Chinese checkers hold up Bob Dylan shows

Britain’s Telegraph reports that the Chinese government is in fact reviewing the planned Bob Dylan concerts in Beijing and Shanghai, slated to take place in April. As the writer, Martin Chilton, points out, the April 6th and April 8th gigs gigs in mainland China do not appear on the tour dates listed on the official website. However, they have been listed for some time as confirmed dates on the unofficial but traditionally very reliable site run by Bill Pagel.

Interestingly, the official site also does not list the gigs in Taipei (Taiwan) on April 3rd, or in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, on April 10th. (The show in Hong Kong on April 12th is listed on both sites.)

Last year, proposed dates in mainland China did not come off, although I don’t recall that they ever had achieved “confirmed” status on Bill Pagel’s website, leaving the possibility that the business aspects never really gelled. Mr. Chilton observes:

Dylan’s Taiwanese promoter, Jeffrey Wu, of Brokers Brothers Herald, claimed the sticking point was a demand from the Ministry of Culture for Dylan to sign a pledge promising “not to hurt the feelings of the Chinese people” during his performances.

The Chinese government carefully screens the content of imported entertainment content for political messages. Icelandic singer Björk caused consternation among Chinese officials two years ago by shouting pro-Tibet slogans at a concert in Shanghai after performing a song called Declare Independence.

I would have been pretty surprised had the Chinese communists really been all that nervous about ol’ Bob Dylan last year, but perhaps that was a misjudgment on my part. It’s certainly true that the climate at the moment is quite different, with the Chi-com regime being distinctly nervous and in full clampdown mode over talk of a “Jasmine Revolution,” triggered by the scenes of rebellion against dictators in the Middle East. In these circumstances, one does have to wonder if someone like Bob Dylan will be allowed to play, simply because of the past associations with anti-establishment movements, etc. (The Chi-coms should read RightWingBob: then they’ll understand Dylan had nothing to do with any of that!)

But I wonder why the show in Taipei is seemingly not a lock? Taiwan is a democracy and doesn’t take instructions from mainland China. And what about Vietnam? Don’t they want to hear all of Bob’s songs about their history?

Anyhow, it’s nice to know that at the age of 70 (almost) Bob Dylan still might be able to generate some kind of international incident. We shall wait and see.

Addendum: Answering my own question, I guess it’s possible that Dylan and his people and/or the promoter feel that if the Beijing and Shanghai shows don’t take place, that the Taiwan and Vietnam parts of the schedule don’t make sense. Taiwan in particular, since it comes first and would then leave Bob and his band and crew with a very long layover. But it’s all speculation …

Addendum II: It’s the Chinese Ministry of Culture that is responsible for granting permission here, and reportedly they will post the decision on their website. I went to the English-language version of that website, and found that the Ministry of Culture is subdivided into many different departments. My guess is that this kind of thing — Bob Dylan concerts — would be handled by the “Department of Cultural Market.” What do you think? Here’s their mission statement:

Making guidelines and policies for the development of cultural market, as well as drafting related laws and regulations; guiding the integrated law enforcement of cultural market; promoting the integration of law enforcement task forces from different departments such as culture, radio, film, television, publishing and press, under the sub-provincial cities and prefecture-level cities; exercising industrial supervision over commercial cultural operations; exercising supervision over the market of artistic performances, cultural entertainment and artworks; giving prior approvals for Internet-based music, fine arts and entertainment, online cartoon and animation (excluding cartoon and animation programs broadcast through Internet), online dramatic programs and performances and cell phone music; coordinating the industrial planning for cartoon and animation games, industrial bases, project construction, conferences, exhibitions, transactions and market supervision, giving guidance to the work of industrial association; reviewing and administering imported online cultural and artistic contents from the users’ end; overseeing the administration of operation licenses for commercial venues providing Internet access services such as Internet cafes, exercising content supervision of electronic gaming appliances on their production, import and sales; supervising the service of online gaming (excluding prior examination and approval for the online publication of online games); guiding the supervision of private performing arts companies.

It’s called big government, and it very rightly should send chills up everyone’s spine.

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