New Delhi: OTT platform Disney+, which launched in Hong Kong earlier this month, has reportedly held back one episode of the popular American sitcom The Simpsons in its offerings for the city-state, which constitutes a special administrative region of China.
The episode in question, part of the 32-year-old series’ Season 16 from 2005, sought to poke fun at Chinese censorship in the context of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests.
In June 1989, thousands were believed to have been killed when Chinese troops opened fire and adopted other methods to crush a protest, first started by students, against the Communist government in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. The protesters had been demanding more freedom and less censorship.
The official estimates of casualties released by the Chinese government at the time was 200 civilians and several security personnel.
Over three decades down the line, the protest remains subject to deep censorship in China but its memory has been kept alive in Hong Kong, where concerns are growing over Beijing’s growing control, through annual vigils that are now reportedly facing a crackdown.
Episode 12 of The Simpsons’ Season 16 — titled “Goo Goo Gai Pan” — shows the family traveling to China in their attempt to adopt a baby. The characters are shown visiting Tiananmen Square during their visit.
One scene has the reference to the famous “Tank Man” photo, while another shows a board at the Tiananmen Square that reads, “On this site, in 1989, nothing happened”.
The removal of the episode is being seen as another indication of the Chinese government’s censorship attempts in Hong Kong. While it is not confirmed whether the streaming platform removed the episode under pressure from authorities or on its own, the move comes almost a month after Hong Kong’s legislature passed a new law seeking to ban films deemed to be violating China’s national security interests.
Neither the streaming platform nor the Hong Kong government responded to requests for comment from The Guardian, according to a report in the UK newspaper. US media organisation CNN Business also said it received no response to requests for comment from Disney or China.
Memories of a massacre
The deleted episode also includes a scene where the characters see the embalmed body of Mao Zedong, the founding father of the People’s Republic of China. Homer Simpson — one of the main characters of the sitcom — describes Mao as “a little angel that killed 50 million people”, a probable reference to the deaths caused by a famine in the country between 1959 and 1961, following Mao’s faulty policies.
The removal of the Simpsons episode has been discussed widely on social media.
Confirmed this second by a friend in Hong Kong.
S16E12 of The Simpsons is removed from Disney+ in Hong Kong. pic.twitter.com/9QIp2vcOCD
— Thor J (@thorcmd) November 27, 2021
Hong Kong: Only a government that lives in utter fear of its people would censor an episode of the Simpsons because it refers to the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy movement (and Beijing's violent crushing of it). https://t.co/PfkDVgMrl7 pic.twitter.com/Cc8NM0td6q
— Kenneth Roth (@KenRoth) November 29, 2021
Until last year, Hong Kong residents organised an annual candlelight vigil in the city’s Victoria Park in memory of those who lost their lives in Tiananmen Square. However, following the passage of the National Security Law in June last year, and a ban on gatherings officially attributed to Covid-19, residents could not organise the vigil this year.
The removal of the Simpsons episode in Hong Kong follows outrage over the release of the film Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings on the platform, because of possible reference to the Tiananmen Square massacre.
The use of the number “8964” in a scene of the film has been linked by many to the date of the Tiananmen massacre of 4 June 1989.
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)