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An episode of The Simpsons sheds light on Chinese censorship. In Hong Kong, she disappeared.




HONG KONG An episode of The Simpsons mocking Chinese government censorship appears to have been censored on Disney’s newly-opened broadcast service in Hong Kong, adding to fears of reducing space for free expression and criticism in the city.

Other episodes of the show are available at Disney +, which made its long-awaited debut in Hong Kong this month. But in season 16, the archive goes straight from episode 11 to episode 13, removing episode 12, Goo Goo Gai Pan, in which the Simpson family travels to Beijing.

There, they visit the embalmed body of Mao Zedong, whom Homer Simpson calls a little angel who killed 50 million people. In another scene, the family walks through Tiananmen Square, where a plaque says On this site, in 1989, nothing happened as a blow to Chinese government efforts to suppress public memory of the massacre, in which the military opened fire on students and other pro-democracy protesters.

Concerns about censorship have grown rapidly in Hong Kong since last June, when Beijing enacted a comprehensive national security law to quell monthly anti-government protests. Hong Kong, a former British colony, was promised at least 50 years of civil liberty after its return to Chinese control in 1997. But by law, many of those liberties have disappeared, with news outlets closed, songs banned and museums closely adjusted.

The government also expanded its film censorship powers this year, enabling it to block the distribution of films, domestic or foreign, that it thought undermined national security.

It was unclear whether Disney chose to remove the Simpsons episode, which first aired in 2005, or was asked to do so by government regulators. Disney did not respond to a request for comment and the Hong Kong Communications Authority declined to comment. But the bureau of trade and economic development said in a statement that the film censorship ordinance applies only to films, not broadcast services.

That suggests Disney has censored itself in advance, he said Grace Leung, expert in media regulation at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Disney obviously sent a clear signal to the local audience that it will remove the controversial programs in order to please the Chinese government, said Dr. Leung. Their credibility will definitely be damaged.

However, she acknowledged that any possible losses in Hong Kong are likely to be offset by the benefits of the continental authorities’ appeasement. The population is not that big, she told the city. They are ready to sacrifice the Hong Kong market.

Disney and Hollywood more broadly, have not hidden their appetite for the big Chinese market. Disney in particular has often drawn criticism for its perceived willingness to make capitulations to achieve it.

His live-action remake of Mulan, released last year, faced widespread calls for a boycott because its credits thanked eight government entities in Xinjiang, China’s far western region where the government has cracked down on the Uighur ethnic minority. Parts of the film were filmed there.

In 1998, the then Disney CEO, Michael Eisner, apologized to the Chinese Prime Minister for producing the Martin Scorsese Kundun film about the Chinese oppression of the Tibetan people and the Dalai Lama; Mr. Eisner called the film a stupid mistake. In 2016, Doctor Strange filmmakers rewrote a Tibetan character as Celtic in part to avoid offending the Chinese government, according to a screenwriter.

Disney + is not yet available in mainland China, though the company said he plans to launch in all major countries.

Other broadcasting services have also been accused of censorship. Netflix has changed versions of several offerings in response to political considerations in overseas markets.

In Hong Kong, the Simpsons episode is not the only creative work under consideration for touching Tiananmen Square.

Ahead of the opening this month of M +, a new major art museum in Hong Kong, lawmakers demanded a ban on a photograph by Ai Weiwei, perhaps the most famous Chinese artist, who is now living in exile. In the photograph, which the museum has since removed from its online archive, Mr. Ai is raising his middle finger in front of Tiananmen Square.

The University of Hong Kong has ordered the removal of the Pillar of Shame, a sculpture commemorating the massacre that has stood on campus for more than 20 years.

Separately, one of Hong Kong’s most prominent activist groups, which held annual vigils in memory of the massacre, disbanded in September as most of its leaders were arrested. Officials also raided a museum organized by the group.

In response to the crackdown in Hong Kong, some artists, activists and intellectuals have fled. On Saturday, the Revolution of Our Times, in connection with the Hong Kong 2019 protests, won the award for best documentary at the Taiwan Golden Horse Awards, often called the Oscars in Chinese. The film has not yet been shown in Hong Kong.

The Simpsons episode can be watched at Disney + in Taiwan. People in Hong Kong can also watch it if they use a virtual private network.

As news of perceived censorship spreads, interest in entering the episode by alternative means may increase, Dr. said. Leung.

If they have done nothing, then people may not be aware of the existence of that episode, she said. But if you do this for sure, then it arouses people’s interest.

Joy Dong AND Dog Amy Chang contributed to research.




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