Maybe Rashomon Was Actually A Story About China

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Because there certainly seem to be a lot of ways to interpret the real clash of the titans: Bob Dylan vs. Government of China. First version (it was all the GOC's fault) here. Second version (no, maybe it wasn't) here. Versions three and onward are summarized below, from reader mail.

Dylan's Not Involved In This Anyway. Several people (including Reuters editor and amateur Dylan scholar Robert MacMillan) pointed out that the original claims of censorship came not from Dylan directly but from his Taiwanese tour promoters, Brokers Brothers Herald. So who knows where the complaint really came from? Fair point. You would think that if BBH were just making this up to save face, and that Dylan didn't like their cover story, he would have indicated something as the controversy blew up worldwide. But with these moody poet-troubadors, anything is possible. Conceivably he doesn't know about this or figures it would only make it worse to get involved.

Dylan Doesn't Back Out Just Because of Weak Sales or other business problems. From reader Marc Syken, who thinks it really was about censorship:

As someone who has seen Bob on multiple occasions, a couple of quick points - Dylan does not back out of a concert if ticket sales are light.  I've seen Dylan in half filled venues, and he has never canceled.  In fact, I know of no show Dylan has ever canceled b/c of ticket sales.  His tour schedule (with set lists) is here, http://www.boblinks.com/ - he plays at least 50-75 shows a year, which is pretty good for a guy 68 years old.  Dylan has played the far east before, is backed by Sony records, and obviously knows the lay of the land when it comes to the music business. 

Those facts all militate against Dylan using the history of Chinese censorship as a "cover" to back out of concerts due to his being hoodwinked by an unscrupulous promoter.  Given Dylan's track record as a concert performer (as opposed to a bunch ne'er do wells like Oasis), I would tend to believe the original version of events. 

And Andrew Sprung, to the same effect:

it seems odd that a Dylan tour organizer would make outlandish financial requests - Dylan seats are usually pretty reasonable. I saw him in a college gym in Buffalo in about 1995, a venue that was hardly part of a get rich (again) quick scheme.  I've since seen him 2x at moderate cost. Maybe things have changed, or the Taiwanese promoter has its own agenda, but maybe too the 'good authority' [who said it was all about weak sales] ain't so good.

Maybe All the Explanations Are True. A reader with a Chinese name at a U.S. university says this fits a familiar pattern:

For an observer from afar, all the explanations you and others given are plausible. Here, I just want to mention one of the tactics that Chinese Government always employs. It is often the case for Chinese Government to use some technicality to hide their real reason for rejection or any other form of action. Like accusing an activist of some sexual misconduct or dissolving certain organizations with the reason of tax filing irregularities.

All of these make sense to me, which is an illustration of why it is often so absorbing and so frustrating to try to figure out what has "really" happened in Chinese affairs, especially those involving the government.

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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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