South Park creators issue mock apology to China
South Park’s parody of Chinese censorship hits shortly before controversy engulfs the NBA over a Daryl Morey tweet
An episode of South Park called Band in China has gotten the animated TV show, well, banned in China.
The episode mocks the US film industry’s indulgence of China’s censorship rules, and it proved particularly timely. Two days after it aired, the general manager of the NBA team Houston Rockets got into hot water for violating China’s same unwritten rules on self-censorship by tweeting support for the Hong Kong protests.
Since the episode aired, almost all traces of the show have been wiped from the Chinese internet. In response, South Park's creators issued a satirical apology on their Facebook page.
“We too love money more than freedom and democracy. Xi doesn’t look just like Winnie the Pooh at all,” said the post referring to the Chinese president Xi Jinping.
In the episode, Randy Marsh goes to China to try to grow his marijuana business. Marsh winds up in a Chinese labor camp where he meets Winnie the Pooh, a sensitive figure in China since the character’s rotund figure was compared to Chinese president Xi Jinping. To appease Disney and get back in the good graces of China to make more money, Marsh winds up brutally murdering Pooh.
Soon after it aired, the episode disappeared from Baike, Baidu’s version of Wikipedia, and Douban, a local review site similar to IMDB. South Park is also gone from all the major streaming sites, including Bilibili and iQiyi.
Much like the memes comparing Xi and Pooh, all mentions of South Park have also been purged from microblogging platform Weibo. But this didn’t seem to stop the debate.
Some Chinese netizens are still discussing the show through codes like “SP” or “S23E02,” which is the season and episode number (pirated copies of TV shows are often identified this way online). For those willing to hop China’s Great Firewall, the episode can also be found with Chinese subtitles on YouTube.
People are also discussing the episode in Chinese on Reddit. “Only by killing Winnie the Pooh can Tegridy be brought to China,” one person commented, referencing the name of Marsh's marijuanna business that's short for integrity. But the comment’s traditional Chinese characters suggest it came from somewhere outside the mainland, where Reddit is also blocked.
Like in most countries, South Park never managed to attain the level of popularity seen by the likes of Games of Thrones or even Big Bang Theory. But it still has its own following in China. Regulators didn’t seem bothered that the satirical cartoon was widely available through piracy sites until this most recent episode.
This is not the first time South Park has poked the (Pooh) bear. In 2015, the episode Tweek x Craig briefly featured the Chinese president, when Randy phones him up to ask about manga. Xi responds with an annoyed rant about Japan, which China still regularly criticizes over its wartime atrocities.
Other shows have also run afoul of Chinese censors, including Peppa Pig, which got ejected from the Chinese version of TikTok, Douyin. Bojack Horseman also got the boot for feeding China’s millennial angst.