Monday, April 05, 2010

Bob Dylan banned in Beijing

Actually, he's been banned from performing in Shanghai, too, or anywhere else in China. But I couldn't resist the alliteration. According to the Guardian report:
Aged 68 and almost half a century past the zenith of his angry, protest-song youth, Bob Dylan must almost have forgotten what it was like to be deemed a threat to society. But it seems at least one place still sees him as a dangerous radical.

Dylan's planned tour of east Asia later this month has been called off after Chinese officials refused permission for him to play in Beijing and Shanghai, his local promoters said. China's ministry of culture, which vets planned concerts by overseas artists, appeared wary of Dylan's past as an icon of the counterculture movement, said Jeffrey Wu, of the Taiwan-based promoters Brokers Brothers Herald. [...]

The verdict scuppers Dylan's plans to play his first dates in mainland China. The singer, who plays around 100 concerts a year on his Never Ending Tour, had hoped to extend a multi-city Japanese leg with concerts in Beijing, Shanghai, Taiwan, South Korea and Hong Kong. All these would now be called off, Wu told the newspaper.

"With Beijing and China ruled out, it was not possible for him just to play concerts in Hong Kong, South Korea and Taiwan," he said. "The chance to play in China was the main attraction for him. When that fell through everything else was called off."
Why is the Chinese government afraid of Bob Dylan? It probably goes back to six words spoken by the Icelandic singer Björk during her 2008 concert in Shanghai: "Tibet, Tibet! Tibet, Tibet! Tibet, Tibet!":
Dylan fans denied the chance to see their hero might also blame Björk, who caused consternation among Chinese officials two years ago by shouting pro-Tibet slogans at a concert in Shanghai, Wu told Hong Kong's South China Morning Post.
Actually, it was closer to an amplified whisper than a shout. You can see it on video here. Apparently, this "hurt the feelings" of the Chinese people.
"What Björk did definitely made life very difficult for other performers. They are very wary of what will be said by performers on stage now," Wu said.

Last year, Oasis were told they were "unsuitable" to play in Beijing and Shanghai as Noel Gallagher had appeared at a Tibet freedom concert 12 years earlier.
This whole affair tells us less about Bob Dylan (and Björk) than about the continuing nervous insecurity of Chinese officialdom in a lot of respects, despite China's increasing economic strength and its increasing bravado on the world stage ... and, let us not forget, the touchy and defensive nationalism the Chinese government shares with much of the Chinese public, easily inflamed by any mention of Tibet.

As Mick Hartley observes, "It's been decades since Bob Dylan could have been described as a protest singer"--though how would a Chinese cultural apparatchik know that? And, alas, he's not as great an artist as he once was, so I'm not sure that seeing him live is necessarily better than listening to his recordings (again and again). But it's still true that "the Chinese need Dylan more than Dylan needs the Chinese."

(As for China's Ministry of Culture ... the right song to send them is probably Positively Fourth Street.)

Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again,
Jeff Weintraub

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