Bob Dylan concert cancellation reveals Guardian’s bias

It’s been almost two weeks since we’ve ripped on the Western media, and sometimes it seems like beating a dead horse. But since The Guardian has figured out a way to weave Bob Dylan into their “Chinese government is bad” narrative, we thought we’d jump back into the fray.

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 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?

0 thoughts on “Bob Dylan concert cancellation reveals Guardian’s bias”

  1. James Fallow wrote something similar on his Atlantic blog couple days ago, quoting Zachari Mexico who also holds the view that Dylen’s China trip fell through for financial reasons(Fallows offers several alternative explanations).
    Coincidently, Wang Xiaofeng has been on to it for the last few weeks, publishing an online novel on his blog. The plot: Dylen & Lenon making a trip to China to participate in the cultural revolution…


  2. Wild speculation: editors at The Guardian have a soft spot for Dylan and thought it would be fitting to make him into some kind of hero, and so let their fanciful ideas bypass their editorial judgement.


  3. I don’t know about Chinese conditions, but where I come from, 400,000USD for 8,000 people is perfectly viable. Not only 50USD tickets for the Bob Dylan-like concerts would be a nice deal, but also there is a huge potential in making extra money from refreshments and drinks. So… maybe I’m missing some crucial point, but why did you mention that?


  4. This post reveals Chinageeks’ bias.

    You’re jumping up and down at the Guardian for basing a story on what Dylan’s agent said? Wow, what a bunch of criminals at the Guardian!

    >But if The Guardian can’t be bothered to call up the MOC….

    This is riduculous. This isn’t the US or the UK you know. I really doubt that foreign reporters (or even local reporters for that matter) can get questions answered by the MOC. If the MOC would have made a public statement, the Guardian would have reported it.

    I agreed with Kai Pan’s first article a couple of weeks ago, but it’s just gone downhill from there. Now it’s just unreasonable Western media bashing (and dissident bashing).


  5. @ Some Guy: What are you talking about? Kai has never written anything for this site, and CG has been around for over a year. I think you’re thinking of china/divide.

    And regardless of the MOC being difficult to get comment from, don’t you think they’re obligated to attempt to verify the agent’s story in some way before running with the “China Bans Dylan!” idea? The point is, they picked one source for a story and the source they picked has an extremely obvious and problematic bias.

    There are plenty of other people they could have talked to if they wanted to write a real story. MOC won’t answer your calls? Call some China experts or people in the entertainment industry there and see what they think happened based on previous experiences. Hell, call Dylan. But a story that hinges around the machinations of agents, and the ONLY guy you talk to is one of them, one who stands to gain quite a bit from placing the blame somewhere other than on himself? That’s just bad journalism, period. And ChinaGeeks is biased against that.

    @ Hans: 50 USD would be an awful lot of money to spend on concert tickets in China. There are apartments that rent for less than that.


  6. CC,

    First, although it’s a lot of money for the laobaixing I’m sure there are more than enough expats (including me) in Beijing, Shanghai or Guangzhou that would have spent more than 50$(~350RMB) to see the old Bob…

    Second, I won’t argue on who is right or wrong but, even if the other side of the story you are reporting here hadn’t occurred, there would still be a big doubt on this concert to actually happen. Thanks to Bjork (see this post on the subject), it has become so much more complicated for any foreigner band or singer to perform in a relatively big concert hall here. I’m not saying Bob Dylan would have been forbidden to perform for sure but it wouldn’t have been very surprising.

    I’m glad you pointed out there may be another version of the story since I got pissed while reading the Guardian news.

    — Woods


  7. The Ministry of Culture never admits that it cancels acts, and in fact tells promoters not to reveal that it has forced the cancellation of an act.


  8. Will our supposedly independent and impartial media follow up or correct their story? Based on what I’ve seen I ain’t holding my breath.

    Anyways it doesn’t really matter, the damage has been done.


  9. Another angle on the cancellation: the MOC was nervous about being able to find anyone who could actually understand Bob’s lyrics in real time. He could have pulled a Bjork and no one would have known it until well after Bob had cleared the border.


  10. Well this is soooooooo irritating. I’m moving to Shanghai shortly and was so eagerly anticipating hearing Bob wax lyrical once again. I hope the MoC or whoever, do not deter Dylan on Asian tours in the future. I agree that with 400,000 expats in Shanghai….enough tickets would have sold at even $100just as they have here in Europe.

    The times haven’t changed in China!


  11. Well this is soooooooo irritating. I’m moving to Shanghai shortly and was so eagerly anticipating hearing Bob wax lyrical once again. I hope the MoC or whoever, do not deter Dylan from Asian tours in the future. I agree that with 400,000 expats in Shanghai….enough tickets would have sold at even $100 just as they have here in Europe.

    The times haven’t changed in China!


  12. I just came upon this as it is his 70th B’day. Fellas, Ladies and Gentlemen:
    The PRC has a central govn’t that does ALL it can to control ALL it can. The history is clear but the future will continue to befuddle the leaders of the PRC until they realize that in order to hold onto something you need to let it go. Letting the greatness of all of China express itself is the only way to make use of all that money the world has been sending your way. Until that happens the PRC will be on the outside, no matter how much cash they’ve got.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s