Chinese censors have a new target: “friends”

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HONG KONG — The hugely popular sitcom “Friends” is back on China’s best-known streaming services, but with big changes to the script.

In the latest Chinese version, when Ross tells his parents that he has separated from his wife, he does not explain the reason: she is a lesbian and lives with another woman, is now pregnant and plans to raise the baby with his partner. Instead, the scene simply cuts to the stunned faces of her parents and the plot ends there.

There are also other more subtle changes to the show.

Joey’s suggestion to go to a strip club is translated in Chinese subtitles as “going out for fun”. When Paul the Wine Guy tells Monica, “I couldn’t, uh, perform sexually,” the caption says he was “in a bad mood.” A complaint from Rachel that she is more “excited” about a gravy boat than her fiancé results in Rachel being more “happy to see” the dishes.

The changes drew scathing comments on social media from the show’s many Chinese superfans, who mocked the censors’ modesty and said the changes reinforced gender stereotypes.

“Friends” is the latest example of foreign entertainment being rewritten in China, as the country embraces more traditional gender roles under its leader, Xi Jinping. Authorities have gone so far as to ban depictions of effeminate men on television.

Even before the regulations took effect in September, China’s censors had already been hard at work. In the Chinese version of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” biopic Queen, a pivotal scene in which lead singer Freddie Mercury tells his fiancée that he is gay was deleted.

The Communist Party wields enormous power over the entertainment industry, bending it to produce the narratives it wants to promote. In January, censors edited the ending of the film “Fight Club”, replacing a scene in which a series of buildings were destroyed with a message that the effort had been thwarted by the police, although the original version was quickly restored after a massive outcry.

The move came after a highly anticipated “Friends” reunion episode last year lacked cameos from Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber and BTS when it aired in China because those celebrities had at one point offended the leaders of the country.

“Friends” is hugely popular in China, where at one time many major cities had lookalikes of Central Perk, the cafe that was a gathering point for the show’s characters.

Viewers in China had been able to watch the show in an uncensored format for the past decade, but fans of the show are now limited to an officially edited version that is streamed across multiple platforms.

Superfans were quick to point out omissions or changes to the censored episodes and debate the reasons for the cuts.

The #FriendsDeleted hashtag was viewed more than 54 million times on Chinese social media site Weibo over the weekend, according to a CNN report. On Monday, it had been deleted.

“Most of the time they don’t want women in their own country to be awake,” one person wrote on Chinese social media. “They don’t want them to know that women can love women. Otherwise, who will help the men to carry on the family line?

Another commenter pointed out that the “Friends” writers helped normalize the LGBTQ community with the episode. “And that’s something ‘Friends’ managed to do in 1994,” they wrote, wondering why homosexuality was censored in China decades later.

Only the first season of “Friends” was made available through online streaming platforms in China earlier this month, and many viewers in the country were already joking about the other scenes that would be removed as future episodes become available. .

One person wondered how the censors would handle the season in which Phoebe becomes her brother’s surrogate. Another joked that they were willing to bet the equivalent of $15 that the episode in which Monica, Chandler and Rachel discuss seven parts of a woman’s body for fun would be removed.

“I bet 100 yuan,” the person wrote on Weibo, the Chinese social media platform. “This ‘Seven Seven Seven’ is absolutely deleted.”

Cao Li and Li you contributed to the research.

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