Comparison of Winnie the Pooh with Xi too much for China gamers to bear

AA Milne’s loveable but slow-witted bear has been used in past memes to poke fun at China’s Xi Jinping, prompting censors to block all mentions of Winnie the Pooh on social media. (AFP pic)

TAIPEI: A Taiwanese games company whose latest offering contained a hidden comparison of Chinese President Xi Jinping to Winnie the Pooh apologised Sunday after gamers in China boycotted the product.

Horror adventure game “Devotion” was unveiled by Red Candle Games earlier this month and had generated much buzz among gaming communities in Taiwan and China.

But in one scene, an ancient Taoist scribble pasted on a wall was found to contain the Chinese characters “Xi Jinping, Little Bear Winnie” — Winnie the Pooh’s Chinese name.

AA Milne’s loveable but slow-witted bear with a weakness for honey has been used in past memes to poke fun at Xi, prompting Chinese censors to block all mentions of Winnie the Pooh on social media.

Another scene featured a newspaper with headlines reading “Baozi was arrested for assaulting school children” and “Baozi was sentenced to over three years maximum death penalty.”

References to “baozi”, the popular Chinese bun-like snack, have also been taken down before in China for evoking the president’s nickname: “Steamed Bun Xi.”

Taiwanese paper the Apple Daily said gamers in China had called for a boycott of the game.

Red Candle confirmed in a statement that “Devotion” has been removed from digital distribution platform Steam’s China region and that players who had paid for access will be refunded.

It added the controversial content had been written by one member of the development team without the others noticing until Thursday when players reported it.

“This is not the position of Red Candle and this is not the intention of ‘Devotion.’… We are deeply sorry for hurting everybody,” said the statement posted on its Facebook page.

But Taiwan’s vice premier Chen Chi-mai on Sunday called for support for the game and “creative freedom.”

“The game represents the creativity of many young people… I will play it when I have time,” he told reporters.

Red Candle said partnerships with its Chinese distributor as well as a Taiwanese investor that also operates in Shanghai have been terminated following the incident.

A search for the game on China’s Twitter-like Weibo did not yield any results.

Taiwanese companies have previously bowed to boycott threats from China.

Last year, coffee chain 85C Bakery Cafe declared its “firm support for ‘One China'” after it disappeared from Chinese meal-ordering platforms after serving President Tsai Ing-wen while she was transiting in the United States.

Ties with China have worsened since Tsai came to power in 2016, as she has refused to acknowledge that self-ruled democratic Taiwan is part of “one China.”