Friends fans in China have been offended by a heavily censored version of their beloved sitcom, with suggestive lines altered and LGBTQ plots removed entirely.
The country’s major video platforms, including Tencent Video, Alibaba’s Youku and Bilibili, started streaming the first season of Friends on Friday, in the first re-release of the show in years.
But fans soon found the new version very different. For example, it never mentions Ross’ ex-wife Carol is a lesbian. Joey and Chandler’s New Year’s Eve kiss in the 10th episode never happens.
When Joey advises Ross to go to “strip joints,” the Chinese subtitle reads “go out to play.” And when Ross says women can have “multiple orgasms” in the fifth episode, the line is translated as “women have endless gossip.”
In the 15th episode, The One with the Stoned Guy, Phoebe said their guest “smoked a joint, you know? Lit a bone, weed, hemp, ganja.” But the Chinese translation says “he smoked some very strange medicine.”
Even an already-blurry globe in the background has been further blurred out in the Chinese version. It is unclear why. In the original, the globe, which appeared for a few seconds, showed Eurasia and the Indian Ocean, potentially containing the disputed China-India border although the details were not discernible.
VICE World News confirmed the edits in the Tencent Video version.
Imported films and TV shows often get edited when they are approved for release in China, where the Communist Party requires all media content to reflect what it deems correct aesthetics, morality, and ideology. When Friends: The Reunion was released in China last year, scenes featuring Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber and BTS were removed, possibly due to past political controversies.
Although scenes related to violence, drug use, and sex are often removed from foreign shows, people are still shocked and angered by the heavy censorship of the sitcom that premiered nearly 28 years ago.
Many fans say the removal of lesbian and sexual references shows China’s increasingly conservative censorship rules are going against the global trend of growing diversity. Even a 2012 version released in China was less censored. That version was taken down in 2018.
“I would rather they didn’t import it,” a user said on the microblogging site Weibo. “What’s the point?”
“Do they think they can reduce the number of lesbians in China by deleting lesbian plots?” another person said.
Following an outcry against the censorship, microblogging site Weibo censored the hashtag #FriendsCensored, citing “relevant laws, regulations and policies.”
Friends is one of the most popular overseas shows among Chinese millennials. Although it wasn’t officially released until the 2010s, pirated versions were widely circulated, helping fans learn English and American culture.
Following the latest release, some fans say they would rather watch pirated versions, while others say they would cope with the censored one for the convenience, high resolution, and the live comment function provided by streaming sites.
The remaining nine seasons will be released in China in the coming weeks. Fans are now expecting more plots to be cut, including Carol’s lesbian wedding, Chandler’s trans father and Monica’s classic explanation on the seven erogenous spots.
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