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Disney’s Tiananmen Censorship Viewed from Hong Kong

Characters from The Simpsons pose for photographers at the premiere of The Simpsons Movie in Springfield, Vt., in 2007. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

Disney has once again chosen to accommodate the Chinese Communist Party, censoring an episode of The Simpsons that discusses the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre. The episode no longer appears on its Disney+ streaming platform in Hong Kong, though it can still be accessed by use of a VPN service.

The company’s apparent capitulation to the city’s pro-Beijing authorities follows the broader political crackdown that began last year and has featured a campaign to wipe out city residents’ memories of the brutal suppression of student protests. The Hong Kong Free Press, one of the final remaining independent news sources in the city has more in its report:

Meanwhile, following the onset of the Beijing-imposed national security law last June, Hong Kong has arrested leaders of the Alliance, which organised annual commemorations of the 1989 crackdown. The authorities have banned the annual vigil in Victoria Park citing Covid-19, textbooks have been censored, museum exhibits seized, and the University of Hong Kong has demanded the removal of a monument to the dead.

Last month, Hong Kong’s legislature passed a bill which enables the government to ban films deemed contrary to national security from being screened and published in the city. Any person who exhibits an unauthorised film could face up to three years in jail and a HK$1 million fine. However, the the new does not apply to streaming platforms.

When asked if YouTube or other online platforms would be affected, a spokesperson for the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau told HKFP in August that “other” laws apply to the internet: “[TV] broadcast and the Internet are subject to other applicable law and regulations. Whether an act constitutes a crime or otherwise would depend on its specific circumstances and evidence, and cannot be taken in isolation or generalised,” they said.

The Hong Kong crackdown and historical-erasure campaign have dovetailed with Disney’s long-running willingness to partner with Chinese government entities carrying out egregious human-rights abuses, as it did in its filming of the live-action remake of the movie Mulan. The film’s credits thank government entities in Xinjiang, including one that was added to a U.S. sanctions blacklist after scenes for the movie were filmed in the region.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article incorrectly characterized the Hong Kong Free Press as a “pro-democracy” outlet, and it has been amended to reflect that HKFP takes an impartial stance on issues that it covers. 

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