An episode of The Simpsons critical of the Chinese government has been omitted from the Disney+ platform in Hong Kong.
Which episode? “One Angry Lisa,” episode two of the show’s 34th season, sees Marge get a new exercise bike that takes her on a virtual tour of the Great Wall of China. During the ride, Marge’s instructor says, “Behold the wonders of China. Bitcoin mines, forced labor camps where children make smartphones.”
What’s the joke referring to? The trainer’s comments are likely referencing Chinese policies toward the Muslim Uighur population in Xinjiang. Reports throughout the years have indicated that the Chinese government has committed numerous human rights violations in an attempt to oppress and control the Uighur population. The country’s actions have been widely condemned by human rights organizations, governments, and the United Nations. The Chinese government denies the abuses and says its actions are part of a poverty alleviation plan to improve Xinjiang’s economic situation. Communist party leaders in Beijing have also previously stated that its activities in the region will help prevent future domestic terrorism.
But why remove the episode in Hong Kong? Disney has not provided any reason for why it removed the episode from Disney+ in Hong Kong, which is classified as a special administrative region of China, meaning that the territory has some degree of political autonomy from mainland China. Kenny Ng, an associate professor specializing in censorship issues at the Academy of Film at Hong Kong Baptist University, told the Financial Times that he believe Disney may have self-censored The Simpsons to protect “the company’s ties, current and future, in mainland China,” adding that, “It could be strategic to eliminate any China-offending episodes.”
Has Disney+ ever done this in the past? It has. A 2005 episode of The Simpsons that referenced the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre has not been available on Disney+ in Hong Kong since the service’s launch there in 2021. The episode included a shot of Tiananmen including a sign that read: “On this site, in 1989, nothing happened.”