Bob Dylan in China, continued

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Stories in the press continue to proliferate, implying or sometimes even asserting that Bob Dylan was prohibited from singing The Times They Are A-Changin’ or Blowin’ in the Wind by the Chinese regime, in the wake of his concert yesterday in Beijing. (Previous post: Dylan goes to China.) However, I still have yet to see anyone cite a real source for this; they seem to simply be making a guess based on his set list.

I emailed an American journalist based in Beijing who wrote one of the stories in a major U.S. newspaper yesterday, to ask if he knew for a fact which songs Dylan might have been prohibited from singing, and he kindly replied and informed me that he did not. He directed me to the official “invitation” from the Chinese Ministry of Culture to Bob Dylan to play (Google translation here) which indicates that Dylan was invited to perform “strictly in accordance with the validation of the content.”

Now, it obviously wouldn’t surprise me at all if the Ministry of Culture prohibited certain songs, but it’s nice for things to be fact-based rather than speculative. The reality is that it’s far from unusual for Dylan to perform gigs without including those aforementioned songs. He has A LOT of songs to choose from, as we well know, and he likes to change things up.

For the sake of the historical record, hopefully we will at some point find for sure the answer to two questions:

(1) Did the Chinese regime prohibit certain songs?

(2) Did Bob Dylan ultimately abide by those prohibitions or not?

This isn’t from a judgmental point of view — for me anyway — but purely out of a healthy curiosity.

Since he has another concert still to play in Shanghai tomorrow, the story — whatever it may be — it still in flux.

Perhaps as a measure of how nervous the regime is — even of old Bob Dylan — a fan review of the Beijing show includes this: “When we arrived in the venue, there was a policeman each five meters inside. I’ve never seen that.”

Dylan plays in Vietnam on April 10th, and this Voice of America article states:

As with other concerts here, Vietnamese authorities required Dylan to submit the lyrics of songs he plans to perform for review.

I can’t help wondering how Dylan went about this, both for the Vietnamese and the Chinese authorities. Did he just send them a copy of his book, Lyrics: 1962-2001?

Of-course, that would leave out his most recent songs, but they could have been printed out and appended.

The mental image of these communist bureaucrats going through all of those songs, trying to figure them out, is an oddly pleasant one.

Addendum: Also see my response to Maureen Dowd’s slam of “sellout” Dylan.

4 Replies to “Bob Dylan in China, continued”

  1. Seriously? Stop Blowin in the wind or Times they are a changing but allow his most revolutionary songs of all time Gotta Serve Somebody and Gonna Change My Way of Thinking?!! Priceless.

  2. Gonna change my way of thinking
    Make myself a different set of rules
    Gonna put my good foot forward
    And stop being influenced by fools

    So much oppression
    Can’t keep track of it no more …

    Pretty good way to start off the gig in China, if you ask me!

  3. Indeed, for Dylan to open his set list in Beijing with “Gonna Change My Way Of Thinking” is in fact very significant. Remember that the version of that song that he does in concert (the version that he did with Mavis Staples on *Gotta Serve Somebody: The Gospel Songs of Bob Dylan* includes this line, twice: “Jesus in coming, he’s coming back to gather his jewels.” This obviously refers to the Jesus’ Second Coming. Signficantly, the Chinese government prohibits the state-approved (and monitored) Three Self churches from preaching on Jesus’ Second Coming.

    So Mr. Dylan began his setlist with a very radical song choice indeed.

  4. I still can’t figure out Gates of Eden, I wonder how the bureaucrats are doing.

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