Year Hare Affair

« previous post | next post »

That's the abbreviated title of a popular webcomic by Lin Chao 林超.  The full title in Chinese is Nà nián nà tù nàxiē shì 那年那兔那些事 (lit., "that year that rabbit those affairs"; i.e., "The story of that rabbit that happened in that year")

From the beginning of the Wikipedia article:

The comic uses animals as an allegory for nations and sovereign states to represent political and military events in history. The goal of this project was to promote nationalistic pride in young people, and focuses on appreciation for China's various achievements since the beginning of the 20th century.

Here is a list of the countries portrayed in the webcomic and the animals used to represent them:

Appearance Reasons and source of the appearance
China (or Communist Party of China Hare Hares are herbivorous animals that are usually considered cute, docile and populous, but can still inflict nasty bites and kicks when irritated. It represents the author's view that the People's Republic of China is traditionally not so aggressive in foreign policies, but can still pack a punch when required.
Taiwan (or Kuomintang) Baldhead Based on the hair style of Chiang Kai-shek. Besides, in Standard Chinese "baldhead" (秃子 tūzi) and "rabbit" (兔子 tùzi) have similar pronunciations, which represent the complexity of Cross-Strait relations.
Soviet Union Russian Bear Bear is a common national personification for Russia and the USSR starting from the Russian Empire. The Soviet bear has a symbol — the hammer and sickle of Communism — on his stomach, which later becomes more like a character, "父", meaning "father" in Chinese.
Russia Russian Bear with a single separated hair To differentiate with the Soviet Union. This bear has a character "大" on his stomach, meaning that he is the "eldest son" of the USSR. The hair stands for the common Northern Chinese nickname for Russians "毛子" ("hairy ones", referring to the comparatively higher body hair count in Caucasians).
United States Bald eagle Bald eagle is the national bird of the United States of America.
Japan Crane / Chicken The crane is an important part of the Japanese culture. The chicken is used as an insult based on the similar appearance of crane and chicken and the traditional Chinese slang term xiao riben.
South Korea Gaoli bangzi with helmet Bangzi is an ethnic slur used in Northeast China as a reference of Koreans. To differentiate with North Korea, a US-style combat helmet is added to the appearance of South Korea.
North Korea Gaoli bangzi with red star hat Bangzi is an ethnic slur used in Northeast China as a reference of Koreans. To differentiate with South Korea, a Communist-style red star ski cap is added to the appearance of North Korea.
Multiple countries in Southeast Asia
Vietnam, Indonesia, Philippines
Monkey Monkey is commonly seen in the tropical jungles of Southeast Asia. It is also used as an ethnic slur in China for areas without modern development.
Pakistan Markhor Markhor is commonly seen in Pakistan and the national animal of this country. In the animation the Markhor is called Ba Ba Yang ("Paki Goat") and sometimes nicknamed "Little Ba" by the Hare.
India White elephant White elephant is commonly seen in India as an important part of Hindu mythology. In the animation the author chooses it rather than the bull which is sacred in Hindu to represent India because bull has already been used to represent the UK.
United Kingdom Bull "John Bull" is a national personification of England and the United Kingdom in general.
France Gallic rooster Gallic rooster is an unofficial national symbol of France.
Germany Tiger/Cat Tiger II and other Tiger series of tanks are the most famous German heavy tank. So in the assumption of the comic this animal called Hans was at first a tiger. But after World War II, Germany has been restricted to use military force, and thus after the war both East and West Germany become cats — a "downsized" tiger.
Multiple countries in Africa
Libyan Arab Jamahiriya
Tanzania
Sudan
South Sudan
Eritrea
Hippopotamus Hippo is a large, mostly herbivorous mammal in Sub-Saharan Africa. Both in the comic and the animation, nearly all mentioned African countries are represented by hippopotamus, except for Uganda under the Idi Amin regime. Also, Colonel Ka the Hippo sometimes symbolizes Muammar Gaddafi himself other than the country. Sudan and South Sudan only appear in the end of Episode 3, Season 2 of the animation.
Uganda Duck "Uncle Crazy Duck" is, in fact, the nickname of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi among Chinese netizens. The appearance of "Uncle Crazy Duck" in the comic is based upon Count Duckula and has screws on his head, meaning that his brain is different from other Africans; he wears the skin of a hippo. In the animation, Uncle Crazy Duck even shouts "Banana!" as the Minions do during the speech.
Multiple countries in the Arab world
Afghanistan
Saudi Arabia
Iraq
Iran
Camels Camel is commonly seen and used as transportation in the desertous Arab world. Both in the comic and the animation, nearly all mentioned Arabic countries are represented by camels, but they have different appearance — Afghan camel wears a scarf and is bearded; Saudi Arabian camel wears a scarf and lots of diamonds; Iraqi camel under the Saddam Hussein regime wears a beret; and Iranian camel during the Pahlavi dynasty has a throne on his head.
Iran Persian lion Persian lion is the symbol of ancient Iran and the Persian Empire. The religious reform of Ruhollah Khomeini made Iran quite different from its Arabic neighbours, and so the author chooses the symbol of ancient Persia to represent it.

Source

To see instances of how it plays out in action, here is an extensive set of screen captures.

Critics of Year Hare Affair, both inside and outside of China, consider it to be tainted by chauvinism, ethnocentrism, and racism.  Others believe that Year Hare Affair is ambiguous, uncertain, and double-edged in its parabolic narrative of recent history.

Here is a thoughtful analysis of the comic by a citizen of China who has served in its armed forces:

I have came across this before. It is very popular among young kids through websites like bilibili (see here and here). I think this governmental propaganda [VHM:  N.B.] is very successful. Following the usages of the comic, I have seen many people refer to the US as "yīng jiàng 鹰酱" ("eagle sauce" — cute name for eagle, Japanese style Chinese)", and China as "wǒ tù 我兔" ("I / we rabbit[s]"; recognition of national and political identity). From this perspective, I would argue there is an alternative form of Cultural Revolution happening in China right now. Only this time, it is quiet and less violent, since the new generations were taught with a very different ideology than previous ones. We can see the generation gap online now, and see the criticism from the older generation to the younger generation, and also from the younger generation to the older one.

Random reflections by a Chinese graduate student who went to college in America:

I first read this webcomic two years ago, and I knew it was hotly debated when it originally came out. Some of the netizens highly praised this webcomic and believed that, compared with academic books, this is a better way for people to understand history.

Others who believe that it was bad had different reasons:

First, netizens believe that the creator of the comic tried to defame China because he created a scheming (fùhēi 腹黑) rabbit who intrigues against other animals (which represent other countries) to gain its own profits. I think many Chinese would agree with this idea because what Chinese people always accept these years is a kind and just national image. They even do not believe that China could do so many selfish things as the webcomic shows. (That's why the Chinese government has shut down VPNs. Chinese people will never know what really happened in China; on the contrary, they can only know the perfect image of China modeled by the government). In my opinion, they just cannot accept the truth that political fights are always darksome.

Second, many people believe that this webcomic is too nationalistic since the rabbit was described as a smart and far-sighted character who could always control the situation, discern all the dangers, and consolidate its position step by step. The author ignored the difficulties that China had gone through, but only paid attention to how China created its splendid successes. Netizens criticized the author that his rabbit thinks highly of itself and looks down on others.

Third, people criticize the government and believe that this webcomic is again a propaganda tool of the CCP. It is really interesting that these years everything related to politics, especially for those which propagandize the government, could be categorized as the tool of the government to brainwash people. Japan has its《 Hēitǎlìyǎ黑塔利亚》(Axis powers Hetariya ヘタリア)[VHM: see below for a separate discussion] and America has Captain America. Chinese believe that these are just for entertainment, but for the same kind of comic in China which is also about patriotism, they criticize it as a brainwashing tool. I think it is because these years more and more people have chances to study abroad and know more about the CCP and the government, so they started to realize that the Chinese government hides too much of the truth and thus they come to distrust the government. To some extent, Chinese people are afraid of political brainwashing, and they are too sensitive about this issue.

However, it doesn't matter whether it really has a connection with the government or not. The key point is that this webcomic definitely conforms to the values of the CCP, otherwise, it would be blocked in China. It reminds me of another cartoon about " Xiǎo tùzǐ kuāngkuāng 小兔子哐哐" ("Little Rabbit Bang Bang"). This is one of my favorite cartoons because it satirized many political affairs in China, but it was cut off by the Chinese government. I really like this cartoon anyway.

It is interesting that in comics or cartoons, China often becomes a rabbit. And I think here are some reasons for that:

1. Tùzǐ dēng yīng 兔子蹬鹰 ("the rabbit kicks the eagle"). This is a set phrase and the name of a strategy in martial arts.

2. Rabbits could represent a pure and delicate image. What's more, rabbits are more likely to be bullied (just like China).

3. Rabbits have a strong reproductive ability.

(Here are some funny explanations)

4. Tùzǐmen 兔子们 ("rabbits") (T Z M) = Tóngzhìmen 同志们 ("comrades") ( T Z M).

5. The pronunciation of "tùzǐmen 兔子们" may be the accent of Mao Zedong when speaking "tóngzhìmen 同志们" in Changsha topolect.

On Hetariya, the Japanese predecessor of Year Hare Affair, as mentioned above, Wikipedia Japan fortunately carries a very concise explanation right up front.  Wikipedia says that Hetalia is an abbreviation of "hetare na Itaria ヘタレなイタリア ("incompetent / loser Italy)", which was first created on 2-Channel military textboards based on the incompetence of the Italian military (probably during the Second World War).  Rather than representing countries with animals as does Year Hare Affair, Hetariya  personified countries.

Japanese are exceedingly fond of portmanteau words:

"Japan: crazy over portmanteaux" (7/26/16)

"A Japanese English portmanteau that failed" (1/23/17)

Here are a couple of earlier posts concerning rabbits in China:

"Happy New Year Rabbit You" (1/4/11)

"Lepus oryzinus" (2/10/18) — on the #MeToo (sounds like mǐtù 米兔 ["rice rabbit"]) movement in China

[Thanks to Mark Metcalf, Fangyi Cheng, Zeyao Wu, Jinyi Cai, Nathan Hopson, and Miki Morita]



5 Comments »

  1. Tom davidson said,

    April 15, 2018 @ 10:29 am

    Someone please give the Chinese characters for ba ba. The yang is surely 羊
    Thanks

  2. Victor Mair said,

    April 15, 2018 @ 12:07 pm

    @Tom davidson

    It's a diminutive reduplication of the first syllable of the Chinese transcription of the name Bājīsītǎn 巴基斯坦 ("Pakistan"), hence Bābā yáng 巴巴羊 ("Pakpak Goat").

  3. David Morris said,

    April 15, 2018 @ 5:00 pm

    "the rabbit was described as a smart and far-sighted character who could always control the situation, discern all the dangers, and consolidate its position step by step"

    For some reason, I thought of Bugs Bunny.

  4. Noel Hunt said,

    April 16, 2018 @ 5:37 am

    The title Nà nián nà tù nàxiē shì 那年那兔那些事, appears to be a play on the name of the movie made in 1999, that was released in the West as 'Postman in the Mountains', 那山那人那狗, nà rén nà shān nà gǒu , 'That man, that mountain, that dog'.

  5. mg said,

    April 19, 2018 @ 3:37 pm

    Why is a symbol for Libyan Colonel Muammar Gaddafi used for Uganda?

RSS feed for comments on this post

Leave a Comment