Chinese fans planning to binge watch “Friends” over the weekend after it was relaunched on domestic streaming platforms on Friday were disappointed to find the show not quite what they remembered.
Clips posted by upset viewers on the microblog Weibo showed the new Chinese version of show, centered on six friends living in Manhattan, had cut scenes or changed language related to homosexuality and sex. The site Bilibili appeared to have excised references to the ex-wife of main character Ross being a lesbian.
In other cases, the Chinese subtitles differed from the English-language dialogue. When Joey recommends that a lovelorn Ross, recently left by his wife, go to a strip joint, his advice is translated as encouraging Ross to “go out and have fun.” In another episode, a reference to “multiple orgasms” is turned into a comment about women “having endless gossip.”, according to The Washington Post.
Few television shows, much less a foreign import, inspire as much devotion in China as “Friends,” which spans generations from nostalgic millennials who used it to learn English in the 1990s to young Chinese urbanites who see in the show their own struggles to make it in the big city. Fans had been anticipating its streaming on platforms like Tencent, Youku, iQiyi and Bilibili, which started airing the show on Feb. 11.
Known in Chinese as “A Chronicle of Old Friends,” the show’s popularity has persisted through the years. In the 1990s and 2000s, “Friends,” watched via bootleg digital files and DVDs, provided a glimpse into American life at a time when the Chinese economy and society were just opening up.
Today, its charm as an apolitical depiction of utopian urban life continues to comfort many of China’s exhausted young professionals. On Douban, two “Friends”-dedicated fan clubs have more than 100,000 members while its fan page on Weibo has more than 100,000 fans and over 57 million views.
On Monday, discussion of the changes made to “Friends” appeared to have been censored. On Weibo, the hashtag #FriendsCensored was among the top trending discussion topics on Friday night before it was deleted by the next morning
Still, fans were able to air their grievances with the changes to their beloved show, questioning why references to a character being lesbian needed to be taken out or why censors chose to insert stereotypes about women. “I would say that civilization is going backwards,” one said.
“Out of the entire world, we are the ones so fragile that we cannot watch this [show]?” another commentator said. “A 30-year-old show is edited 30 years later. This is hilarious,” one user responded.
Last year, when the show held a reunion special, Chinese fans took off work and crowded into “Friends”-themed cafes to watch what state news agency Xinhua described as a “nostalgic and tear-jerking tribute.” In essays, several described crying during it.
The creative editing of the show, which had previously been broadcast uncensored on the platforms Sohu and iQiyi before the streaming agreements expired, comes as Chinese regulators ramp up their policing of media, including censoring LGBT content and banning depictions of “effeminate men.”
Last month, the ending of the movie “Fight Club” was changed on Tencent’s streaming site. In that version, viewers were told that Chinese law enforcement successfully stopped character Tyler Durden’s plan to blow up of several buildings. The original ending was restored after complaints.