The irony gods have smiled upon us once again: After Disney+ made its long-awaited Hong Kong debut earlier this month, a 2005 episode of “The Simpsons” lampooning Chinese government censorship seems to have been discreetly scrubbed from the app in the region.
The episode in question, Season 16's, “Goo Goo Gai Pan,” deals with the Simpson family’s trip to Beijing and directly satirizes the Chinese government’s tendency to suppress information that casts it in an unfavorable light. In one scene, Homer refers to Mao Zedong, as “a little angel that killed 50 million people,” and in another, the family tours Tiananmen Square, where a plaque reads, “On this site, in 1989, nothing happened.” (In reality, several hundred student protesters were massacred at the site that year after the government deployed tanks and used military force against civilians in order to quell the uprising).
Concerns about government censorship have been growing in Hong Kong as of late, particularly after legislators passed a new film censorship law last month that successfully bans the release of government-critical films in film festival settings if they are deemed to undermine national security.
It’s not immediately clear whether or not Disney+ made the decision to remove the ‘Simpsons’ episode on its own or capitulated to government pressures in doing so. But as the New York Times reports, streaming services fall outside the purview of Hong Kong’s new film censorship law—meaning the platform likely opted to remove the episode of its own free will.
The extent of the Chinese Communist Party’s censorship in Hong Kong—and the erasure of the events in Tiananmen Square—is a travesty, particularly given the fact that many experts fear that a generation of young people will grow up with no knowledge of those events thanks to the blackout on educational materials.
While Disney is salivating as it eyes a larger share of the Chinese market, it should feel shame in its complicity in aiding government propaganda mechanisms, but it isn’t the only streaming platform guilty of doing so. Earlier this month, Netflix quietly removed two episodes of the spy drama Pine Gap from its streaming offerings in the Philippines after the country flagged the use of a map that accidentally legitimized China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea.
Disney+ did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but we’ll update this post when we hear back.