Chinese streaming platforms censor lesbian plotline in TV show ‘Friends’

Multiple scenes featuring a lesbian romance were either deleted or omitted in translation

After Chinese streaming platforms censored an LGBTQ2S+ storyline from the popular American TV show Friends, fans are speaking out on social media. 

Major streaming platforms in China—including iQiyi, Tencent Video, Youku and Bilibili—began streaming the first season of the long-running sitcom on Feb. 11, but with several changes made to episodes. Multiple scenes regarding Ross’ ex-wife, Carol Willick, being a lesbian were either deleted or omitted in the translated version, according to South China Morning Post. Another scene where Chandler and Joey kiss on a New Year’s Eve episode was also cut. 

Additionally, sex-related references throughout the 24-episode first season were edited out in Chinese subtitles. In one scene, Ross talks about women having “multiple orgasms,” but on Chinese streaming platforms, the subtitles for that line read, “Women have endless gossips.” (The English subtitles for the line bear the correct translation.)

In another instance, Joey recommends that Ross go to a strip club after his wife leaves him, which was translated to “go out and have fun.”

The 10-season show centres around Rachel Green (Jennifer Aniston), Monica Geller (Courteney Cox), Phoebe Buffay (Lisa Kudrow), Joey Tribbiani (Matt LeBlanc), Chandler Bing (Matthew Perry) and Ross Geller (David Schwimmer), six friends living in Manhattan. Friends, which aired from 1994-2004, gained popularity in China as a way to learn English in the 1990s. 

Through bootleg digital copies and DVDs, the show provided a relatable depiction of modern urban life and gave Chinese viewers a glimpse of American culture, as the Washington Post reports. As a result, the comedy now has a mass following in the country, with thousands of dedicated Chinese fan clubs.

“In another instance, Joey recommends that Ross go to a strip club after his wife leaves him, which was translated to ‘go out and have fun.’”

Outraged fans took to social media site Weibo late last week to point out the censorship of the show on streaming platforms. The hashtag #FriendsCensored became the biggest trending topic on the microblogging platform on Feb. 11, with 54 million views. But it was removed the following day, with search results showing “this topic is not shown according to relevant laws and regulations,” according to CNN

Friends is not the only show that has been censored by the Chinese government in recent years. With the Communist Party’s control of business, education, culture and religion, the federal authorities have increased restrictions on the media and entertainment industry. In 2016, the country issued new regulations that banned all depictions of gay people on television in an effort to crackdown on “vulgar, immoral and unhealthy content.” 


China’s censorship of LGBTQ+ content doesn’t only apply to television. In 2019, more than two minutes of footage was cut from the Freddie Mercury biopic, Bohemian Rhapsody, including scenes of two men kissing and the use of the word “gay.”

Last September, China banned so-called “effeminate” men from appearing on TV, urging broadcasters to “resolutely put an end to sissy men and other abnormal esthetics.” Fearful that Chinese pop stars have taken a cue from K-pop and Japanese musicians, authorities are reportedly encouraging more “masculine” representations of men. 

Earlier this month, the streaming platforms currently offering Friends announced they would release one season per week. Friends had been previously available uncensored on the streaming website Sohu Video, but rights to the show expired in 2018. 

Yvonne Marquez

Yvonne Marquez is an independent reporter based in Brooklyn. Her work has been featured in Texas Monthly, Texas ObserverAutostraddle, and Remezcla.

Read More About:
Culture, TV & Film, News, Censorship, Asia

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