Authorities have agreed to allow an American folk music legend known for his anti-establishment songs to perform two concerts in China next month, promoters said, amid increasingly organized public protests for reform.
Bob Dylan, who will turn 70 in May, will play at Beijing’s Worker’s Gymnasium on April 6 and the Shanghai Grand Stage on April 8—concerts organized by promoters Gehua-LiveNation to mark his 50 years of work as a musician.
The Taiwanese promoters said plans to bring Dylan to China last year were derailed when Beijing’s Ministry of Culture refused to grant him permission to play, possibly because of the musician’s history of writing politically charged lyrics.
Jeffrey Wu, of Brokers Brothers Herald, said Dylan’s request to play then had been denied because he refused to sign a pledge "not to hurt the feelings of the Chinese people" during his performances, according to British daily The Telegraph.
But an official from Gehua-LiveNation said the Ministry of Culture had granted Dylan permission to perform the two shows this year. No statement about the decision was immediately available on the ministry’s website.
Ticket prices for the concerts will start at 280 yuan (U.S. $42) and top out at 1,961.411 yuan (U.S. $300) for VIP tickets. The number represents the date of Dylan’s first performance in New York City—April 11, 1961.
Dylan, who is best known for his earlier and more politically charged songs such as "The Times They Are A-Changing” and “Blowin’ in the Wind,” will also appear in Hong Kong on April 12 and in Singapore on April 15 before continuing his tour through Australia and New Zealand.
China’s government routinely screens entertainment content for political messages, refusing to allow certain musicians, works of art, films, and literature to enter the country.
Two years ago, Icelandic singer Bjork caused a stir when she shouted pro-Tibetan slogans at a Shanghai concert after performing her song "Declare Independence."
British rock group Oasis gave up plans for a tour in the country a year later, saying the Ministry of Culture was angered over front man Noel Gallagher having performed at a Free Tibet concert in New York in 1997.
Apple’s music download store iTunes was temporarily blocked in China as the country played host to the Olympics in 2008 due to the popularity of a compilation album called Songs For Tibet which featured artists such as Alanis Morissette, Sting, Moby, and 17 others.
Dylan’s concerts come at an anxious time for Chinese authorities who are currently trying to contain "Jasmine" rallies inspired by a wave of popular uprisings in the Middle East and called for by anonymous groups online.
Police have rounded up dozens of dissidents around the country since the online messages urged regular weekend pro-democracy gatherings to demand an end to corruption, inflation, and the strictures of authoritarian rule.
Reporters covering the protests have also been targeted by authorities, who accuse Western media of overplaying the rallies.
Last Sunday, more than 16 journalists were physically harassed by plainclothes and uniformed police in Beijing, with one American journalist hospitalized after a severe beating.
Reported by Joshua Lipes.