Bob In China: What Went Wrong?

Some Chinese bloggers doubted that Bob Dylan’s plans to play his first-ever concerts in China would pan out, but the 68-year-old rocker himself obviously took it for granted that they would, considering he apparently built his Asian tour around shows in Beijing and Shanghai that were never fully confirmed.

Dylan just completed a sold-out, 13-date swing through Japan – which was also set to hit Hong Kong, South Korea and Taiwan – and last week scrapped the remainder of the tour. The cancellation comes supposedly because Chinese authorities denied Dylan permission to perform on the mainland.

The news that China’s Ministry of Culture had blocked the shows came from the Asia tour’s Taiwan-based promoter, Brokers Brothers Herald, which had tried to book Dylan on the mainland.

Company representative Jeffrey Wu told the South China Morning Post “the chance to play in China was the main attraction” for Dylan on the Asia tour.

Wu mentioned Bjork’s outburst two years ago as having “made life very difficult for other performers” and speculated that Dylan’s past activities supporting “various humanitarian campaigns” didn’t sit well with Chinese authorities.

The Morning Post added that the April 8 Hong Kong show received little promotion because it was announced in January.

However, blog site China Music Radar, though it admits to not having “any inside information,” questioned whether Wu’s statement is something of a smokescreen.

Several months ago, when the possibility of Dylan playing China emerged, Chinese bloggers talked about problems between the Taiwan promoter and mainland presenters.

BBH, according to CMR, “promised a massive guarantee for the entire five-date run” that sources estimated at US$2 million.
“They had guaranteed this astronomical amount in order to flip the shows to individual promoters for a vastly inflated fee.” In the end, CMR surmises, the promoters didn’t go for it and BBH needed a scapegoat “to get out of the guarantee.”

The Ministry of Culture is a very convenient one.

This version of the story was also advanced by Zachary Mexico, an expert on China’s music scene, in an e-mail to The Atlantic.

In the letter, he reiterated something that China Music Radar always points out: Promoters repeatedly overestimate the attraction of major foreign artists in China, where people just don’t have the cash for $100 tickets.