25 January, 2007

Pigs get the ax in China

In China it's the Year of the ____ reports the Wall Street Journal (subscription required):
SHANGHAI -- Next month, China will ring in the Year of the Pig. Nestlé SA planned to celebrate with TV ads featuring a smiling cartoon pig. "Happy new pig year," the ads said.

This week, China Central Television, the national state-run TV network, banned Nestlé's ad -- and all images and spoken references to the animal in commercials, including those tied to the Lunar New Year, China's biggest holiday.

The intent: to avoid offending Muslims, who consider pigs unclean.
...
The pig ban is a significant shift for a government that seldom puts the interests of minority groups ahead of those of the broader population. China has more than 20 million Muslims, but they constitute less than 2% of its population.

For most other Chinese, the pig has powerful and positive cultural associations as one of the 12 signs of the Chinese zodiac. Year of the Pig decorations already festoon cities and villages all over China.

Pork is the meat most widely consumed by the country's Han Chinese majority. On average, Chinese annually eat more than 80 pounds of pork , according to United Nations statistics. At banquets in southern China, people often roast whole pigs, decorated with blinking red lights in their eye sockets.
...
The policy shift offers a window on the inner workings of China's governmental machinery, known for its surprise edicts and abrupt shifts in regulation. It wasn't immediately clear whether the ban applies just to ads or to all TV content. And some analysts said the government could still reverse itself, or offer exceptions to the ban.
...
Walt Disney Co., which is making a major push into China after opening a theme park in Hong Kong, is building its marketing efforts for the year around Piglet, Winnie the Pooh's cartoon sidekick. The company says that market research into Chinese culture and traditions led them to prioritize Piglet, who is a lesser character in other markets. "Piglet will be Disney's most eye-catching image throughout 2007 in China," said the company in a statement before the ban. China's postal service has also launched "Year of Piglet" stamps surrounded by images of the character. Disney had no comment on the ban.

Pigs have often been at the center of communal violence between China's Muslim minority and the Chinese majority. Protests ensued when a pig's head was nailed to the door of a mosque several years ago.

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