Written by Daniel Victor
“South Park,” the long-running Comedy Central cartoon whose mockery has spared few touchy topics, was erased from major platforms in China after an episode last week taunted Chinese censors and the far-reaching effect they often have on American entertainment.
The government’s censors, who routinely quash news and commentary deemed undesirable by the ruling Communist Party, wiped out video clips and discussions of the show, which premiered in 1997 and has lasted 23 seasons. Once known mostly for the raunchy humor coming from the mouths of its elementary-school-age main characters, the show has in recent seasons focused on political and cultural satire, without abandoning its boundary-pushing ways.
Last week’s episode, called “Band in China,” appeared to cross a new line for the Chinese authorities. On Baidu Tieba, a popular discussion platform, searches for “South Park” on Tuesday returned the following message: “According to the relevant law and regulation, this section is temporarily not open.”
Searches for the show were also fruitless on Youku, a video hosting service, which similarly cited “the relevant law and regulation.” On Weibo, the country’s most popular social network, posts mentioning the show could not be found.
The censorship occurred as the NBA was unintentionally demonstrating how protecting business interests in China can chill speech back in the United States. The basketball league has scrambled to contain a backlash in China since Daryl Morey, general manager of the Houston Rockets, tweeted support last week for the Hong Kong protests, which are reviled by the Chinese government.
Though the league has supported political expression by its players, it was less supportive of Morey, prompting accusations that it valued its business in China more than free speech.
The creators of “South Park” appeared to relish the fight. The show’s creators, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, put out a fake apology Monday, poking fun at the NBA while insulting Xi Jinping, China’s president.
“Like the NBA, we welcome the Chinese censors into our homes and into our hearts,” the tongue-in-cheek statement read. “We too love money more than freedom and democracy.”
In their statement Monday, the “South Park” creators parodied the apologies that businesses have often made after crossing the Chinese government.
“Long live the Great Communist Party of China!” they wrote. “May this autumn’s sorghum harvest be bountiful! We good now China?”