China: American folk singer agreed to Chinese censorship



China / USA:
American folk singer agreed to Chinese censorship

The 69-year-old American folk singer Bob Dylan, famous for his songs against injustice and for civil rights, agreed to perform in China only with a heavily censored list of songs — which caused an uproar in his home country.

On 6 April 2011, Bob Dylan stood on the stage for two hours in Workers’ Gymnasium in Beijing in front of 5,000 — mostly young Chinese — fans. But the Chinese authorities do not want to hear protest songs, so in order to allow the singer to give a concert in Beijing, his mainland Chinese debut, they had forced him to drop his protest songs, reported several news agencies.

The show was played amid tight security and against a backdrop of political tension after the artist Ai Weiwei had been taken into police custody five days earlier.

Last year, the Chinese ministry of culture refused to let Bob Dylan into the country to perform, but this year he was allowed, after he had promised to play only ‘approved content’.

There were reports that the culture ministry snapped up 2,000 of the venue’s 18,000 seats to monitor the setlist, which it had strictly vetted beforehand, and to make sure there were no songs that could be interpreted as a message to Ai Weiwei.

Bob Dylan performed in Shanghai two days later. The audience at the 8,000-seat Shanghai Gymnasium reflected the international population of the city.

Artist’s detention
While Chinese musicians and artists constantly succumb to the communist regime control and censorship, bloggers and columnists in the Western world are asking: Did Bob Dylan leave essence of his artistic soul – the social criticism protest songs – lie on the shelf at home in America? Maureen Dowd of The New York Times wrote:

“Spooked by the surge of democracy sweeping the Middle East, China is conducting the harshest crackdown on artists, lawyers, writers and dissidents in a decade. It is censoring (or “harmonizing,” as it euphemizes) the Internet and dispatching the secret police to arrest willy-nilly, including Ai Weiwei, the famous artist and architect of the Bird’s Nest, Beijing’s Olympic stadium.

Dylan said nothing about Weiwei’s detention, didn’t offer a reprise of “Hurricane,” his song about “the man the authorities came to blame for something that he never done.” He sang his censored set, took his pile of Communist cash and left.”

Police raided Weiwei’s home
According to International PEN’s information, Ai Weiwei was detained at Beijing International Airport on 3 April 2011 while preparing to board a flight to Hong Kong, where he had been due to participate in artistic exchange activities. Later that day police raided his home and studio, questioned his wife and eight assistants, and confiscated computers.

No news was given about his whereabouts or the reason for his arrest until 8 April 2011, when it was reported by the official Chinese News Agency Xinhua that Ai Weiwei was under investigation for suspected involvement in ‘economic crimes’.

International PEN writes that his arrest appears to be part of a widespread crackdown on dissent in which writers, journalists and human rights defenders are amongst those to have been targeted since mid-February 2011.

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Poster at the concert hall in Beijing

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UPDATE 14 May 2011

Bob Dylan denies China censored his choice of songs

Dylan Dylan has now insisted he knew nothing of any censorship and says he and his band played all the songs they intended to. He writes on his website:

“Allow me to clarify a couple of things about this so-called China controversy which has been going on for over a year. First of all, we were never denied permission to play in China. This was all drummed up by a Chinese promoter who was trying to get me to come there after playing Japan and Korea. My guess is that the guy printed up tickets and made promises to certain groups without any agreements being made. We had no intention of playing China at that time, and when it didn’t happen most likely the promoter had to save face by issuing statements that the Chinese Ministry had refused permission for me to play there to get himself off the hook. If anybody had bothered to check with the Chinese authorities, it would have been clear that the Chinese authorities were unaware of the whole thing.

We did go there this year under a different promoter. According to Mojo magazine the concerts were attended mostly by ex-pats and there were a lot of empty seats. Not true. If anybody wants to check with any of the concert-goers they will see that it was mostly Chinese young people that came. Very few ex-pats if any. The ex-pats were mostly in Hong Kong not Beijing. Out of 13,000 seats we sold about 12,000 of them, and the rest of the tickets were given away to orphanages. The Chinese press did tout me as a sixties icon, however, and posted my picture all over the place with Joan Baez, Che Guevara, Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. The concert attendees probably wouldn’t have known about any of those people. Regardless, they responded enthusiastically to the songs on my last 4 or 5 records. Ask anyone who was there. They were young and my feeling was that they wouldn’t have known my early songs anyway.

As far as censorship goes, the Chinese government had asked for the names of the songs that I would be playing. There’s no logical answer to that, so we sent them the set lists from the previous 3 months. If there were any songs, verses or lines censored, nobody ever told me about it and we played all the songs that we intended to play.

Everybody knows by now that there’s a gazillion books on me either out or coming out in the near future. So I’m encouraging anybody who’s ever met me, heard me or even seen me, to get in on the action and scribble their own book. You never know, somebody might have a great book in them.”

More information

Google News – continuously updated:

Search: ‘Bob Dylan’ + ‘China’


The New York Times – 9 April 2011:

‘Blowin’ in the Idiot Wind’
“Bob Dylan may have done the impossible: broken creative new ground in selling out.”

The New Republic – 11 April 2010:

‘Bob Dylan’s Disappointing, Hypocritical China Concert’

In Danish language

Jyllands-Posten – 7 April 2011:

‘”Baobo Dilun” med f

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