It would not take a psychologist to predict the interest the story of two young step-brothers falling in love might amass, especially if one of the brothers happened to be the son of a high-ranking political figure.
Within just three weeks, that’s exactly what Chinese web series Addicted had done, but for the hundreds of thousands of fans who had become ensnared by the raw portrayal of forbidden love in a conservative political era, the tale was ironically cut short.
The edgy show never made it to its fourth week after the Chinese government began cracking down on shows that “did not contribute to achievement of the Chinese dream” - an insidious euphemism for content that depicted gay relationships, effectively pulling the series.
The move prompted outrage on China’s primary social media platform Weibo, which has at least 503 million registered users.
"The … [ban] is too much. Is it necessary? It's so unpopular," said one user.
“What year are we living in, how are we still openly discriminating against homosexuality?” another said.
The production house behind the show claimed it had been viewed more than 10 million times since it premiered in late January, and while the whole first series can still be viewed in full on YouTube, the popular streaming site is blocked in China.
However the show was not the first to be taken down under the new regulations. In 2015, Mama Rainbow, a documentary about six gay Chinese parents, was also removed.
Since homosexual relationships were decriminalised in China in 1997 (Australia lifted the law in 1994), interest in the portrayal of gay relationships in the media has only risen, as younger, media-savvy audiences look for more relevant and engaging content.
“It capitalises on people’s curiosity about gender minorities, which those born in the 1950s and 60s might not feel comfortable with or take interest in,” said Peng Xiaohui, a human sexologist at Central China Normal University told The Wall Street Journal.
“In a highly competitive society with few smooth channels for upward mobility, it’s a pressure outlet for young people with low income and social status.”
But gay relationships were not the only target of the regulations introduced by the China Television Drama Production Industry Association and the China Alliance of Radio, Film and Television late last year.
The scope of the censorship extends to all “vulgar, immoral and unhealthy content”. This includes witchcraft, reincarnation, smoking, drinking, adultery, “abnormal” sexual relationships (including underage love and assault) and “scenes which expose the methods adopted by detectives and show in detail how they crack cases, thereby assisting criminals in coming up with counter-moves”.
By these standards, it is unclear if the Chinese equivalent of Sesame Street, Zhima Jie: Da Niao Kan Shijie, would even pass the test.