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China’s censors cut some new friends from the “Friends” reunion

▶ Watch Video: China tightens grip on Internet access

Beijing — China doesn’t appear to be very impressed with some of the new friends of world’s best-known “Friends.” The long-anticipated, star-studded reunion episode of the blockbuster American sitcom is now available to stream across the planet, but legions of fans in China have a slightly shorter, slightly less star-studded version to enjoy.

“Friends” is not aired by any of China’s television networks, but the series has loyal fans across the country who have for years downloaded pirated video files from the internet, often dubbed with Chinese subtitles produced by amateur volunteers.

While at least three streaming sites in the country have offered up the reunion episode, sharp-eyed fans noticed a few things missing from the full version, which can only be had by illegal download.

A rendition of Phoebe Buffay’s classic song “Smelly Cat,” performed alongside special guest Lady Gaga, isn’t in the episode available in China. 

Chinese government censors have never been transparent about how or why they make specific decisions, but recent history may offer some clues. In 2016, the U.S. pop star met Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, whom China considers a separatist.

The Foreign Ministry in Beijing said her decision to meet the Dalai Lama had fueled anger in the country, and many Chinese social media users criticized her, too. 

She wasn’t the only pop star missing from the Friends reunion, however. Justin Bieber appears in the episode dressed as a potato, but not in China.

He caused a stir, and later apologized for visiting the Japan’s controversial Yasukuni Shrine in 2014. The site honors Japan’s war dead, including some convicted war criminals, and many people in South Korea and China consider it insensitive.


It appears that the Chinese are less fearful …

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South Korea’s superstar boy band BTS also had their brief appearance in the episode cut. The band faced backlash last year for comments made by one of its members about the Korean War, during which the U.S. backed South Korea against Chinese-supported North Korea. 

A non-pop star casualty of China’s mysterious censorship was the LGBTQ community.

A scene in which a German fan named Ricardo says he was, “a gay man who wanted to have hair like Jennifer Aniston, so you can imagine how lonely I sometimes felt,” wasn’t included.

One of China’s streaming services also left out a scene featuring a lesbian couple.

It’s impossible to know if a formal propaganda directive was issued by authorities in Beijing, or if each of the streaming services made their own decisions, but Chinese fans seem to be enjoying the reunion regardless.

The hashtag #whyweloveFriends was trending on Chinese social media on Friday, with some people lauding the show for its “warmth,” while others note that it’s a good way to pick up some spoken English.

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