Chinese media has long had a menagerie of hapless animals that stand in for countries in political comic strips. Russia is a bear, China is a panda (of course), and the US is occasionally an eagle, though more often an angry-looking Uncle Sam.
They’re hideously dull.
Chinese nationalists—or at least, those on the internet—have been eager to latch onto a relatively recent creation: a feisty, militaristic rabbit.
Created by 33-year-old animator Lin Chao, “That Rabbit” is the star of various animated shorts that have gone viral. In April, Lin received 20 million RMB in investment from online streaming site Bilibili, for a third animated series and a feature film to be screened in October 2018.
So what is That Rabbit? Well, it really depends who you ask. To fans, it’s the embodiment of a modern, strong, militaristic China that isn’t afraid to stand up for itself and right historical wrongs. To critics, who have organized on Baidu Tieba and Facebook, it’s an aggressive little fascist known disparagingly as “Nazi Rabbit” (a play on na, or “that,” which shares its pronunciation with the first character in “Nazi”).
The rabbit has appeared in various online forms since 2011, all staunchly patriotic and with the none-too-subtle tagline “Every rabbit has its dream of becoming a big power.” But it was Lin’s Year Hare Affair, a web comic later adapted into an animated series, that kicked That Rabbit into strange stardom.
Now in its fourth season, each episode is an allegory of various historical events significant to modern China—such as the unequal treaties and the Cold War—reenacted by rabbits meant to represent Chinese historical figures and other countries’ avatars. In the first episode, the rabbit is stabbed by a bald man (representing the Nationalist Party) and vows to feed many rabbits and bring them honor. In the third season, the eagle accuses the rabbit of harboring chemical weapons on its container ship, the Yinhe, and forces it to stop in international waters for more than a month, whereupon the rabbit vows that it’d rather starve on the sea than submit to this humiliation—mirroring a real-life incident in 1993 (the Chinese government allowed the real Yinhe to be searched by a joint US-Saudi team after three weeks, and the accusations were disproven).
That Rabbit has gained a fan in high places: the Central Communist Youth League of China has retweeted its image several times, and Sixth Tone reported last year that Lin had been approached by various official bodies interested to incorporate That Rabbit into official promotion. Lin has steadfastly resisted, arguing that he is an artist and wants to deliver patriotism his way.
“Rampant Rabbit” is a story from our issue, “Cloud Country”. To read the entire issue, become a subscriber and receive the full magazine. Alternatively, you can purchase the digital version from the iTunes Store.