BEIJING -- The latest installment of NBC's hit drama "The Blacklist" was deleted Wednesday from all major Chinese video-streaming websites that carry the popular TV show, marking the second time an episode of the program has been pulled from mainland portals after featuring Chinese plot elements.
Chinese video websites such as Youku, Tencent and Sohu all carry American TV shows as part of their regular licensed streaming offerings. "The Blacklist" has been among the most-watched shows on such websites recently, attracting millions of views.
But a plot line that portrays the Chinese government in a negative light -- such as conducting germ warfare research -- seems to have touched a nerve with Chinese censors.
In Episode 19, titled "The Pavlovich Brothers," a Chinese immunologist named Li Xiaoping had agreed to tell the U.S. about a secret weapons project and was jailed by the Chinese government for treason. She was extracted by U.S. agents from a labor camp in China and brought to Washington.
After appearing online Tuesday morning -- U.S. shows are typically posted within hours of airing stateside -- the episode had been removed by Wednesday. Little was said formally, but editors at Tencent posted a message in the comments section of the episode's trailer.
"Unfortunately, Episode 19 of 'The Blacklist' failed to get approval from censorship because it touched sensitive topics," the message read. "So it could not be put online. Please inform each other and keep monitoring our updates."
The same thing happened to Episode 3 of "The Blacklist" last October. Titled "Wujing," that show saw a former Chinese state security officer shoot and kill a CIA agent in broad daylight in the streets of Shanghai. The Chinese officer's character on the show, named Wujing (which means "paramilitary officer" in Chinese), was running an underground Chinese spy operation in the heart of Washington.
Although most Chinese fans following "The Blacklist" are used to having content deleted from the Internet by Chinese censors, many still expressed frustration that a licensed TV show would be removed from the Internet without any formal explanation.
"Last night, I watched half of the 19th episode and fell asleep because it was after midnight. Now, the episode is gone," one user commented on Youku.
Asked another user on Tencent: "Didn't you promise that 'The Blacklist' would return on April 22? Why you've changed it to April 29 now?"
In late March, a notice issued by China's media watchdog, the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television, caused concern among Chinese fans of foreign TV shows. "Some Internet TV shows and micro movies had vulgar content that promotes violence and sex," the notice said. "We need to strengthen our guidance and regulation."
Many interpreted the message to mean Chinese censors would be targeting foreign TV shows carried by local video-streaming websites for sex, violence, and vulgarity.
Subsequently, however, several of the video-streaming websites said the notice simply was intended to reinforce existing censorship regulations. "Most U.S. TV shows that are online have already been put on record and censored through a formal process," the official New China News Agency quoted an unnamed source from Sohu as saying.
However, the deleted installments of "The Blacklist" seemed to indicate that not all episodes are being pre-screened by censors before going up on Chinese websites, and that censors are looking for more than sexual or violent content. Full seasons of "The Walking Dead" and "Masters of Sex" are still available on the same Chinese websites, despite various violent and sexual scenes in them.
On Wednesday, a user screennamed Gloria on Tencent asked a question many Chinese fans had: "Didn't [the show] just say China was trying to cultivate germs? It's not even real, why can't they show this episode?"
Tommy Yang in the Times' Beijing bureau contributed to this report.