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Bob Dylan denies Chinesecensorship claims

A little over a month ago, Bob Dylan visited Beijing to play his first ever show in mainland China and created a stir in the Western media about his ‘safe’ setlist.

The Sydney Morning Herald noted that Dylan opened his Asian tour with a show in Taiwan, which “ended with an encore performance of Blowin’ in the Wind, whose lyrics became synonymous with the anti-war and civil rights protest movements. But in China, where the censors from the government’s Culture Ministry carefully vet every line of a song before determining whether a foreign act can play here, those two songs disappeared from the repertoire.” And Maureen Dowd accused Dylan of “do[ing] the impossible: [breaking] creative new ground in selling out” in The New York Times.

However Dylan has now taken the unusual move of issuing a statement to clarify the details of his China shows and deny the censorship allegations.

Dylan’s letter:
To my fans and followers
Allow me to clarify a couple of things about this so-called China controversy which has been going on for over a year. First of all, we were never denied permission to play in China. This was all drummed up by a Chinese promoter who was trying to get me to come there after playing Japan and Korea. My guess is that the guy printed up tickets and made promises to certain groups without any agreements being made. We had no intention of playing China at that time, and when it didn’t happen most likely the promoter had to save face by issuing statements that the Chinese Ministry had refused permission for me to play there to get himself off the hook. If anybody had bothered to check with the Chinese authorities, it would have been clear that the Chinese authorities were unaware of the whole thing.

We did go there this year under a different promoter. According to Mojo magazine the concerts were attended mostly by ex-pats and there were a lot of empty seats. Not true. If anybody wants to check with any of the concert-goers they will see that it was mostly Chinese young people that came. Very few ex-pats if any. The ex-pats were mostly in Hong Kong not Beijing. Out of 13,000 seats we sold about 12,000 of them, and the rest of the tickets were given away to orphanages. The Chinese press did tout me as a sixties icon, however, and posted my picture all over the place with Joan Baez, Che Guevara, Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. The concert attendees probably wouldn’t have known about any of those people. Regardless, they responded enthusiastically to the songs on my last 4 or 5 records. Ask anyone who was there. They were young and my feeling was that they wouldn’t have known my early songs anyway.

As far as censorship goes, the Chinese government had asked for the names of the songs that I would be playing. There’s no logical answer to that, so we sent them the set lists from the previous 3 months. If there were any songs, verses or lines censored, nobody ever told me about it and we played all the songs that we intended to play.
Everybody knows by now that there’s a gazillion books on me either out or coming out in the near future. So I’m encouraging anybody who’s ever met me, heard me or even seen me, to get in on the action and scribble their own book. You never know, somebody might have a great book in them.

After his shows in China, Dylan headed to Australia where his setlists also overlooked several classic protest songs including The Times They Are A-Changing’ and Blowin’ In The Wind.

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Spicy McHaggis

Spicy McHaggis said on the 16th May, 2011

Did anyone else read that letter with a Dylan accent?


scottyk82 said on the 16th May, 2011

my reading swayed between dylan and tom waits....

The Great Monkey War

The Great Monkey War said on the 16th May, 2011

I was looking at a bunch of his recent setlists a few weeks ago, to get an idea of what he would play at his Sydney concert.

He tends to play more new material in all of his concerts, and rarely plays Blowin' in the Wind anyway. So I don't see how it could be considered censorship if he didn't play it in China.


Braveheart81 said on the 16th May, 2011

I originally read it with a Dylan accent and then reread it with an accent combining a mix of Joan Baez, Jimi Hendrix, and Axl Rose and it sounded much better.