Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Matthew Perry, Lisa Kudrow, David Schwimmer and Matt LeBlanc are seen during the "Friends" reunion. (Reuters)
Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Matthew Perry, Lisa Kudrow, David Schwimmer and Matt LeBlanc are seen during the "Friends" reunion. (Reuters)

Friends: The Reunion censored in China

Without talking about the censorship, Xinhua praises the sitcom on how it influenced Chinese citizens’ lives from helping them to learn English and giving them a peek into American culture.
By Sutirtho Patranobis I Edited by Amit Chanda
UPDATED ON MAY 29, 2021 07:07 PM IST

A laudatory article by China’s official Xinhua news agency on Friends: The Reunion has talked about the sitcom’s “unique appeal” and “massive influence” but glossed over how censors here clipped several minutes before screening the special show in China.

The article quoted Chinese citizens heaping praise on the American sitcom - which has a huge following in urban China - and how it influenced their lives from helping them to learn English and giving them a peek into American culture.

But, the Xinhua article left out how Chinese streaming sites had carefully censored the appearances of Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga, the South Korean boy band, BTS and LGBTQ references from the version aired.

It is still unclear whether Chinese government ordered the cuts or whether the streaming platforms, iQiyi, Youku and Tencent Video, themselves decided against airing what they knew would be sensitive to the government.

The musicians and the censored band have fallen foul of Beijing over the years.

Lady Gaga, for one, is a persona non grata in China following her meeting with the Dalai Lama in 2016.

Beijing accuses the Tibetan leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner of being a “dangerous separatist”.

And, Bieber first came under fire in China in 2014 for photographing himself visiting Tokyo’s controversial Yasukuni war shrine, a site that honours Japanese World War II war criminals alongside other casualties of war, the entertainment news website, Variety, reported.

Not that the cuts went unnoticed in China.

“Are we reverting to the isolationist Qing dynasty, closed off to the rest of the world?” a commenter on China’s Twitter-like Weibo platform was quoted as saying by Variety.

Many supported the censorship as well.

The Xinhua article acknowledged the sitcom’s enduring influence in China.

“The highly anticipated reunion special of the American sitcom Friends has taken its massive Chinese fan base by storm with a nostalgic and tear-jerking tribute to the all-time hit series,” the article said.

It went on to report how the reunion special made it to among the top 10 trending topics on China’s Twitter-like Sina Weibo on Thursday night, with netizens saying the reunion has allowed them to “relive their youth” or simply expressing their longtime affection for the series.

In China, the series was “…much more than a TV comedy from the outset”.

It first gained popularity in the late 1990s as a tool for learning the English language. Then, the country’s post-1980s and post-1990s generations discovered its unique appeal as a window to learn about the American culture, the Xinhua article said.

Overall, the response in China to the episode has been overwhelmingly positive, with countless fans describing how the special brought tears to their eyes, the Variety article pointed out.

“This whole show brings up so many memories - I’ve watched all ten seasons more than a dozen times. I don’t have many friends, but they are really like friends of mine,” a Weibo user wrote.

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