Chinese Admirers Grieve the Passing of Beloved Actor Matthew Perry

by Joshua Brown
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focus keyword Matthew Perry China

The cultural import of the television series “Friends” had already permeated Chinese society well before it was officially aired in the nation. With the untimely passing of Matthew Perry at the age of 54, legions of Chinese admirers are grappling with the loss of an actor who to them, was more akin to a cherished friend than a remote figure of fame.

In a local café, christened “Smelly Cat” in tribute to the iconic show, an outpouring of patrons and floral tributes filled the establishment. A continuous stream of “Friends” episodes played, echoing from the television in the corner.

The café’s manager, Nie Yanxia, expressed surprise at the turnout. “The number of attendees surpassed our expectations,” Nie said. Patrons recounted personal anecdotes related to Chandler and “Friends,” with many becoming emotional.

At the bar, a tribute poster adorned with a chronicle of Perry’s photos was displayed prominently. The simple yet profound words at the poster’s base read, “We love you, friend.”


  • Matthew Perry, notable ‘Friends’ alumnus, passes away at 54
  • Tributes to Matthew Perry flow in, with acknowledgments from ‘Friends’ co-stars, schoolmate Justin Trudeau, and SNL
  • Cast members of ‘Friends’ express their profound grief, acknowledging their deep devastation

Despite “Friends” only making its official Chinese debut in 2012 via the Sohu streaming service, its popularity had surged in China over a decade prior through illicit DVDs and hard drive distributions. The addition of Mandarin subtitles by fans further accelerated its reception among Chinese audiences.

“During that time, China was in the midst of significant societal transformations, embracing consumerism, individualism, and urbanization,” explained Xian Wang, an academic specializing in modern Chinese literature and culture at the University of Notre Dame. “The series presented a vision of a metropolitan utopian life.”

The series became a tool for many in China to learn English and gain insights into American culture. The unregulated version of “Friends” tackled subjects often unmentioned in Chinese programming, including LGBTQ+ issues and sexual themes. While Sohu initially broadcast “Friends” uncensored, subsequent official releases saw the exclusion of certain segments.

For many Chinese youths, Perry’s portrayal and his fictional circle resonated as they too strived to forge their identities within the vast urban landscape.

“It’s akin to losing a personal comrade,” commented Wang. “The feeling is laden with nostalgia for their younger days.”

On a recent evening in Shanghai’s luminescent metropolis, a small replica of the Central Perk café was filled to the brim, with over thirty individuals gathered, leaving scant room to move and even less to sit on the emblematic orange couch. The crowd spilled beyond the café’s confines, with many observing from outside, while some settled on external seats. Within, attendees alternated reading articles about Perry, with emotions running high.

Nilufar Arkin from Tianjin likens her and her partner’s bond to that of Monica and Chandler, even commemorating their relationship with matching tattoos inspired by the series’ theme song. Upon learning of Perry’s demise, Arkin was overwhelmed with disbelief and sorrow, testifying to the depth of her connection to his character.

Fu Xueying, who has indulged in the series time and again, finds new appreciation with each viewing. For her, “Friends” serves as an escape from the pressures of daily life.

Similarly, for Zhang Fengguang, a mechanical engineer, and his fiancée Sun Tiantian, the series and Perry’s role are inextricably woven into their life narrative, demonstrated poignantly through their engagement, which mirrored a memorable scene from the show.

“I took inspiration from his scene, his words,” said Zhang. “It’s as if I had just discovered a long-lost comrade, only to have him vanish.”

This report was compiled by Fu Ting from Washington, with contributions from Han Guan Ng, a journalist for Big Big News based in Shanghai.

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