjiakou, their families are getting wealthier, and are indeed leading a decent life now.
Another implication presented in the short film is a traditional Chinese family value. The core spirits of family still lie deeply inside the agricultural culture. The mountains and rivers are the places where modern urban dwellers could depart for years and still, at some point, need to come back to.
A Weibo KOL stated that despite the fact that it is an elaborately designed short film, the core idea that it tried to convey was still the loving and affectionate grandfather waiting anxiously for his son and grandson to come back home for Chinese New Year. That said, in accordance with such logic, if a son wants to take his wife and kids to travel abroad during the spring festival, then he must be condemned as unfilial and ungrateful in this sense!
Peppa Pig is a happy and humorous character. It may feel somewhat burdened with such a heavy love.
Featured photo credit to sohu