A year ago, Chinese authorities refused to allow the legendary protest singer Bob Dylan to play concerts inside China. They were apparently wary of his politically charged lyrics, which inspired a generation of Americans in the 1960s and '70s to question authority in a way that's forbidden in China.
But today, Dylan's Beijing-based promoter announced the pop icon will play two concerts there in April to mark his 50th anniversary as a performer. The company, Gehua-LiveNation, said the concerts will be "one of the year's major tours and a musical event of depth, grace and greatness," according to Agence France-Presse. It said China's culture ministry had approved the concerts, but there was no immediate confirmation from authorities.
Even any unrelated event that draws crowds has come under suspicion. Irish groups were forced on Monday to cancel a planned St. Patrick's Day parade in Shanghai after Chinese authorities objected to where it would be held.
Chinese police also attacked some foreign reporters who assembled in downtown Beijing on Sunday to cover a planned demonstration, after an anonymous online campaign encouraged Chinese dissidents to take to the streets and mimic the Arab world's rallies. Security forces appeared to vastly outnumber any demonstrators, signaling just how seriously the Chinese regime takes any such protest attempts. A plainclothes security officer punched and kicked a video journalist in the face, the Foreign Correspondents' Club of China said in a statement.
Foreign reporters have also been hauled into government offices in recent days, scolded on videotape and threatened with loss of their visas and credentials, The New York Times reported. The White House reacted to such reports on Tuesday, calling them "disturbing" and demanding that Chinese authorities to respect journalists' jobs and safety.
Today's announcement of the Dylan concerts could be a PR move by the Chinese government to mitigate criticism amid the recent crackdown. Or it could mean that Chinese authorities haven't fully translated Dylan's lyrics, particularly those from popular protest anthems like "Times Are A-Changin'" or "Blowin' in the Wind."
The answer, my friend? Well, you know the rest. ...