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Photo of the day: The Forgotten Teletubby Craze

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Our photo theme this week is “The ’90s in China.” Not China in the 1990s, but “The Nineties” as a global pop cultural form as it has been consumed and reworked inside China, both then and now.

Radii contributor Zhao Yinyin brought to our attention one much-loved ’90s phenomenon in China – Tianxian Baobao 天线宝宝 – Teletubbies.

Growing up in the ’90s in Guangdong, with access to the international programming dominant on Hong Kong airwaves, this was one of her favorite shows. The Chinese name translates to Antenna Babies, and boy isn’t that something. Good luck ever getting us to use the English name again.

Some quick digging produced a bit of weirdly juicy intrigue around the Antenna Babies. About ten years ago, China issued a sweeping ban on the babies, and their antennas, from television. The reason being that Teletubbies is a mixed media show, blending cartoon animation with flesh-and-blood humans. Shows that fit the category were banned as a whole in 2006, apparently in an effort to nurture China’s homegrown animation products (not totally sure how those two things are related). And then five years ago, Teletubbies and related terms officially became monitored/censored phrases in online communities, after it was picked up as a codename for premier Wen Jiabao (you’ll note that the bao 宝 in his name is the same as that of our beloved antenna babies).

Whew, this is getting a bit heavy for a Teletubbies post. Let’s cool it down with the show’s original Mandarin theme song:

And here’s a special educational tubby experience, focusing on the ins and outs of Chinese New Year (English):

We really wish we could hang out on this topic for a little longer, but alas, it’s time for tubby-bye-bye. More ’90s nonsense tomorrow.

Adan Kohnhorst
Adan Kohnhorst is a Shanghai-based writer, producer, and multimedia artist, and the Associate Editor at RADII. His work has been featured in publications such as Maxim and the Chinese-language StreetVoice, and he’s an active member of the hip-hop and DIY music scenes in Shanghai, NYC, and Dallas. He learned Mandarin in high school so he could train at the Shaolin Temple, but now just uses it to interview rappers.