Disney appears to have removed from its streaming service in Hong Kong an episode of “The Simpsons” cartoon that referenced “forced labor camps” in China, the second time in three years that Disney has done so.
The episode “One Angry Lisa,” which first aired on television last October, was inaccessible on the U.S-based Disney Plus streaming service in Hong Kong. The Financial Times was the first to report the news on Feb. 6
The omitted episode sees Marge Simpson participate in a virtual bike class with the Great Wall of China on the screen, and her instructor says: “Behold the wonders of China. Bitcoin mines, forced labor camps where children make smartphones.”
Disney did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The removal follows the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) imposition of a controversial national security law in Hong Kong in 2020, which imposes up to a life sentence in jail for offenses the CCP defines as secession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion with foreign forces.
This is the second episode of “The Simpsons” to be removed from the Disney Plus streaming platform in Hong Kong, the first being the episode that made reference to the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre in 2021.
The pulled episode, “Goo Goo Gai Pan,” features the Simpsons’ visit to Tiananmen Square, where they see a joke placard that reads, “On this site, in 1989, nothing happened.”
In 1989 a student-led pro-democracy movement broke out in China. Protesters called for democratic reforms in the Chinese government and staged mass protests in Tiananmen Square in Beijing. On June 4, the CCP sent troops to quash the protests, resulting in the deaths of thousands, according to rights groups’ estimates.
In the episode, the family also visits the embalmed body of former CCP leader Mao Zedong, whom Homer Simpson calls “a little angel that killed 50 million people.”
Under Mao’s leadership, historians have estimated that millions died during the Cultural Revolution (1966–1976) movement.
In 2020, the company came under fire for partly filming the live-action movie “Mulan” in the Xinjiang region, where Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities are being detained in internment camps.
The movie features in its credits a “special thanks” to CCP agencies that are accused of participating in human rights violations against Uyghurs in the region, prompting calls for a boycott of the film.
According to a 2020 report by PEN America, a New York-based nonprofit group focused on defending free speech, U.S. studios’ investment in theme parks in China serves as a form of business pressure, given that companies would stand to lose billions of dollars if Beijing decided to punish them.
“Disney, for example, has a 47 percent stake in the Shanghai Disneyland Park, which opened in 2016 and which cost over $5.5 billion to build,” the report reads.
Forced Labor in China
The CCP has been accused of committing genocide against Muslim Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang. The United Nations released a report in August 2022 detailing abuses committed by the regime.
The U.N. report found that the scale and brutality of the detentions, framed by the CCP as compulsory reeducation camps or “vocational skills education centers,” likely qualified as a crime against humanity.
“The extent of arbitrary and discriminatory detention of members of Uyghur and other predominantly Muslim groups … may constitute international crimes, in particular crimes against humanity,” the report said.
Basing its findings on statistical analysis, satellite imagery, CCP documents, and 40 interviews with Uyghurs and other affected individuals, the report said that the CCP’s campaign in Xinjiang placed “undue restrictions on cultural, linguistic, and religious identity and expression; rights to privacy and movement; reproductive rights; as well as with respect to employment and labor rights.”
In October 2022, some 50 countries signed a joint statement at the U.N. General Assembly urging China to uphold its human rights obligations and release those “arbitrarily deprived of their liberty” in Xinjiang.
The nations—which include the United States, Japan, the UK, Australia, Germany, and Israel—made up the largest group of countries to publicly condemn China’s ongoing human rights abuses.
“Such severe and systematic violations of human rights cannot be justified on the basis of counterterrorism,” the joint statement reads. It raised concerns over China’s refusal to discuss the report’s findings.
Danella Pérez Schmieloz and Andrew Thornebrooke contributed to this report.