Game of Thrones is a hit American fantasy drama television series. The eight season show premiered on HBO in the United States in April 2011, and will conclude in May 2019. In 2014 Chinese tech giant Tencent obtained exclusive rights to stream the show online for Chinese netizens. In January 2019, Game of Thrones had been streamed played 960 million times on Tencent’s video platform.
Game of Thrones censorship in China: angry fans on social media
Game of Thrones (GoT) is known for its explicit content and violent battle scenes, which draws the ire of China’s censors. In China the HBO website is blocked, meaning that Chinese fans unwilling or unable to use a VPN must watch Game of Thrones through Tencent. Upon watching the season 8 premiere in April 2019, fans were outraged to find that the version approved for China had six minutes cut out. The Chinese Game of Thrones version came in at 48 minutes compared with the 54-minute HBO original. Chinese Game of Thrones fans took to their social networks to complain, sharing and posting rebukes like:
“It is a bit uncomfortable watching the censored version. If those scenes are not worth seeing, why would the writer write them? Why would the director shoot them? People who like Game of Thrones don’t like it for porn and violence but for the whole thing. I don’t want to miss even one second.” – Twitter, user Wang Bubble.
“Tencent is making us pay to see a castrated version of Game of Thrones. Do any sisters have Game of Throne links to share?”- Weibo
Chinese Game of Thrones fans have long protested censorship of this TV show in China , complaining that without the censored content, they missed plot points and were left confused. One Weibo user posted:
“When other people discussed the episode and said a little lord was burned to death, I really had no idea what they were talking about. I’m speechless. In order to censor blood and violence, the entire story has been affected. Censoring to the point where the plot is cut down; what’s the point? I was thinking that in the whole episode, I didn’t see a single ghost, and found it so weird. All along it was Tencent that deleted the scene, completely ruining it. So how do I watch the uncensored version?”
Censorship of Game of Thrones in China is not new, but the restriction of the HBO website is a recent development. HBO was banned in China in June 2018 after political comedian John Oliver joked about President Xi Jinping on his HBO show Last Week Tonight.
Within the first 24 hours of GoT’s season 8 premiere, the episode had already been illegally streamed 5 million times in China.
Baidu overwhelmed by searches related to GoT in China
The search index on Baidu for “权力的游戏” (Game of Thrones) has a daily average of 11,063. All peaks on the graph are days that new episodes aired. During the periods when new episodes are airing, queries spike to an index of nearly 100,000 a day. In contrast, the most popular domestic Chinese television show Ashes of Love (香蜜沉沉烬如霜) has a daily index of only 8,791.
Since the premiere of the newest season April 14th, Baidu searches for Game of Thrones has seen a daily index of 60,914 searches.
The first peak on the graph is the day of the season 8 premiere, during which Baidu received a search index of 229,014 for Game of Thrones. All other peaks are also episode premieres.
Baidu searches for Game of Thrones are clustered in Eastern provinces.
Game of Thrones searches in China by location, from highest to lowest:
Keywords commonly searched in conjunction with GoT in China are “download,” “season 8,” and also “cut off,” which show domestic annoyance with the censorship of Game of Thrones in China.
Games of Thrones in China, a topic equally discussed on Chinese and Western social networks
Weibo discussions about Game of Thrones in China blew up prior to the show’s season 8 premiere in April, and the Game of Thrones Weibo hashtag racked up 96 million views in the day before the episode premiere.
The Game of Thrones Chinese hashtag on Weibo (#权力的游戏) has 19.12 million discussion posts and has been viewed 2.56 billion times.
Most popular are posts that include pictures, screengrabs, or videos. The top 20 most liked photos on May 9th all heavily featured graphic elements.
Games of Thrones on WeChat: Impossible to miss
GoT in China is discussed more on WeChat than on Weibo. The average daily index number for Game of Thrones on WeChat is a whopping 1.8 million. That index number rises on days of episode premieres: when episode 1 of season 8 premiered in April, the index number for the day was 12.8 million. In contrast, the index number for Ashes of Love (香蜜沉沉烬如霜) on their series premiere was 330,000.
WeChat is a popular location for Chinese netizens to discuss GoT episodes, share theories, and bond over their love of the show. There are hundreds of official Game of Thrones WeChat accounts and dozens of articles about the show posted daily.
Game of Thrones in China is so popular that many WeChat users have created stickers from show imagery.
Chinese fans speculate about the Game of Thrones series ending
On Zhihu, which is a Chinese question-and-answer website, the Games of Thrones Season 1 discussion page has over 410,000 followers and 8,700 questions asked, while the Season 8 discussion page has 34,740 followers and 1,390 questions. Zhihu members have given the latest season a rating of 9/10. Questions related to the show are mainly clarification questions about plot points and theories or speculations about the show’s ending.
Game of Thrones branded goods in China: The witness of a craze for TV show in China
Game of Thrones’ popularity in China has created a demand for Game of Thrones branded goods in China. Available on Taobao are GoT branded clothes, keychains, figurines, puzzles, beverages, and more. The products are mostly of international origin and have English-language packaging.
Love of the show has also inspired Chinese Game of Thrones fans to invent their own edible confections. Several posts have circulated on WeChat and Weibo with fans showing off their homemade GoT-inspired baked goods and cocktails.
Despite complaints about censorship of Game of Thrones in China, the show is a massive hit among Chinese citizens, which has manifested in Game of Thrones presence on Baidu, Weibo, WeChat, Zhihu, and Taobao. What will be the next international TV show in China?
Author: Alison Bogy
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