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The creators of South Park have issued an irreverent mock apology to the Chinese government after reports that the show has been censored on Chinese streaming services and social media.
The statement from Trey Parker and Matt Stone made fun of censorship of comparisons of Xi Jinping, the Chinese President, with Winnie the Pooh, and called out the National Basketball Association (NBA) for apologising over the support expressed by one of its officials for the Hong Kong protest movement.
“Like the NBA, we welcome the Chinese censors into our homes and into our hearts. We too love money more than freedom and democracy. Xi doesn’t look just like Winnie the Pooh at all,” read a statement issued by the South Park Twitter account.
“Tune into our 300th episode this Wednesday at 10! Long live the Great Communist Party of China! May this autumn’s sorghum harvest be bountiful! We good now China?”
The American satirical animation series, famed for taking swipes at global events and society without fear or favour, reportedly incurred the wrath of China’s fierce censors over a recent episode “Band in China” which critiques the way Hollywood allegedly tries to mould its content to avoid offending Beijing.
The plot of the episode sees three of the characters forming a metal band which is so popular that a film is made about it.
However, the script keeps changing so that it can be safely distributed in China. “Now I know how Hollywood writers feel,” says Stan, a band member, as he rejigs his work under the careful eye of a Chinese guard.
The episode also features a story line where South Park dad, Randy Marsh, gets caught trying to sell weed in China and is sent to a work camp, similar to the mass internment camps in Xinjiang, where an estimated one million people, including Uighur Muslims, are being held.
The South Park row comes as China’s state broadcaster said on Tuesday that it would stop showing NBA games as a backlash intensified against the league over a tweet that expressed support for Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protesters.
Houston Rockets' manager Daryl Morey ignited controversy on Friday by re-tweeting an image which was captioned: “Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong,” in reference to the pro-democracy protests that have rocked the global financial hub for four months.
Basketball is hugely popular in China, and Mr Morey’s tweet caused outrage on Chinese social media even after he deleted it.
The Chinese Basketball Association said it was suspending cooperation with the team, and the Chinese consulate in Houston issued a statement expressing anger.
The Chinese market is highly profitable for the NBA, the sport’s governing body, and on Sunday night, the NBA described Mr Morey’s statement as “regrettable” in having “deeply offended many of our friends and fans in China.”
Adam Silver, the NBA's commissioner, said on Monday that the league backs "freedom of expression".
"There is no doubt, the economic impact is already clear," Mr Silver told Japan's Kyodo News agency ahead of an NBA London Game 2019 basketball match between Washington Wizards and New York Knicks at the O2 Arena in London.