Fans of the hit comedy series Friends are raising alarm over the censorship of certain episodes and storylines upon the Chinese re-release of the sitcom. On Friday, Feb. 11, multiple Chinese streaming platforms — including Tencent, Youku and Bilibili, among others —began streaming Friends Season 1, according to Reuters, though fans quickly noticed that the show appeared to be censored, with several lines cut or mistranslated and the censorship appearing to specifically target LGBTQ content.
The apparent censorship was first noticed in the first episode of the beloved sitcom, which originally released in 1994. In the episode, Ross explains that his ex-wife, Carol Willick, is a lesbian. However, in the Chinese re-release, that moment has been deleted. Another scene where Joey suggested going to a "strip joint" was instead translated as "go out to play." CNN also reported that a scene which had previously been translated as Ross saying, "[Women can have] multiple orgasms" when debating men and women's advantages with his friends in the café has been translated to "Women have endless gossips."
The censorship immediately sparked backlash. On China's Weibo, according to The Guardian, one person wrote, "covering your mouth and ears does not mean non-existence." Somebody else praised the show for having portrayed LGBTQI characters in "a natural and normal way." That same person went on to write that "in today's China, under a similar environment, not only is there no TV drama with high popularity and high reputation, which can insert gay characters into the play in a similar way, but even introduced foreign TV shows don't dare to completely show gay content. I don't understand why this line was cut, why it's still the same here after 30 years, we are even going backwards." The backlash to the censorship reportedly became a trending topic on the platform, with the #FriendsCensored hashtag garnering more than 54 million views on the site on Friday night. However, that hashtag was later censored, with search results showing, "this topic is not shown according to relevant laws and regulations."
Friends initially debuted on Chinese streaming platforms Sohu video and iQiyi in 2012 without any censorship. Those versions were available until 2013. Amid the rising popularity of the show surrounding the recent Friends reunion, the series returned to Chinese streaming platforms. However, due to guidelines first introduced in 2016 banning the depiction of gay people on TV, the episodes have now been censored.
Initially premiering in 1994, Friends chronicled the lives of six 20-something New Yorkers as they navigated through their personal and professional lives. It aired for 10 seasons before concluding in 2004. All episodes of the sitcom, as well as the reunion, are available for streaming on HBO Max.