'Simpsons' episode mocking Chinese censorship disappears in Hong Kong

HONG KONG – An episode of ‘The Simpsons’ that ridicules Chinese government censorship appears to have been censored on Disney’s new stre...


HONG KONG – An episode of ‘The Simpsons’ that ridicules Chinese government censorship appears to have been censored on Disney’s new streaming service in Hong Kong, adding to fears about shrinking space for free expression and criticism in this city.

More episodes of the show are available on Disney +, which made its highly anticipated Hong Kong debut this month. But in season 16, the archives go straight from episode 11 to episode 13, omitting episode 12, “Goo Goo Gai Pan,” in which the Simpson family travels to Beijing.

There they visit the embalmed body of Mao Zedong, whom Homer Simpson calls “a little angel who killed 50 million people”. In another scene, the family crosses Tiananmen Square, where a plaque reads “On this site, in 1989, nothing happened” – a coup against the Chinese government’s attempts to suppress the public memory of the massacre, during from which the army opened fire on students and other pro-democracy protesters.

Concerns about censorship have grown rapidly in Hong Kong since last June, when Beijing imposed a radical national security law to crush months of anti-government protests. Hong Kong, a former British colony, was promised at least 50 years of civil liberties after it returned to Chinese control in 1997. But under the law many of those freedoms have disappeared, with muzzled media outlets, forbidden songs and tightly regulated museums.

The government also this year extended its film censorship powers, allowing it to block the distribution of films, national or foreign, which it deemed to undermine national security.

It was not clear whether Disney had chosen to omit the episode of “The Simpsons,” which first aired in 2005, or whether government regulators had asked it to do so. Disney did not respond to an investigation, and the Hong Kong communications authority declined to comment. But the office of Trade and Economic Development said in a statement that the Film Censorship Ordinance only applies to movies, not streaming services.

This suggests that Disney censored itself preemptively, said Grace Leung, expert in media regulation at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

“Disney has clearly sent a clear signal to the local public that it will cut controversial programs in order to please” the Chinese government, said Dr Leung. “Their credibility will certainly be affected. “

Nonetheless, she acknowledged that any potential loss in Hong Kong would most likely be more than outweighed by the benefits of appeasement from mainland authorities. “The population is not that big,” she said of the city. “They are ready to sacrifice the Hong Kong market.”

Disney, and Hollywood more broadly, have not hidden their appetite for the huge market in mainland China. Disney in particular has often been criticized for its perceived willingness to capitulate in order to achieve it.

His live-action remake of “Mulan”, released last year, in the face of numerous calls for a boycott because his credits thanked eight government entities in Xinjiang, the far western region of China where the government was harshly cracking down on the Uyghur ethnic minority. Parts of the film were shot there.

In 1998, then Disney CEO Michael Eisner, apologized to the Chinese Prime Minister for producing Martin Scorsese’s film “Kundun”, on the Chinese oppression of the Tibetan people and the Dalai Lama; Mr. Eisner called the film a “stupid mistake”. In 2016, the filmmakers on “Doctor Strange” rewrites a Tibetan character like Celtic – in part to avoid offending the Chinese government, according to one screenwriter.

Disney + is not yet available in mainland China, although the company said he plans to launch into “all the major countries”.

Other streaming services have also been accused of censorship. Netflix has modified versions of certain offers in response to political considerations in foreign markets.

In Hong Kong, the “Simpsons” episode isn’t the only creative work to come under scrutiny for touching on Tiananmen Square.

Ahead of opening this month of M +, a major new art museum in Hong Kong, lawmakers have called for a ban on a photograph of Ai Weiwei, perhaps China’s most famous artist, who now lives in exile. In the photo, which the museum has since removed from its online archives, Mr. Ai raises his middle finger in front of Tiananmen Square.

The University of Hong Kong has ordered the removal of the “Pillar of Shame», A sculpture commemorating the massacre that has been held on campus for more than 20 years.

Separately, one of Hong Kong’s best-known activist groups, which held annual vigils in memory of the massacre, dissolved in september after the arrest of most of its leaders. Officials also raided a museum organized by the group.

In response to the Hong Kong crackdown, some artists, activists and intellectuals have fled. Saturday, “Revolution of Our Times”, about the 2019 protests in Hong Kong, won the award for best documentary at Taiwan’s Golden Horse Awards, often referred to as the Oscars in the Chinese language. The film has yet to be screened in Hong Kong.

The episode “Simpsons” can be viewed on Disney + in Taiwan. Hong Kong people can also watch it if they use a VPN.

As news of the perceived censorship spreads, interest in accessing the episode through other means may increase, Dr Leung said.

“If they haven’t done anything, then people may not be aware of this episode’s existence,” she said. “But if you do it so obviously, it gets people interested. “

Joy Dong and Amy Chang Dog contributed research.

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Newsrust - US Top News: 'Simpsons' episode mocking Chinese censorship disappears in Hong Kong
'Simpsons' episode mocking Chinese censorship disappears in Hong Kong
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