Having just asserted in a different venue that I’m not going to try to keep up with everything happening in the Dylan universe anymore, this story nevertheless requires follow-up. It is now reported that the Chinese Ministry of Culture has approved two Bob Dylan concerts to take place in April, one in Beijing and one in Shanghai.
The official Bob Dylan website has not confirmed these as of writing, but everything else seems now to indicate that they will take place — and I’m guessing the same will be true for the proposed shows in Taiwan and in Vietnam.
Personally, I just think it’s nice to see Bob Dylan being able to play to people in places where he has never gone before, and perhaps will never get a chance to go again. (He turns 70 this year.) Some fans have expressed serious opposition to the idea of Dylan playing in China, due to the ongoing violation of basic human rights by that Communist regime, both in China itself and in Tibet. I don’t see it that way myself, largely because I take a dubious view of the usefulness of boycott in these circumstances.
Economic boycott — a consistent global regime of economic sanctions against an offending nation — surely can have an effect on the internal politics of that nation. However, that’s a difficult thing to put into practice at the best of times (see Iraq under Saddam Hussein) and, in this case, the chances of such measures being taken are less than zero. China is simply too big, and too important as a market.
That leaves the idea of a cultural boycott. That kind of boycott is, in my opinion, not only ineffective, but counterproductive. Why is it not a good thing, in the long run, for examples of what free cultures produce to be seen and heard in a country that is not free? I’m happy to give large credit to Ronald Reagan for the manner and timing of the fall of the Iron Curtain, but blue jeans and the Beatles (and everything represented by those things) helped set the stage for the popping of that cork, by stimulating the thirst of the people for more of the same.
The AFP story I linked to asserts, in typically distorted fashion:
Dylan is best known for the politically inspired songs of his early career, including “The Times They Are A-Changin'” and his anti-war anthem “Blowin’ in the Wind”.
While neither one of those songs is political as such, or anti-war, and Dylan has never been a political songwriter in the mundane (and leftist) manner that such lazy journalists assume, his work does nonetheless stand for freedom in a very fundamental sense: freedom of the soul. (That’s a freedom that brings with it great responsibility too.)
And maybe the greatest four lines that Dylan ever wrote for freedom are these:
Well, I try my best
To be just like I am
But everybody wants you
To be just like them
It will be good for those lines from Maggie’s Farm to be heard in the Workers’ Gymnasium in Beijing on April 6th, along with so many other little and large chimes of freedom from this very special singer’s back catalog.