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Daily DripEntertainment

“Friends” Rereleases in China, but With a Hearty Dose of Censorship

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The first season of the American sitcom Friends dropped online on February 11 on major Chinese streaming platforms. However, viewers who had seen the show previously noticed cuts and mistranslations of dialogue, and many voiced their censorship concerns online.

Many of the LGBTQI-related and sexually-explicit lines and scenes were removed or changed. In the first episode of the new version, a conversation about Ross’s ex-wife Carol being a lesbian was cut, erasing the queer identity of the character.

In another episode, Ross’s original line, “[Women can have] multiple orgasms,” was translated into “Women have endless gossip” in the Chinese subtitles, despite keeping the original audio and accompanying English subtitles. This alters the meaning and promotes a stereotypical depiction of women that many netizens deemed unacceptable.

Audiences promptly expressed their frustration on Weibo, where the hashtag ‘Friends has been censored’ (#老友记删减#) was trending last Friday, gaining more than 54 million views before being removed on Saturday morning.

Many Chinese netizens called for a boycott of the censored version.

“They cut out so much of the dialogue that someone who hasn’t watched the original show will hardly understand the jokes,” reads one post, which gained 27,000 likes.

Friends has enjoyed massive popularity in China. Chinese video platform Sohu was licensed to stream the uncensored program between 2012 and 2018.

However, Sohu is now streaming the same version as other major platforms such as iQiyi, Bilibili, Youku, and Tencent Video, the latter of which recently made headlines for broadcasting the cult classic Fight Club with an alternate ending. The platform restored the original ending last week.

Streaming platforms have yet to address the matter publicly.

Another recent example of censorship raising eyebrows is the Chinese version of Adrian Hon’s book A New History of the Future in 100 Objects, which had nine chapters removed. According to the author, four of the missing chapters were related to Chinese politics.

Friends carries emotional value for many Chinese youths, who used the show as a tool to improve their English and gain a better understanding of American culture.

As a result, many Friends-themed cafes have popped up in China’s biggest cities.

Fans who expressed their love for the series online note that it is not only a feel-good, humorous classic, but also touches upon a wide range of topics, such as sexuality and queerness, which are rarely discussed openly in mainstream Chinese entertainment.

Following recent censorship cases, the government’s media criticism, and the regulation of ‘feminine’ men and LGBTQI content, the new version of Friends should come as no surprise. But it leaves many wondering whether China’s entertainment industry will ever be able to step out of censorship’s long shadow.

Cover photo via Douban

Beatrice Tamagno
Beatrice is a graduate student in sociology at Fudan University in Shanghai. Her writings have appeared on SupChina and ChinaNauts, an online magazine she co-founded with fellow researchers from Fudan. When she is not researching gender in contemporary China, you will find her playing mahjong or binging Chinese TV shows.
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