Friends reunion: the one where China censors its guest stars

Viewers say scenes featuring Lady Gaga, boyband BTS and Justin Bieber are missing from Chinese version

For many Chinese millennials, the US sitcom Friends was a window to the American way of life. Teachers would use the show to help students learn English. Beijing, Guangzhou and Shanghai have Friends-themed Central Perk cafes. So when news that the original cast were to hold a reunion special nearly 20 years after the show was first introduced into China, diehard fans were excited, and some of China’s biggest online streaming platforms bought the rights to broadcast the show.

But eagle-eyed viewers complained on Thursday that some of the much-talked-about scenes in the original 104-minute runtime were missing.

The missing scenes featured guest stars such as the boyband BTS, Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber – all of whom have caused controversy in China. Some concluded that the celebrities were censored because of previous negative headlines. There were also reports that mentions of LGBTQ subjects were censored.

Censorship is not rare in China. But it is not immediately clear whether the cuts were as a result of orders by regulators , or action taken by streamers as a precautionary measure. One of the streamers iQiyi, for example, had six minutes missing from the original one hour and 44 minutes, whereas another platform YouKu cut out about four minutes, according to fans.

On China’s social media platform Weibo, the hashtag #Friends has been viewed more than 1.2bn times and nearly 700,000 discussion entries have taken place. Although much of the discussion has been about enthusiastic fans’ nostalgia for the show, some shared the missing clips and asked why the seemingly innocuous scenes had to be taken out.

“I’m fxxking speechless. Either give us the unedited version or never broadcast the clip. What is the point of watching the censored version?” wrote @Maidoufudaye. “Is homosexual to do with anti-China? So laughable,” said @Luxun201706

Some nationalist commenters on Weibo labelled the censored artists “anti-China”. Lady Gaga, for example, was banned from touring in China in 2016 after meeting with the Dalai Lama, who China calls a “separatist”.

Last week, Weibo banned 10 accounts of the South Korean boyband BTS’s fan clubs from posting for 30 days for “encouraging inappropriate behaviours, including cyberbullying and improper fundraising and voting”.

As for the Canadian singer Justin Bieber, he was banned from performing in China in 2017 for a “series of bad behaviours”, said the authorities. Before the ban, Bieber visited the controversial Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo, which honours convicted war criminals in the second world war.

Additional reporting by Jason Lu


Vincent Ni China affairs correspondent

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Lady Gaga, Katy Perry and Backstreet Boys tracks on China blacklist
Artists' songs among 100 that music websites must remove because they had not been submitted for approval

Tania Branigan in Beijing

23, Aug, 2011 @3:59 PM

Article image
China censors images of Hong Kong protests in TV broadcasts to mainland
State channel shows rally in support of central government, while information about protests severely restricted on social media

Jonathan Kaiman in Beijing

29, Sep, 2014 @12:57 PM

Article image
The one where they return: Friends reunion trailer released
Unscripted episode with original cast, who will not be in character, to air on HBO Max on 27 May

Nadeem Badshah

13, May, 2021 @8:05 PM

Article image
The One With the Reunion: Friends cast to return for TV special
Matthew Perry posts: ‘It’s happening’ as HBO confirms show to appear on streaming platform HBO Max

André Wheeler

21, Feb, 2020 @11:40 PM

Article image
Avatar reportedly too hot a property for China censors

Patriotic biopic of Confucius to replace blockbuster that draws parallels officials fear may cause unrest, report says

Caroline Davies

18, Jan, 2010 @11:29 PM

Article image
China's censors tested by microbloggers who keep one step ahead of state media
China may have the world's most internet-savvy government but Beijing has been struggling to keep a lid on bold social networks, writes <b>Tania Branigan</b>

Tania Branigan in Beijing

15, Apr, 2012 @11:03 PM

Article image
Camera firm distances itself from Tiananmen Square advert
Leica, whose biggest growth market is China, say short film was not officially sanctioned

Emma Graham-Harrison

19, Apr, 2019 @3:10 PM

Article image
Facebook in China: Connecting with 1bn people – and the censors
Josh Halliday: Disputes between the Chinese state and private internet companies are entirely political – as are their solutions

Josh Halliday

20, Dec, 2010 @6:30 PM

Article image
'We good now China?' South Park creators issue mock apology after ban
Facetious statement comes after reports that show was banned in China after episode critical of the country

Stephanie Convery and Yang Tian

08, Oct, 2019 @10:18 AM

Article image
Liu Xiaobo's unbearable fate is stark symbol of where China is heading | Tania Branigan
Treatment of dying Nobel peace prize winner is emblematic of China’s iron rule. Tania Branigan on the remarkable man she nearly met – the day he was arrested

Tania Branigan

26, Jun, 2017 @3:31 PM