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‘Friends’ reunion is censored in China, BTS and Lady Gaga are cut off

In China, the reunion episode of “Friends” was all about resentment.

The problem wasn’t “Friends”, but the friends of “Friends”.

Appearances by Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber and K-pop group BTS were removed from various versions of the highly anticipated special when streamed on three Chinese video platforms on Thursday.

Any missing cameo concerned a star or group that has been a target of Beijing’s wrath in the past, and fans suspected the show was in censorship gear.

Lady Gaga has been banned in China since she met with the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, in 2016. Mr. Bieber’s problems with China began in 2014 when he posted a photo of the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo honoring Japan’s war dead, including war criminals from World War II. And South Korea’s BTS neglected to mention the sacrifice of China’s troops last year when remembering the pain of the Korean War – even though the troops fought on North Korea’s side.

One missing clip was Lady Gaga’s duet with Lisa Kudrow in “Smelly Cat,” a jingle from Ms. Kudrow’s character Phoebe. The Chinese broadcasts also lacked memories of BTS members watching the show when they were younger and an appearance by Mr. Bieber disguised as “Spudnik” as David Schwimmer’s character did on one episode.

The special, which premiered on HBO Max in the US on Thursday, brought the cast of the 1990s sitcom back together for memories and appearances. It was a major televised event in China, where the show is popular, in part by a generation of millennials who grew up with DVD and often used it to study English. The sitcom was so popular that it spawned fan-cafes of the show’s coffee shop, Central Perk, of the same kind in major Chinese cities.

Some fan accounts on social media found that the length of each version of the special varied depending on which streaming site users watched it on, a likely indication that the online video hosting sites cut the show themselves, to avoid potential grief with China more vigilant internet regulator.

The incident is the second reminder of China’s power over Hollywood stars and Beijing’s willingness to wipe celebrities from its huge market if they deviate from its political dogma. This week, John Cena, the professional wrestler and star of the latest “Fast and Furious” movie, apologized after referring to Taiwan as a country in an interview. China regards the self-governing island as part of its territory.

Given the foreclosure from business in China and its precious box office, most celebrities have tried to stay away from sensitive issues in China such as Tibet, Taiwan, the Xinjiang region and protests in Hong Kong.

On Friday, Chinese social media nostalgia for “Friends” overwhelmed the censorship discussion. Still, some grumbled.

“It’s crazy, if you put the show in China, you don’t cut the scene. If you need to cut it, then don’t insert it. What’s the point of eating this neutered content? ”Wrote one fan.

Others liked to take a break from celebrities who they believed offended China.

“It’s good to cut it. All the cut parts are made by entertainers who insulted China. Don’t let rat droppings spoil the whole pot of congee, ”one wrote.

“For these entertainers who have insulted China and support the independence of Hong Kong, Taiwan and Tibet, it is natural to cut their role,” added another.

Lin Qiqing Research contributed.

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