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China censors popular sitcom 'Friends' to remove 'vulgar, immoral, and unhealthy' content

WANG ZHAO/AFP via Getty Images

In its latest censorial crackdown on Western media, the Chinese government has censored content from the popular situational comedy "Friends."

Regional streaming services in China such as Bilibili, Tencent, Youki, Sohu, and iQiyi now enable Chinese audiences to view the popular sitcom after the series' reunion special on HBO Max, titled "Friends: The Reunion," proved to be popular among Chinese audiences.

Largely, Chinese censors are altering and removing parts of the show that portray gay relationships, homosexuality, one-night stands, adultery, and underage love in accordance with content guidelines issued in 2016.

The guidelines stipulate that "vulgar, immoral, and unhealthy" content shall not be available to the public.

Scenes from the series' premier in which one character bemoans his ex-wife's adulterous lesbian escapades have been deleted.

Scenes throughout the series that show the characters discussing homosexuality have been altered, and sexually explicit conversations between characters have received subtitles that change the conversation's trajectory.

For instance, a sexually explicit conversation in which a character acknowledges the sexual uniqueness of women is accompanied by Chinese subtitles reading "women have endless gossips" instead of translating the actual, explicit statement verbatim.

Chinese fans of the series vented their frustrations online by using the hashtag "#FriendsCensored." This hashtag received more than 54 million mentions but was pulled down by state censors within hours of its first appearance.

According to CNN, the popular Chinese social media website Weibo took down the hashtag because it could no longer host the content "according to relevant laws and regulations."

According to online complaints, Chinese citizens viewed the censorship as an "insult to our English language ability."

Nevertheless, this censorship was required so the show could be available to the Chinese public in accordance with the law.

From 2012 to 2013, Chinese audiences could stream "Friends" without state censorship.

In late January, the Chinese government censored David Fincher's 1999 film "Fight Club." The Chinese streaming platform Tencent altered the movie by cutting out a dramatic end scene where the film's leads effectively cause a societal financial collapse. Instead of showing the film's original ending, Chinese censors inserted a caption telling viewers that the financial reset was foiled and that all of the complicit criminals were arrested.

The film was reportedly edited by its copyright holder for approval by the Chinese government prior to its circulation in China.

Similarly, last November, Disney caved to pressure from the Chinese government and removed a popular episode "The Simpsons" that mocks the Chinese government from the company's streaming platform in Hong Kong.

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