Is God authoritarian? A censored “Simpsons” episode in China illustrates the answer

Friday, April 12, 2024

Site Search

Current events

Is God authoritarian? A censored “Simpsons” episode in China illustrates the answer

December 6, 2021 -

This Aug. 13, 2020, photo shows logos for Netflix, Hulu, Disney Plus and Sling TV on a remote control in Portland, Ore. (AP Photo/Jenny Kane)

This Aug. 13, 2020, photo shows logos for Netflix, Hulu, Disney Plus and Sling TV on a remote control in Portland, Ore. (AP Photo/Jenny Kane)

This Aug. 13, 2020, photo shows logos for Netflix, Hulu, Disney Plus and Sling TV on a remote control in Portland, Ore. (AP Photo/Jenny Kane)

The Simpsons is the longest-running American TV show and currently streams on Disney+. While the animated show is often crass and certainly targeted to adults, it makes fun of everyone and every stereotype. Nothing is safe from the humor of The Simpsons

Homer, the dad of the family, especially represents a comically stereotyped American father: arrogant, idiotic, overweight, childish, and an alcoholic, among other things. The popularity of The Simpsons stretches internationally. Recently, Disney+ rolled out in Hong Kong, China—which led to this strange CNN headline: “Fans noticed a Simpsons episode is missing from Disney+ in Hong Kong.”

This story leads to a rabbit hole of China’s authoritarianism and history of suppression. 

So, what does The Simpsons have to do with communist ideology? 

Authoritarian China

Modern China’s full name is “The People’s Republic of China.” The communist party has ruled China since Mao Zedong defeated the rival “Republic of China” in 1949. 

China’s government is authoritarian, which means a few key things. 

  • It does not elect officials or the ruling party. 
  • It doesn’t allow dissent from citizens.
  • Religion is strictly regulated. 
  • It rules with tight surveillance.  
  • Freedom of speech is regularly suppressed. 

In general, civil liberties exist only when the government approves of them. In other words, they don’t exist at all. 

One of the principal pillars of the communist party’s rule is strict censorship and propaganda to bring its citizens’ values in line with the party. 

Their internet restrictions are unparalleled. According to Freedom House in 2016, they are the least free in the world in reference to the internet (North Korea wasn’t measured). Their infamous internet filter is known as the “Great Firewall.” Facebook, WhatsApp, and any media that protects private data from the government is banned or restricted. 

They not only restrict social media and journalism (in 2020 alone, forty-seven journalists were imprisoned), they restrict what they perceive as threatening cultural and ideological influences. Some of the “Western influences” they are concerned with include the idea of “universal [objective] values,” “a civil society,” and “neoliberalism,” among others. 

The citizens’ freedom ends when and where the communist regime feels the slightest bit threatened, or, in the words of China’s law, when their rights “contradict the interests of the state.” Sometimes, this can be taken in a darkly comical direction. For instance, many have mocked Xi Jinping by comparing his appearance to Winnie the Pooh, so anything related to Winnie the Pooh is outright banned. 

Because of their restriction on Western influences, China only allows a baseline number of Western movies to play in their theaters, and those must pass a strict censorship process. Because of China’s massive population and accompanying twelve thousand theatres, Hollywood regularly bends their knee to China’s censors for access to the market.

Shirley Li for The Atlantic writes, “The film industry has regularly shaped its productions to please Beijing; whenever Hollywood fails, it either issues self-flagellatory public apologies or remains silent on the matter altogether.”

Communism’s spread in Hong Kong

There is much more to be said about China’s unique authoritarianism, but for now, we’ll focus on the wave of censorship taking place in Hong Kong. 

Hong Kong’s relationship with China is convoluted; the subject needs its own article. Suffice to say, Britain signed a treaty in 1997 that would pass their Hong Kong colony to China. It would temporarily allow Hong Kong to operate independently and retain its civil liberties as they waited to transition to Beijing’s rule, under the temporary “one country, two systems.” This transition is supposed to be completed in 2047, with Beijing gaining full control. 

However, Beijing has already aggressively flexed its power and influence in Hong Kong, leading to widespread protests and marches in 2019–2020. Those protests have been quelled by stricter anti-laws, and the crackdown on freedoms has begun. 

The Simpsons and the Tiananmen Square massacre

This all provides the context for The Simpsons’ season 16, episode 12 conspicuously missing in Hong Kong after Disney+ rolled out their streaming service in the region. The episode is titled “Goo Goo Gai Pan” and features the dysfunctional American family going on a trip to China. The jokes are pointed enough that viewers will wince as they laugh (as is typical of The Simpsons). 

At one point in the episode, the Simpsons gather around the embalmed Mao Zedong. Homer walks up to the casket and says, “Look at him sleeping. He’s like a little angel who killed 50 million people!” 

Later, at a show, an announcer sadly states, “Our star acrobat had an onset of outspokenness and suffered a bullet-related death.” 

A Chinese official later remarks, “Well, Tibet was considered pretty independent. How’d that work out?” 

It’s possible that the nail in the coffin was one subject China is particularly sensitive to: the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. Near the end of the episode, the family walks through the infamous square, where a plaque reads: “On this site, in 1989, nothing happened,” which directly makes fun of China’s censoring of the event.

The joke is accurate: Even today, China’s censors crack down particularly hard on this incident. What happened that China wants covered up so badly?

In 1989, hundreds of thousands of peaceful protestors had gathered in and around Tiananmen Square, and after two months of protests across China, the military ruthlessly quelled the peaceful crowds under martial law. 

While the Chinese propaganda machines and censors do their best to undermine the incident, they could not completely cover it up. Today, no one knows the true number of peaceful citizens killed, but realistic numbers fluctuate from several hundred to thousands, with many more injured. 

Beijing recently put pressure on the University of Hong Kong to remove a work of art called the “Pillar of Shame,” which commemorates the massacre. 

This story leads to a rabbit hole of China’s authoritarianism and history of suppression. 

So, what does The Simpsons have to do with communist ideology? 

It is likely that Disney+, like much of Hollywood, has self-censored to prevent the headache of dealing with controversy in China. 

God isn’t authoritarian; he’s sovereign 

Many Christians seem to think that God is authoritarian in his restriction of freedom, or that he doesn’t want us to search out the truth. 

Some churches seem to have the attitude that we shouldn’t inquire and ask questions about our faith. Some well-intentioned leaders may feel the need to protect God from tough questions. However, God regularly provides answers to questions in the Bible, encouraging the search for truth that is ultimately found in him. He gives wisdom to those who ask with trust (James 1:5). Jesus performs a miracle to back up his claim to forgive sins (Matthew 9:6). 

God is sovereign and turns things for his good. As Dr. Denison often writes, “God redeems all he allows.” While he guides us, and his answers may not always satisfy us, God does not discourage questions. Because, unlike China, God has nothing to hide from us. He is infinitely powerful and sovereign; nothing threatens his eternal kingdom. 

Some early Gnostic beliefs falsely pitted God and Satan on equal footing, fighting on the sides of good and evil, locked in eternal struggle. 

On the contrary, God has complete control. Satan must ask permission from God to torment Job (Job 1). Jesus easily casts out demons. God is sovereign over everything (Job 42:2). He is a creator and sustainer. At the end of times, he will judge the living and the dead (2 Timothy 4:1) and cast Satan into hell (Revelation 20). No one is like God (Isaiah 46:9–10).

The true reason behind authoritarian control in governments is fear of collapse or disillusionment. 

God does not fear collapse, nor disillusionment. 

While the governments of man will fall, God will reign for eternity.

What did you think of this article?

If what you’ve just read inspired, challenged, or encouraged you today, or if you have further questions or general feedback, please share your thoughts with us.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Denison Forum
17304 Preston Rd, Suite 1060
Dallas, TX 75252-5618
[email protected]

To donate by check, mail to:

Denison Ministries
PO Box 226903
Dallas, TX 75222-6903