No, The Big Bang Theory Isn’t Too Edgy for China

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May 7 2014 3:02 PM

No, The Big Bang Theory Isn’t Too Edgy for China

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Photo by Michael Yarish

Viewers who DVR’d the most recent episode of the CBS sitcom The Big Bang Theory were treated to the following “vanity card” directed at the Chinese government. (The cards are a trademark of series creator Chuck Lorre, though generally directed at targets more along the lines of Charlie Sheen):

The government of China has decided that "The Big Bang Theory" is not appropriate for viewing. I have to assume there was some sort of formal process involved in this decision. In all likelihood, a gaggle of communists sat in a darkened room and watched a few episodes. I like to think they took notes that were later used to formulate an official document that detailed the corrosive cultural effects caused by the shenanigans of Sheldon, Leonard, Penny, Wolowitz, Koothrappali, Amy and Bernadette. I like to think that during these screenings one of them laughed out loud and was promptly sent to a re-education camp on the outskirts of Urumqi. I like to think one of them was reassured by how often the characters on the show eat Chinese takeout. I like to think there's a Chinese word for shenanigans. Regardless, the whole affair makes me very happy. The overlords of 1.3 billion people are afraid of our sitcom. Exactly what we were going for!

Lorre shouldn’t flatter himself. The Big Bang Theory has indeed disappeared from Sohu.com, one of the country’s most popular Web video portals. It's not exactly clear why, but it's probably not because Chinese censors find the antics of the show’s lovable nerds too subversive.

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As the Wall Street Journal’s China Real Time blog reports, “earlier this month, a company formerly associated with Chinese state-run broadcaster China Radio International said on its website it had been hired by CCTV to create a cleaned up translation of 'The Big Bang Theory.' That could mean that the reason for 'The Big Bang Theory' coming down is more commercial than political, as CCTV may simply be using its political connections to ensure it gets the benefits of being the only one to broadcast the massively popular show.” The Good Wife, NCIS, and The Practice (?) have apparently disappeared off the portal as well.

Big Bang Theory was indeed a huge hit in China, drawing about 7 million views per episode during its last season, though 2 Broke Girls, which airs on rival platform YouKu, was even more popular. China’s political elites apparently prefer the nefarious wheelings and dealings of House of Cards, which the country’s ambassador to the United States has described as a pretty accurate representation of goings-on in Washington.  

The streaming deals that sites like Sohu and YouKu reached to show these popular American shows were designed to cut down on China’s widespread Internet piracy, which Hollywood studios have groused about quite a bit in the past. Until whatever behind-the-screens power struggle keeping Big Bang Theory off the legal Web is resolved, Chinese viewers may simply be forced to get their bazinga fix through illicit means.   

Joshua Keating is a staff writer at Slate focusing on international affairs and writes the World blog. 

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