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No more gory Elsa, Mickey and Peppa Pig as China cracks down on graphic cartoons for kids

Chinese video firm suspended after watchdog orders sites to remove children’s content showing violence and pornography following public outcry

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 25 January, 2018, 8:45am
UPDATED : Thursday, 25 January, 2018, 8:45am

A Chinese video production firm has been suspended and forced to apologise for making cartoons with disturbing content that were uploaded to online children’s entertainment channels.

Graphic videos featuring characters from popular children’s cartoons – such as Peppa Pig, Princess Elsa, and Mickey and Minnie Mouse – set off a firestorm on social media last week, with angry parents warning others that such content was appearing on Chinese sites.

That prompted the national obscenity watchdog on Monday to order all operators of major online video platforms to remove any children’s content showing violence and pornography.

Guangzhou Yinjun Trading Company was one of the first production firms in the crosshairs. The National Office Against Pornographic and Illegal Publications said on Wednesday that the company had been censured and its two offices suspended from operating by local police and authorities.

The company issued an apology for the “horrible” videos and links it had posted to its Happy Disney account on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter.

“We are deeply sorry for causing any distress or panic ... Our company has shown how not to drive up user traffic – by making horrible videos,” the statement said. “When we were making videos, our team had one motivation in mind – increasing traffic – but we neglected to think about the harm and influence these videos, featuring horror, could bring to young children.

“We feel very guilty about the harm these videos could do, and we hereby express our deep apology to children and their parents.”

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The company has removed all links to the videos and although their exact nature is not clear, it said they were made for Halloween, and they are believed to have been made for children.

Staff from the video producer told an undercover reporter from Southern Metropolis Daily that the company had made countless similar videos in the past two years, according to a report on Tuesday.

The obscenity watchdog issued a statement on Monday demanding all video websites check for and remove content showing brutality, violence, terror and pornography from cartoons, children’s plays, puppet shows and children’s games.

Major online platforms Tencent Video, iQiyi, Youku and Sohu have all released statements promising to remove and block any such videos and delete the accounts of those who uploaded them.

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Among the videos that raised alarm was one based on the Peppa Pig character, from the British preschool animated television series, showing the anthropomorphic animal having her mouth injected and a loud dentist’s drill applied to her yellowing teeth.

Others showed Princess Elsa, from the animated musical fantasy film Frozen, having her throat or skull cut open for surgery and having a tooth extracted.

“I don’t think young children are capable of [understanding] that they shouldn’t be watching these gruesome videos,” said Wang Zhao, a father in Beijing. “They would probably just find them amusing without realising that these are not normal cartoon scenes.”

Wang said he supported Beijing’s move to bring the video websites under tighter scrutiny.

Mother Shao Jinyan, who also lives in Beijing, agreed that it was high time graphic content was removed.

“I realised my daughter was watching that bizarre video of Peppa Pig at the dentist,” Shao said. “But what really angered me was that the site then recommended other similar videos for her to watch once she’d seen that one.”

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The videos on Chinese websites have come to light months after Western media revealed that disturbing content had found its way onto YouTube’s platform for children.

Those videos had slipped past filters and algorithms on the YouTube Kids platform, which has millions of weekly viewers, mainly through the clever use of keywords. YouTube promised to clamp down on such content, encouraging viewers to help report inappropriate videos.

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Meanwhile, the Chinese videos have also caught the attention of delegates at Beijing’s People’s Political Consultative Conference, which began on Wednesday.

Attending the conference, Li Jianli, principal of Dongmianhua Kindergarten, said the authorities should “be ruthless” about inappropriate content for children and “crack down with an iron fist”.

The fact many children now use the internet from a young age had Wang Lei, headmistress of Beijing No 166 Middle School, worried. She said “an effective prevention system” was needed and education authorities should stay alert for such content.

Wang also called on parents and schools to work together to prevent children from watching harmful videos, with a focus on pupils who spend a lot of time playing video games and watching videos online.