South Park content is being scrubbed from the internet in China after an episode critical of the country’s government censorship aired in the U.S. last week.
The episode, “Band in China,” critiques the way Hollywood panders to Chinese government censors. As the Chinese box office continues to have a bigger influence over Western entertainment, Hollywood has been working with Chinese censorship agencies to make the films palatable for their standards. For example, scenes showing Freddie Mercury’s homosexuality were cut from Bohemian Rhapsody last year. Beyond that, everything from Marvel movies to Pixar movies have undergone edits.
The South Park episode in question involves a Hollywood producer attempting to make a biopic about Stan’s metal band. In order for the movie to make more money and not be banned in China, the film’s producers are told not to mention the Dalai Lama, homosexuality, organ transplants, or Winnie the Pooh. “For this movie to make money we need to make sure this movie clears the Chinese censors,” says a Hollywood producer in the episode. He explains that you have to “lower your ideals of freedom if you want to suck on the warm teat of China.”
Meanwhile, Randy is flying to China on a mission to grow his weed business. On his flight are several Marvel superhero characters and other Disney properties on their way to cash in on the massive global market. (Later, Winnie the Pooh appears at a Chinese labor camp in a reference to the character being banned in China after comparisons to president Xi Jinping).
“We live in a time when the only movies that us American kids go see are the ones that are approved by China,” Stan says at one point in the episode.
Although South Park does not officially air in China, the show is often available on various online resources. But now, it appears the show is quietly being scrubbed from a number of popular websites where South Park content could previously be found. Government censors are “deleting virtually every clip, episode and online discussion of the show from Chinese streaming services, social media and even fan pages,” according to The Hollywood Reporter:
A cursory perusal through China’s highly regulated Internet landscape shows the show conspicuously absent everywhere it recently had a presence. A search of the Twitter-like social media service Weibo turns up not a single mention of South Park among the billions of past posts. On streaming service Youku, owned by Internet giant Alibaba, all links to clips, episodes and even full seasons of the show are now dead.
And on Baidu’s Tieba, China’s largest online discussions platform, the threads and sub-threads related to South Park are nonfunctional. If users manually type in the URL for what was formerly the South Park thread, a message appears saying that, “According to the relevant law and regulation, this section is temporarily not open.”
This certainly isn’t the first time South Park has faced censorship controversies—even here in the U.S. In 2006, the show launched an international debate over its attempt to depict the prophet Muhammad in the Season 10 episodes “Cartoon Wars” Parts One and Two (the show attempted to do so again in 2010 with the episodes 2000 and 2001).
Comedy Central did not respond to Esquire’s request for comment about South Park‘s status on Chinese websites.