Shuffling Dylan’s Papers

The Bob Dylan in China controversy continues to twist and turn. As news Web sites keep reporting that Dylan had to cancel planned concerts on the mainland because the Chinese government refused to issue him a permit, the government itself has said that it isn’t true.

The Ministry of Culture released a brief statement stating that it never received an application to stage concerts by Dylan, thus contradicting claims made in the South China Post by the Taiwan-based promoter, Brokers Brothers Herald Ltd., that had reportedly been in charge of setting up the shows.

The Oriental Morning Post of Shanghai, citing a statement by music industry commentator Su Mengjin that BBH had reportedly tried to resell the rights to mainland promoters to each of Dylan’s concerts for an astronomical fee, wrote that, “If this price is true, it is no surprise that mainland companies dare not accept it. After all, in popularity, he is Bob Dylan, not [Taiwan superstar] Jay Chou and not [Korean boy band] TVXQ.”

Consequently, the newspaper dubbed the stories about lack of official approval of the concerts “far-fetched.” When the Wall Street Journal called BBH for comment, BBH said it had “no right to announce anything before getting permission from the agent in the U.S. We are only in charge of promotion in Taiwan, and do not know which companies are in charge of Beijing and Shanghai.”

Most likely, the OMP said, BBH’s offer met with lack of interest, so the company blamed it on the government. And it wouldn’t be the first time such a scheme was used. Last year, the government supposedly prevented Oasis from performing in China because leader Noel Gallagher has once played at a Free Tibet benefit, but the government denied revoking licenses for the Oasis concert and said the promoter’s financial problems were behind the cancellation.

Dylan and his people have remained silent throughout the whole debacle, thus stirring speculation that they may not have known any more than anyone else.