The Disney+ catalog has made another compromise, dropping an episode of The Simpsons in Hong Kong because of a joke about Tiananmen Square. The 2005 episode "Goo Goo Gai Pan" finds the Simpsons visiting China to help Selma adopt a baby. It has a joke about the censorship of the 1989 massacre in Tiananmen Square which, ironically, has now been censored for Chinese audiences.
Several social media users noted that The Simpsons Season 16, Episode 12 was missing from Disney+ in the Hong Kong area. The Hollywood Reporter confirmed the absence and reached out to Disney for a comment, but received no explanation so far. Commenters seem to be generally pinning the censorship on one sight-gag – a plaque that the Simpson family sees in Tiananmen Square reading: "On this site, in 1989, nothing happened."
Disney has allegedly removed one episode of The Simpsons from the Hong Kong edition of Disney+, which described the family’s visit to Beijing and carried this famous scene.— Alvin Lum (@alvinllum) November 27, 2021
Via @StandNewsHK https://t.co/PAs1SdoxEk pic.twitter.com/VwXiFHADAK
The joke presumes that viewers know that in the spring of 1989, a group of students led a pro-democracy protest in Tiananmen Square, Beijing to demand government accountability, freedom of the press, freedom of speech and constitutional due process, among other things. The demonstrations began on April 15 and ended on June 4, when the government declared martial law and suppressed all protest activities with violent force.
The Tiananmen Square protests followed the death of Chinese Communist Party general secretary Hu Yaobang, who had served as general secretary for years before that. They were a result of rapid economic development which greatly benefited the wealthy while leaving other classes in dire straits. Protesters were met with military force including tanks, leading to the infamous "tank man" photo of a student trying to block the advance of heavy artillery just by standing in the street.
To this day, reliable data on the Tiananmen Square massacre is not available. In various reports, the death toll ranges from several hundred people to several thousand, and thousands more wounded. The restrictions on protests and political activities in China have only been slightly loosened in the three decades since that massacre, and within the country, depictions of the protests or commentaries on them are still heavily censored.
Unsurprisingly, many commenters were horrified by the idea that Disney is participating in that censorship within the borders of China. According to THR, there are specific laws governing streaming services in Hong Kong that are not known to the rest of the international community. However, we do know that the CCP has made the screening and distribution of certain films illegal, subject to a hefty fine.
Still, other streamers carry content in China that would be deemed illegal in a theater or other medium, so some commenters are speculating that Disney+ made this removal willingly. So far, the company has not publicly acknowledged this growing discussion.