Ministry Approved

Bob Dylan finally played his long-awaited first concerts in mainland China and the performances seem to have stirred up Western critics more than Chinese authorities.

Various media reported that China’s Ministry of Culture demanded to see the setlist beforehand for approval. Consequently, some of Dylan’s more pointed “protest” songs, such as “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “The Times They are a-Changin,’” were not performed in Beijing or Shanghai.

It isn’t known if Dylan even submitted them for consideration.

Human Rights Watch commented that “Dylan should be ashamed of himself,” according to the BBC.

“He has a historic chance to communicate a message of freedom and hope,” said HRW’s Brad Adams, executive director of its Asia division. “But instead he is allowing censors to choose his playlist.”

Regardless of whether Dylan kowtowed to pressure, he didn’t interact much with the audience at either concert, although that can be the case at any Dylan show.

Reportedly, he didn’t speak at all except to introduce the band members. In any event, as many local commentators pointed out, the vast majority of Chinese, including many who attended the concert, don’t know who Dylan is.

One newspaper preview of the concert mistakenly ran a photograph of Willie Nelson under Dylan’s name. In addition, many don’t understand much English and probably wouldn’t be able to tell a political song from a love song; and Dylan has more than once stated that he is not and never was a political artist.

Two days after his Shanghai gig, Dylan and his band played at RMIT University in Ho Chi Minh City. About half the 8,000 tickets were sold, according to the AP.

Many in attendance were older Vietnamese, the only people in the country who knew of Dylan’s music, which could be heard during the Vietnam War.

Vietnam’s communist government also said that Dylan’s setlist would have to be approved, though the concert promoter, Rod Quinton, told reporters that as far as he knew no restrictions were actually imposed.