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.
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.”