Last week, WarnerMedia’s now-classic 1990s sitcom Friends resurfaced on China’s major video platforms, but various censorship tweaks prompted an uproar among the show’s devoted Chinese fans.
A whole storyline about Ross’s ex-wife being in a relationship with a woman was edited or removed, as was an entire storyline about Ross’s ex-wife being in a relationship with a woman. Local viewers flocked to Weibo to protest the show’s banning, with the hashtag #FriendsCensored becoming the site’s top trending topic until it was restricted by internet officials. Before it was removed over the weekend, the hashtag had gotten over 60 million views, with search results instead of displaying the statement “this topic is not shown according to relevant rules and regulations.”
Friends originally aired legally in China in 2012 on the Chinese streaming sites Sohu video and iQiyi without cuts, but thanks to widely available subtitled pirate versions, a generation of Chinese millennials were already familiar with the series.
The original licensing agreement between Sohu and iQiyi expired in 2013, but after HBO Max’s Friends: The Reunion special sparked a wave of nostalgia and excitement in China last Spring, the two local streamers teamed up with additional services Bilibili and Tencent Video to re-license the entire show. As is customary in such circumstances, it’s unclear whether the subsequent censorship measures were sought by media authorities or if the platforms made the cuts on their own initiative, anticipating “trouble regions.”
While the scene with Ross’s lesbian ex-wife was cut entirely (leaving the episode completely incomprehensible), other sequences involving sex or LGBTQ scenarios were adjusted via Chinese subtitle changes. “[Women can have] many orgasms,” Ross says in a scene where the show’s six buddies — Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry, and Schwimmer — are debating the merits of males against women. The audio was left intact in the new Chinese version, but the subtitles read: “Women have boundless gossip.”