An Entirely Different View of the Dylan-China Saga

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A little while ago I posted something I strongly believe: that the Chinese central government's thin-skinned quashing of "sensitive" topics is a disservice to the Chinese public and an impediment to the country's full development. The (reported) rejection of Bob Dylan's request to hold concerts in China, following a previous turn-down for Oasis, was the occasion for making this point.

But a few minutes after posting that, I got a reply from Zachary Mexico, a music-world figure and author of China Underground, saying that the factual premise for the comment was probably wrong. That is, how do we know that the Chinese government nixed the concert requests? His first note said (quoted with permission):

re: Bob Dylan: I have it on good authority that the Chinese government did not deny Bob Dylan permission to play in China. It was the Taiwanese promoter's outlandish financial requests that made the tour unrealistic.

re:Oasis: I have heard from several mostly reliable people that the concerts were cancelled by the promoter, EMMA entertainment (they've since gone out of business) for lack of ticket sales, and not for any political reasons.

Blaming the Chinese government is an easy way out when these tours become financial sinkholes.

I wrote back saying, essentially: Interesting if true! How do we know these things? He pointed me to this report in China Music Radar and gave a variety of other reasons to be skeptical of Dylan's "censorship" claim. I quote them after the jump.

I can't judge this first hand, though it's always a positive sign when someone is willing to be quoted by name. I pass on his material because -- assuming it's right -- it adds a different tone to what is becoming a big story; and because this is part of the (valuable) internet tradition of "showing your work" and going public with the process of trying to establish what the truth is. It also illustrates a problem the Chinese government has created for itself, even if it is entirely blameless in this situation: Once you get a bad reputation, you get blamed even for things you didn't do.

But if Zachary Mexico and China Music Radar are right and the Dylan team is falsely blaming Chinese "censorship," then shame on him or whoever is doing this -- and my apologies for passing along a misleading story. There's enough genuine restriction and censorship to criticize.

____
From the Z.M. email:

I have some [peripheral] connections in Dylan's camp and was planning to follow him and his band on their China tour. I was warned it might be cancelled because there were problems with the promoter way before the promoter asserted that the Chinese government wouldn't allow Dylan to play.... This whole enterprise was really sketchy to begin with. It had all the hallmarks of promoter difficulty. Dates were posted on the Internet, then removed with no explanation. 

Oasis was booked into enormous venues when they are simply not that popular in China. They couldn't sell enough tickets to cover costs; the promoter cancelled the show, blaming economic reasons, and then shifted the blame to something Tibet-related because it's a much sexier story. This is well-documented. This article from Reuters re:Oasis is a bit confusing; but, yes, the promoters did claim economic difficulty before finally blaming political problems for the cancellations.
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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
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