Chinese fans of the TV show Friends have taken to social media to express their disquiet about the censorship of the sitcom’s lesbian storyline – just one of many cuts ordered by the Chinese authorities – in which Ross’s ex-wife Carol finds out she is having a baby that she plans to raise with her partner, Susan.
Fans have complained about inaccurate subtitles, the removal of any sexual innuendo and cuts so severe that they render the plot incoherent.
The hashtag #FriendsCensored, which had been trending on Chinese social media platform Weibu since last Friday (11 February) has itself fallen foul of the communist party censors with the hashtag itself having now disappeared from search results.
The censorship of the popular US comedy, which ran from 1994 and 2004, is indicative of increased censorship of any LGBTQ+ content in China. Guidelines issued in 2016 banned “vulgar, immoral and unhealthy” content on screen which the regulator defined as including homosexuality, adultery, smoking, drinking and sexually suggestive clothing. In 2021, the guidelines were updated to include a ban on “effeminate men”.
While homosexuality his not a crime in China, recent years have seen increasingly draconian clampdowns on the LGBTQ+ community, including the enforced shut-down of LGBTQ+ groups on social media platforms, the cancellation of Shanghai Pride and the suspension of LGBTQ+ helplines and counselling services.
Xiang, a teacher in Jiangsu, said, “The show meant a lot to me when I first affirmed my sexual identity as a lesbian. The storyline of Carol and Susan worked as an encyclopaedia to me when information about LGBTQ was not that available on China’s internet. They made me realise that my sexual orientation is not weird.
Xiang continued, “For most viewers, it may not matter that a lesbian character was removed as she is not the main character, but I think by setting up a lesbian character who has connections with main characters, Friends wants to tell us that such people do exist around us. And she might just be one of your acquaintances.”
This is not the first time that Friends has fallen foul of the Chinese authorities. Appearances by Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga in last year’s reunion were also cut.