China: Authorities considered tightening control of foreign artists



Authorities considered tightening control of foreign artists

A statement during a concert in Shanghai on 2 March 2008 where the Icelandic artist Björk showed support of Tibet’s independence led to indications of tighter regulations and censorship of foreign artists performing in China. But soon enough, the Chinese ministry of culture softened the previous statements.

Article by: Kristina Funkeson, Freemuse

In the beginning of March, several news sites reported that during the performance of her song “Declare Independece”, Björk added the words “Tibet! Tibet!”

In a series of articles on the subject of Björk and her Tibet statement, the online magazine follows the debate following the concert. The magazine describes how Chinese authorities first threatened to blacklist foreign artist speaking up in favour of Tibetanian freedom. According to, the Chinese Ministry of Culture declared on its website:

“We will further tighten controls of foreign artists performing in China in order to prevent similar cases from happening in the future. We shall never tolerate any attempt to separate Tibet from China and will no longer welcome any artists who deliberately do this.”

This implies that artists performing in China risk facing greater regulations. writes that Björk “is now facing a lifetime ban on further concerts in China.”

Statement withdrawn
A couple of days after its first declaration, the Ministry of Culture announced that this was just an individual case and that it had decided not to punish other western pop artists performing in China. quotes the Vice Minister of Culture, Zhou Heping:

“I don’t think it will affect our invitation of artists from all over the world coming to China and perform, particularly during the Olympic Games.”

Reactions on web forums
According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Björk’s political statement was not reported in the state-controlled Chinese media, but internet sites and forums rapidly received angry comments after the word leaked out.

The newspaper the Sydney Morning Herald reports that Björk’s statement had made the audience uneasy. The atmosphere was described as strange and uncomfortable. Björk herself describes what happened somewhat differently to the online magazine The Lipster: “When I said ‘Tibet, Tibet’, I whispered it three times. There was no fuss in the room. It happened afterwards on websites.”

Political engagement
Björk has already been involved in the cause of Tibet, for example as a part of a Free Tibet support concert. The author of an article in the online magazine is sceptical about her and other artist’s engagement in such issues: “she has never set foot on Tibetan soil. Many western entertainers make use of politics to create their images. […] What Bjork did was simply another ludicrous political show.”

Even though Björk herself emphasizes that she is a musician and not a politician, she still gives expression to her political opinions. She tells the Lipster:

“It shows more than anything that China has become the next superpower in the world. And the issue is: how are they going to deal with Western moral issues like freedom of speech?”

Declare Independence
Björk has not only dedicated her song “Declare Independence” to Tibet, but on other occasions she has used it to support for example Kosovo. In the video for the song, Björk is wearing a jumpsuit decorated with the flags of Greenland and the Faroe Islands – territories controlled by Denmark. On her web page, Björk stated:

“i would like to put importance on that i am not a politician, i am first and last a musician and as such i feel my duty to try to express the whole range of human emotions. the urge for declaring independence is just one of them but an important one that we all feel at some times in our lives. this song was written more with the personal in mind but the fact that it has translated to its broadest meaning, the struggle of a suppressed nation, gives me much pleasure. i would like to wish all individuals and nations good luck in their battle for independence.


Sydney Morning Herald – 4 March 2008:

‘China sees red over ice queen’s politics’ – 4 March 2008:

‘Statement’ – 5 March 2008:

‘Chinese furious at “Tibet-independence” Bjork’ – 7-18 March 2008:

‘Bjork – China to impose regulations on performers after Bjork’s Tibet outburst’
‘Bjork – China won’t impose tighter restrictions on other artists’

The Lipster – March 2008:

‘WORLD EXCLUSIVE: Bjork’s first interview about China, censorship and “Tibet, Tibet”‘

Read about censorship in China:

The Sydney Morning Herald – 20 March 2008:
‘The great firewall of China’

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