As Disney+ launches in Hong Kong, viewers have noticed that the streaming service has kowtowed to China by editing out something that might offend the Chinese Community Party.
An episode of “The Simpsons” that includes a scene in Tiananmen Square is not available in Hong Kong, according to CNN.
The episode was No. 12 in the long-running animated series’ 16th season. For Hong Kong subscribers, that season goes from Episode 11 to Episode 13.
The 2005 episode, “Goo Goo Gai Pan,” covers the cartoon family’s travels in China.
When the Simpsons visit Tiananmen Square in Beijing, they see a plaque that reads, “On this site, in 1989, nothing happened.”
The sarcasm is a reference to the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests and massacre, a banned subject in China. Months-long student-led demonstrations were brutally broken up on June 4, 1989, at the cost of several hundred lives.
In the episode, the Simpsons also visit the embalmed body of Mao Zedong, whom Homer Simpson describes as “a little angel that killed 50 million people,” according to The New York Times.
“It appears the episode has suffered precisely the kind of the censorship it was written to ridicule,” Patrick Brzeski wrote on The Hollywood Reporter.
“The censorship of such content would come as no surprise in Mainland China, where any mention of the 1989 massacre of pro-democracy student protestors has been scrubbed clean of public discourse for decades,” Brzeski said.
“But the apparent voluntary removal of the episode in Hong Kong — especially when done by a major U.S. media company — is a relatively new feature of civic life there,” he wrote.
Disney has allegedly removed one episode of The Simpsons from the Hong Kong edition of Disney+, which described the family’s visit to Beijing and carried this famous scene.
— Alvin Lum (@alvinllum) November 27, 2021
All the evidence points to Disney as having made the decision to remove the episode, rather than the Chinese lords of censorship who govern what Hong Kong residents can see and hear.
Hong Kong’s Bureau of Commerce and Economic Development said in a statement that its film censorship ordinance applies to movies, not streaming services, according to the Times.
Grace Leung of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, who is an expert in media regulation, said Disney almost certainly was responsible.
“Disney obviously sent out a clear signal to the local audience that it will remove controversial programs in order to please” China’s government, Leung said. “Their credibility will definitely be hurt.”
— Soaring LIBERTY (@LibertySoaring) November 29, 2021
She said Disney has its eyes on the big prize by doing whatever will give it access to mainland China’s vast market.
“They are ready to sacrifice Hong Kong’s market,” she said.
Leung said that censoring the episode might make Hong Kong residents more eager to find it.
“If they didn’t do anything, then people may not be aware of the existence of that episode,” she said. “But if you do it so obviously, then it arouses people’s interest.”
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