Chinese fans of US sitcom Friends are outraged after recently released episodes of the hit show were censored by local streaming services.
The fans have expressed their anger online, after noticing parts of the long-running show were different from what they had seen before.
Friends, which stars Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry and David Schwimmer as six friends living in New York City, is wildly popular in China – with a hugely loyal fan base.
It debuted on Chinese streaming platforms Sohu video and iQiyi in 2012 without any censorship. It remained available there until 2013.
But after last year’s TV special Friends: The Reunion reignited interest in the sitcom, several Chinese streaming platforms got together to purchase new broadcasting rights.
They included Tencent, Baidu’s IQiyi, Alibaba’s Youku, and Bilibili. A version of the first season of Friends began screening last Friday – its first re-release in China for several years.
It didn’t take long for the devoted fans to pick up the differences.
In the very first episode, conversations about the wife of Schwimmer’s character Ross – who divorces him after realising she is a lesbian – were missing. Other conversations that were sexually suggestive were also edited out.
In another example involving Ross, in the previous version that screened on Sohu, he said “[Women can have] multiple orgasms” in a debate about the comparative advantages of men and women.
In the new version, the Chinese subtitle of Ross’ line was replaced with “Women have endless gossips”.
In another scene shown on Tencent Video, Joey’s (LeBlanc) suggestion of going to a “strip joint” was translated as “go out to play”.
Outraged Chinese fans took to the social media site Weibo to protest about the censorship, with #FriendsCensored rapidly becoming the most trending topic.
It had more than 54 million views on the site on Friday night. But then – oh, the irony – it suffered its own censorship on Saturday morning with search results showing only “this topic is not shown according to relevant laws and regulations”.
Many of the fans mocked the move as an “insult to our English language ability”.
“Not only does it ignore women’s sexual desire and enjoyment, but also reinforces the gender stereotype of women,” one Weibo user said. The comment had 81,000 likes.
Other fans were even angier.
“I resolutely boycott the castrated version of Friends,” said one Weibo user.
“This is a defiling a classic,” said another.
A third said: “If you can’t show the complete version under the current atmosphere, then don’t import it.”
Friends: The Reunion was also cut by Chinese censors, including scenes with Lady Gaga. She has been banned from mainland China after she meeting the Dalai Lama last year – he is considered a separatist by Chinese authorities.
The Friends outcry came just a week after Tencent reinstated the original ending of the 1999 film Fight Club after a censored version sparked backlash.
The original ending the Brad Pitt film has explosions and relentless fighting. But China’s version simply showed an on-screen message saying that authorities won and saved the day.
After intense debate about cinematic censorship in China, Tencent reportedly restored about 11 of the 12 minutes that had been cut. The South China Morning Post said the scenes that remained missing were those that featured nudity.
In addition, in 2019, when the Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody, was released in China, more than two minutes of content had been removed. They included scenes of two men kissing and use of the word “gay”.