Outraged netizens took to social media sites en masse on Monday to protest the loss of their favorite U.S. television shows after a ban last week by the ruling Chinese Communist Party.
"The Big Bang Theory," "The Good Wife," "NCIS," and "The Practice" will no longer be offered by video-streaming websites, as China's censors under President Xi Jinping further tighten control over what the country's citizens can see and hear.
The State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio Film and Television (SARFT) issued the order on Friday, forcing video sites like iQiyi, Youku, Tudou, and Sohu to pull the plug on the shows.
Last month, the agency had warned online video providers that American and British TV shows purchased by websites for streaming to a Chinese audience must "be audited before broadcast."
Any companies failing to comply would be liable to warnings, fines, and injunctions, with more serious breaches liable for loss of business license and other bans, it said.
Searches for The Big Bang Theory on Sohu's video site on Monday resulted in the following message: "The page you are looking for does not exist, or has already been deleted."
Banning 'makes no sense'
Netizens hit out at the move in droves on China's tightly controlled Internet on Monday.
"Ban Korean TV dramas instead ... give me back my U.S. television shows," wrote user @Marybushimali on the popular miccroblogging site Sina Weibo.
"How does the Big Bang get in your way?" added user @siyanche under the hashtag #americanshowspulled, which had garnered some 360,000 posts by Monday evening local time on Sina Weibo.
"Banning it makes no sense whatsoever ... what the hell business is it of yours if people like to watch it?"
"If you insist on only putting on shows about fighting the Japanese, no one will watch them," the user wrote.
All four shows had gained an enthusiastic following in China via a loophole which allowed them to be accessed online, although none were carried by traditional broadcasters.
However, The Big Bang Theory was the most popular and was offered exclusively by Sohu Video, while The Good Wife is licensed by Sohu Video, Youku, and Tencent/QQ Video.
"If state policy dictates we can't have democratic elections, then fine, but you even limit our choices of what to do in our leisure time!" Sina Weibo user @shenlanyiqianlu wrote.
User @miaoerduojuanjuan agreed: "What is your problem with the Big Bang Theory? If you pull such good scientific shows, where are we to learn about the Doppler Effect and Schrodinger's Cat?"
"We'll have to be good and watch Japanese soldiers get ripped in half," the user wrote in a reference to a recent scene in a Chinese state-produced wartime drama.
'Negative effects, hidden threats'
State-run media hit back at the outcry on Monday, however, saying the Internet needs to be kept in line.
"Without order on the Internet, how can you have freedom on the Internet?" the party's People's Daily newspaper said in an opinion article.
"Anyone enjoying and exercising their online rights and freedoms must not harm the public interest and cannot violate laws and regulations and public ethics," the paper said.
"While people and government have enjoyed the convenience of the Internet, they have also experienced [its] negative effects and hidden threats to security," the commentary, signed with the pen-name "Zhong Sheng," or "Voice of China," said.
Sohu chief executive officer Charles Zhang said he didn't think the decision was a permanent change in policy towards U.S. television shows, however.
"I believe it's a stand-alone event," Zhang told reporters during a conference call on Monday. He said the SARFT directive gave no explanation for the take-down notice.
According to a recent study by Shanghai-based Internet research firm iResearch cited in The New York Times, revenue from China's online video sector rose by 41 percent in 2013.
Reported by Gao Shan for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.