The Chinese New Year begins on Thursday, the Year of the Tiger giving way to the Year of the Rabbit. The government in Beijing recently removed from the internet an extremely violent cartoon called Greeting Card for the Year of the Rabbit, in which a group of oppressed rabbits overthrow an abusive government of tigers.
The cartoon claims to be ‘meant as an adult fairy tale’, with ‘no connection to real life’, but most of the events it depicts will be familiar to a Chinese audience. It begins with baby rabbits being fed bottled milk: ‘Little rabbit, be good, open your mouth, open it up quickly, and drink up your happy future.’ They turn green, their eyes pop out and their heads explode. In 2008, six infants died and more than 300,000 fell ill after drinking contaminated formula.
When one of the rabbits tries to protest at a political meeting, he is beaten by the tigers. ‘Build a Harmonious Forest,’ the tigers’ banner says, echoing the government’s talk of ‘Building a Harmonious Society’. Then the tigers bulldoze the rabbits’ houses. Any major building works in China – such as the preparations for the 2008 Beijing Olympics or the Shanghai Expo last year – are preceded by forced evictions. Anti-demolition protests have included demonstrators setting fire to themselves, as a rabbit does in the cartoon.
After running over a rabbit in his car, one of the tigers shouts: ‘I’m the son of Tiger Gang!’ Last year a student in Hebei province was run down and killed by the son of the deputy police chief, who warned off security guards by saying: ‘I’m the son of Li Gang!’
Despite the politically sensitive nature of the cartoon, some of the people behind it have been willing to identify themselves. Pi San, the director, works at Hutoon, an animation studio in Beijing that also makes cartoons for China Central Television. ‘I felt this past year was really depressing,’ he said, ‘so I wanted to create this thing for fun.’
His apparently relaxed attitude is especially surprising because the cartoon ends with the rabbits growing vampire fangs and slaughtering the tigers. The final slogan seems a clear warning to the state that public concern about such issues as food safety, housing and corruption should not be ignored. ‘The year of the rabbit has come. Even rabbits bite when they’re pushed.’