An episode of The Simpsons in which the American cartoon family visits Tiananmen Square is missing from the Disney + streaming service in Hong Kong, adding to concerns about Chinese-style censorship in the city.
- The Hong Kong version of Disney + started airing earlier this month
- Viewers noticed the absence of The Simpsons Episode 12, Goo Goo Gai Pan, Season 16
- This episode first aired in 2005 and features the family visiting China so Marge Simpson’s sister can adopt a baby.
It comes at a time when authorities are cracking down on dissent, with speech restrictions becoming a norm in the international trade center and trapping global media and tech giants.
Disney + has made rapid progress since launching 18 months ago, reaching over 116 million subscribers worldwide.
The Hong Kong version started airing earlier this month, and eagle-eyed patrons quickly noticed The Simpsons’ glaring absence, episode 12, Goo Goo Gai Pan, season 16.
First aired in 2005, the episode features the family’s trip to China in which Marge Simpson’s sister, Selma, tries to adopt a baby.
In one scene, the Simpsons are in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, the site of a deadly crackdown on democracy protesters in 1989.
The cartoon shows a sign reading “On this site, in 1989, nothing happened”, a satirical nod to the Chinese campaign to purge memories of what happened.
It then shows Selma standing in front of a tank, referring to the famous Tiananmen crackdown photo of a lone man standing in front of a tank.
The episode also contains pointed references to Tibet – where Beijing has been accused of religious oppression – and the Cultural Revolution, a time of devastating upheaval in the last decade of Mao Zedong’s rule.
It’s not clear if Disney + deleted the episode, was ordered by authorities, or if it was offered in Hong Kong to begin with.
The entertainment giant did not respond to requests for comment, nor did the Hong Kong government.
When AFP checked Disney + ‘s Hong Kong channel on Monday, Season 16 episodes 11 and 13 were available but not 12.
Until recently, semi-autonomous Hong Kong enjoyed significant artistic and political freedoms compared to mainland China.
However, authorities are transforming the city after huge and often violent protests for democracy two years ago.
Among the host of measures are new censorship laws introduced this summer that ban any broadcasts that could violate a broad national security law that China imposed on the city last year.
Censors have since ordered directors to make cuts and have refused permission to show certain films to the public.
These rules do not currently cover streaming services, but authorities have warned that online platforms fall under other rules, including the new National Security Act.
Last week, Beijing-appointed Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam vowed to “proactively plug the loopholes” in the city’s internet and introduce “fake news” regulations.
His comments added to concerns that China’s “great firewall” – a sprawling regime of internet and news censorship – could be extended to Hong Kong.
The content that satirizes China is still available on other streaming platforms in Hong Kong.
Netflix’s Hong Kong channel still broadcasts Band in China, an episode of the South Park cartoon series.
In this episode, one of the characters ends up in a Chinese labor camp and much of the show pokes fun at the willingness of American brands to adhere to Chinese censorship rules in order to make money.