‘Friends: The Reunion’ Censored in China as Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, and More Removed

An appearance by Korean pop sensation BTS was also missing from the "Friends" reunion in China.
"Friends: The Reunion"
"Friends: The Reunion"

Friends: The Reunion” got off to a rocky start in the U.S. with middling reviews for the HBO Max special, and now comes a report from The New York Times detailing the reunion’s censorship in China. The “Friends” special launched in China on the same day it began streaming in the U.S., only the three Chinese video platforms carrying the special each streamed a version of it with pieces missing. Fans were disappointed to discover highly-touted appearances by Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, and BTS in “Friends: The Reunion” were removed.

As The New York Times reported: “Each missing cameo involved a star or group that had been a past target of Beijing’s ire, and fans suspected the show was stuck in censorship gear…Lady Gaga has been verboten in China since she met with the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, in 2016. Justin Bieber’s troubles with China began in 2014, when he posted a photo from the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, which honors Japan’s war dead, including war criminals from World War II. And the South Korean music group BTS neglected last year to mention the sacrifice of China’s troops when recalling the pain of the Korean War — even though the troops fought on the side of North Korea.”

“Friends” is a sensation in China because an entire generation fell in love with the series on DVD and used it to learn English. As The Times notes: “The sitcom was so popular that in major Chinese cities, it spawned look-alike fan cafes of the show’s coffee shop, Central Perk. Some fan accounts on social media noted that the lengths of each version of the special varied, depending on which streaming site users watched it, a likely indication that the online video platforms had cut the show on their own to avoid any potential grief with China’s watchful internet regulator.”

The censorship of “Friends: The Reunion” is only the latest news to come out of China this week regarding popular American franchises. John Cena found himself at the receiving end of backlash in China after he gave an interview promoting “F9” and said Taiwan would be the first country to see it. Referencing Taiwan as a country angered those in China who claim Taiwan as a sovereign territory, which is the policy of the government in Beijing. Cena was forced to apologize.

“I’m sorry for my mistake,” Cena said in a video posted to the popular Chinese social media platform Weibo. “I must say now, [it’s] very, very, very, very important [that] I love, and respect even more, China and the Chinese people.”

“Friends: The Reunion” is now streaming on HBO Max in the U.S.

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