On April 4, The Guardian ran an article reporting that Bob Dylan’s planned Mainland China concerts had been cancelled with the headline, “China blocks Dylan gigs.” The article goes on to explain that “Chinese officials refused permission for him to play in Beijing and Shanghai, his local promoters said [emphasis added].”
Why would Chinese officials be afraid of Bob Dylan? No need to rack your brain over this one. The Guardian quickly blames China’s Ministry of Culture for appearing “wary of Dylan’s past as an icon of the counterculture movement.” Apparently Dylan was coming to China to start a revolution. This sounds far-fetched, but after the Bjork incident, in which the Icelandic singer ill-advisedly shouted “Tibet! Tibet” at a concert in Shanghai in 2008, it might not be too far off the mark. But who knows? The Guardian did not contact anyone at the Ministry of Culture. In fact the only person quoted was Dylan’s Taiwan promoter, Jeffrey Wu, and his posts were pulled from the South China Morning Post’s equally biased story (subscription required).
A more plausible explanation for the cancellation comes from Sun Mengjin , one of China’s most well-known music critics. (h/t The Beijinger. Full post has a more complete translation that’s more colorful than what’s excerpted below.)
Sun wrote on his blog: “Dylan’s agent asked for USD 250,000 per show in mainland China, and some Taiwanese promoter sold it to a mainland company for USD 400,000……400,000 dollars for the 8,000 seated Shanghai Grand Stage, it’s impossible to make the money back by selling tickets.”
So what’s the more likely scenario here? Ministry of Culture clamps down on aging folk rock star or agents trying to make big bucks and end up messing the whole thing up? What actually happened is unclear, but if you read The Guardian’s story (which later got picked up by other media like Rolling Stone and AOL News), you would come away thinking that the repressive Chinese government once again is crushing freedom of expression.
This story, of course, isn’t exactly a big deal and probably won’t cause uproar among our friends at anti-cnn.com. But if The Guardian can’t be bothered to call up the MOC or interview someone aside from the obviously biased promoters, how can we trust their reporting when something more serious happens?