At a popular mosque in Shanghai,
there's general approval of the ban.
Given the Muslim taboo on pigs,
these believers say that seeing pig
images on TV would make them feel
"China's building a harmonious
society," Hassan Bai Runsheng, the
mosque's imam, said. "We see a
decision like this in the context of
creating a harmonious society
between Han Chinese and ethnic
Even big multinationals are aware
of the sensitivities. A Coca-Cola ad
features a cute, Babe-like piglet
braving mean city streets to get
home for the Chinese New Year. But
the company shot a second version
using pandas to show in Muslim
For those who didn't take such
measures, economic losses beckon.
"It is really messing with
people's commercial activities,"
said Paul French, Access Asia's
China representative. "It'd be like
[in] the second week of December
telling people, 'You can run
whatever advertising you want, but
no images of Father Christmas.'"
French said he's received the
edict but, to confuse matters, not
everyone's been given the same
"Some people are told 'No live
pigs, but you can have animated or
cartoon pigs,'" French said. "And
some people say 'No pigs
To add to the confusion, one
agency told NPR that the pig ban had
subsequently been relaxed, while
others say it's still in place. CCTV
refused to grant an interview on the
Whatever the situation, the
thinking behind the ban is telling.
"The underlying reason goes to
the very core of what it is Chinese
government views as its patriarchal
responsibility to maintain harmony
of the entire society," said Tom
Doctoroff, China CEO for the JWT
Doctoroff says it can be
difficult to predict what might fall
foul of the censors.
"We one time had a Pizza Hut ad
... [where] we had this kid standing
up on a desk and extolling in
fulsome tones the glory of the pizza
to attract the other kids,"
Doctoroff said. "This ad did get
censored because the child, the
student, the 8-year-old, was viewed
as an alternative center of
Other no-nos include using
religious figures, for example
Buddhist or Taoist monks. And
national icons like the Great Wall
should be treated with caution. Paul
French said edicts — like one issued
last year about dragons — should be
viewed against the backdrop of
China's rising power.
These orders perhaps mirror how
the Chinese government would like to
see itself: as the protector of
minority groups, the guardian of
national icons and the ultimate
arbiter of harmony. But that role
may no longer be possible.
A tune called "the pig song"
shows why. It's devoted to
describing the pig's dripping snout,
its curly tail and its big ears.
Posted on the Internet two years
ago, it became a surprise hit, it
was downloaded a billion times. Even
if Beijing had wanted to ban it,
modern technology — in the form of
the Internet — would have made that
From the outside, China's
government might appear monolithic.
But the saga of the pig ban shows
how it's struggling with
multiculturalism, riddled with
insecurity and beholden to
commercial pressures, as perhaps