Are cartoonists our bravest critics? Maybe.
Chinese government officials have long censored anything they felt demeaned the nation, criticized leaders, or would upset national harmony. In short, the government determines what you can see, hear, and do, and they back it up with fines, jail sentences, and beatings from paramilitary forces. The leading tech firms allow the government to snoop on their devices and services to keep tabs on their people.
After tweeting to support the freedom protests in Hong Kong, NBA Rockets general Manager Daryl Morley backtracked when the Chinese complained and canceled televised NBA exhibition games as well as pulled Rockets gear from store shelves.
But the creators of the irreverent, and often offensive, cartoon South Park went a different direction.
The creators of the satirical animated series issued a mocking “apology” to China after media reports that episodes of the show were no longer available on some Chinese websites.
The “Band in China” episode released on Oct. 2 critiqued China’s policies on free speech as well as the efforts of Hollywood to shape its movie and television content in recent years to avoid angering censors in the vast Chinese market.
South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone tweeted:
“Official apology to China.”
“Like the NBA, we welcome the Chinese censors into our homes and into our hearts. We too love money more than freedom. Long live the Great Communist Party of China! May this autumn’s sorghum harvest be bountiful! We good now China?”
A Reuters search online showed that iQiyi and Youku Tudou, two Chinese video streaming sites, both listed episodes of South Park available to view, but the actual episodes did not play when requested.
The Cyberspace Administration of China, which oversees internet governance, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The South Park episode at the center of the latest dispute saw character Randy Marsh being arrested after trying to smuggle marijuana into China.
In jail, he meets two Chinese prisoners called Winnie the Pooh and Piglet, and is subjected to slave labor and re-education, mimicking what China is doing in real life to the Uighur population.
Chinese officials have banned the British children’s characters because Pooh is sometimes used as a nickname on social media for Chinese President Xi Jinping.