Disney has removed an episode of "The Simpsons" that mocks Chinese censorship practices from its online streaming service in Hong Kong, adding to growing concerns that Western companies will start kowtowing to the Chinese Communist Party's pressure tactics in the once-free territory.
What are the details?
The Hong Kong Free Press reported over the weekend that episode 12 of season 16, titled, “Goo Goo Gai Pan,” was not available on Disney Plus amid the streaming service's rollout this month.
The episode, which was first broadcast in 2005, reportedly follows the fictional cartoon family on a trip to mainland China, where they pay visits to the mummified body of former Chairman Mao Zedong and Beijing's Tiananmen Square.
Episode 12 of Season 16 of The Simpsons is missing from the newly-launched Disney+ streaming platform in Hong Kong. The episode references Chairman Mao and the Tiananmen Massacre. HKFP has reached out to Disney for comment.pic.twitter.com/ecXXiwae70— Hong Kong Free Press HKFP (@Hong Kong Free Press HKFP) 1638011970
While standing over the body of Mao Zedong, Homer Simpson describes the ex-leader as “a little angel that killed 50 million people," according to the New York Times.
Then, during the Tiananmen Square stop, the family encounters a line of tanks in reference to the famous “tank man” photo taken during a 1989 student uprising there. In response to the demonstration, the People's Liberation Army massacred thousands of students and other pro-democracy protesters.
The Simpsons also encounter a plaque in the blood-stained square that states, “On this site, in 1989, nothing happened" — an obvious jab at the Chinese government’s blatant attempts to suppress public memory of the massacre.
Why does it matter?
Disney's censorship reportedly marks the first time a major American media company has suppressed anti-CCP content in Hong Kong, but many fear it won't be the last.
“This is the first notable time an American streaming giant has censored content in Hong Kong,” Kenny Ng, an associate professor specializing in film censorship at Hong Kong Baptist University, told Bloomberg News.
“Basically, the whole story is for streaming companies to be more tailored to a Chinese audience and to not offend the Chinese government,” he added. “This is likely to continue in the future with more companies with financial interests in China.”
What's the background?
Hong Kong residents have seen many of their civil liberties hampered in recent months following Beijing's imposition of a sweeping national security law aimed at quashing pro-democracy demonstrations in the territory.
Hong Kong had enjoyed relative autonomy since the British agreed to turn it over to China in 1997 under the Sino-British Joint Declaration. But over the past few years, the communist regime in China has contravened the agreement and effectively terminated the status of one country, two systems.
The latest negative development occurred in October, when Hong Kong's pro-China government put in place a law banning films deemed contrary to China’s national security interests. At the time, it was unclear how major streaming giants such as Netflix, Amazon, and Disney would respond.
Disney has yet to respond to multiple requests for comment from major American news outlets about its recent censorship.