In most of the world, Peppa Pig is a cute, friendly character popular with young children. In China? She stars in countless memes and videos, giving rise to Peppa as a counterculture icon.

Peppa Pig is huge in the country. China Daily says the show has over 34 billion views in just two years. And the popularity of the original show is inspiring people to use the character in different ways.

Tens of thousands of people are creating videos about Peppa Pig on Douyin, China’s top short video service, ranging from remixes of the cartoon to people showing off the cartoon pig painted on their nails.

Peppa Pig was introduced in China in 2015 and became an instant hit among children and parents. (Picture: South China Morning Post)

But on Saturday, this creative frenzy came to a halt -- when 30,000 videos disappeared from Douyin, and Peppa Pig was banned as a search term.

It prompted speculation among netizens as to whether this was a government-led crackdown on the anthropomorphic swine.

Douyin isn’t saying, and it’s hard to tell. Episodes of the official show are still readily available on Youku, along with some remixed videos.

So was it a case of self-censorship? Maybe not. A few days before Douyin’s move, state media criticized the trend.

People’s Daily, the mouthpiece of the communist party, said “it is worrisome to many that Peppa Pig has been made bad. Nowadays, there are quite a number of students trying to be special. Some people are in a vanity race to brandish their Peppa Pig-themed attire and watches.”

How did it get to this point? Peppa’s transformation from a children’s favorite to a pop culture icon might have started with a meme.

Last year, a Chinese person drew Peppa Pig on his back, pretending it was a tattoo. The caption for the image said “Tattoos on Peppa, claps for thugs.”

A Chinese internet user drew a Peppa Pig on his back, pretending it was a tattoo. (Picture: Weibo)

The meme’s apparent intention was to praise him for his authenticity -- loving Peppa Pig enough to have a giant tattoo, despite the ridiculousness of it. That odd combination of a cute character and a tough, tattooed adult took on a life of its own, launching plenty of other memes in response.

And it turned the pig herself into an ironic symbol, with many pairing Peppa Pig accessories with tough looks.

Just when it seems like authorities may be taking a dim view, another arm of state media came out with a more favorable view of Peppa Pig: CCTV released a short primer on the phenomenon that notably did not criticize the character.

That led to confusion from netizens… but also plenty of jokes at CCTV’s expense, for apparently taking Peppa Pig’s side.

A Weibo user wrote, “CCTV wants to be banned by Douyin? Does it not know how to lay low at times of peril?

And another said, “When did CCTV become so street?