A scrap-metal Peppa the pig character welded together by a loving grandpa in a poor village unexpectedly stole the hearts of millions of Chinese as global celebrations begin for Chinese new year — the Year of the Pig.
The pink-painted Peppa, made out of a stove pipe, is a highlight of the upcoming China-Britain co-production film “Peppa Pig”, themed around the love of family.
Though scheduled for the Chinese new year on February 5, the film’s promo video “What is Peppa Pig?” went viral as soon as it was released online Thursday night. In just a few hours, it was trending on both Weibo and Wechat, the two most popular Chinese social media platforms with hundreds of thousands of forwards and likes.
The five-minute video began with a common village scene in mountainous North China. A wrinkle-faced grandpa, Li Yubao, clings to his old mobile phone, struggling to catch the patchy signal as he asks what his grandson wants for the new year’s gift.
“You want Peppa. What is Peppa?” The grandpa asks anxiously just before the line goes dead.
Unable to reach his son’s family on the phone again, the grandpa begins his quest, knocking on the doors of the other villagers and asking the same puzzling question — “Do you know what is Peiqi (the Chinese pronunciation for Peppa)?”
He looks it up in a dictionary and finds nothing. He goes to a grocery store and comes out with detergent with the same name. His friends think Peppa may be a checker game or an Internet model.
Eventually, a middle-aged woman who worked as a nanny in Beijing comes to his rescue. “It is a cartoon. Peppa is a fictional pink-colored pig, whose face looks just like this,” she says, pointing to a rural stovetop.
Li spends several days working hard and imagining how to make a Peppa out of the stove pipe. When he finishes, he receives an unexpected phone call from his son saying they had changed plans and would not spend the new year in the countryside.
Li is upset. He had been expecting the reunion for so long. And even Peppa was ready. As Li grudgingly walks down the hill in the village, he suddenly spots his son driving up to his house.
The new plan, the son says, is to fetch Li to spend the new year in the city.
At the dinner table, Li is eager to unpack his luggage: dates, walnuts — things that grew on grandpa’s fields. And finally, inside a red cloth wrapped parcel is the scrap-metal Peppa.
The story might exaggerate the popularity of the British animation, the urban-rural divide, and backwardness of rural communication in China, but the emotions are real and resonate well with the public.
“I am in tears,” one blogger said.
“It reminded me of a sheep toy my grandpa made for me,” said another.
The Spring Festival is a peak time for China’s box office, the world’s second-largest film market. Last year, cinemas raked in more than 5.7 billion yuan (US$823 million) during the holiday, setting a record. But box-office champions were dominated by light-hearted comedies.
That trend might be changed this year with the success of the “What is Peppa Pig?” promo. It certainly evokes laughter at some points but is overall touching and a bit sad.
Zhang Dapeng, the film’s director, told the Beijing News that the promo was not cut from the film but something the crew shot in a village in Hebei Province for two days with untrained villagers.
“The values we want to emphasize are the same: be with your family and have a happy new year,” Zhang said.
China’s rapid economic development and urbanization over the past decades have dramatically changed the traditional agrarian society. More young people migrate to cities and settle down, leaving their aging parents behind in the countryside.
Before the advent of smartphones, members of a migrant family were unable to get in touch that often. Many had to live with only one home visit a year, usually during the Chinese new year.
Though technologies develop, visiting family remains a consistent theme of the new year. Every Spring Festival, hundreds of millions of people will be on the road headed to visit relatives. The government expects about 3 billion trips to be made during the 40-day Spring Festival rush this year.
“I want to go home now, after watching it,” said a comment under the trending promo on Wechat.