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Bjork's Tibet outburst provokes censors

March 8, 2008

The Times, London
March 8, 2008

Shanghai expected a surprise from the Icelandic singer Björk on her
debut in China and she did not disappoint. But her first concert is
set to be her last.

The Chinese Ministry of Culture has said that it will impose stricter
rules on foreign artists wanting to come to China after Björk ended
her performance this week with a cry for Tibetan independence.

She concluded a passionate performance of her song Declare
Independence with a shout of "Tibet, Tibet" — an outburst intended to
draw public attention to Chinese rule over the Buddhist Himalayan
region. The Dalai Lama, revered by Tibetans as a God-king, fled during
an uprising in 1959 in which tens of thousands of Tibetans were

The Culture Ministry said that the action by Björk had hurt the
feelings of the Chinese people and would be handled according to the
law. "We will further tighten controls on foreign artists performing
in China to prevent similar cases from happening in the future. We
shall never tolerate any attempt to separate Tibet from China and will
no longer welcome any artists who deliberately do this," it said in a
statement on its website.

The singer has performed the song to support other movements in the
past and dedicated it to Kosovo at a concert in Japan last month.

Her performance last Sunday, which was not reported for several days
in the state-controlled media, has set off a flurry of angry comments
in Chinese cyberspace. "I don't understand. Why do Western stars give
a s*** about Tibet? Isn't Tibet ours?" one comment said.

Another wrote: "I like Björk. It's OK for her to have a different
point of view, but for her to do this is disrespectful to fans here,
very selfish of her."

The glitzy metropolis cannot have been wholly astonished. The city's
English-language newspaper, the Shanghai Daily, heralded her concert
last month with the headline "Björk's Shanghai Surprise". She also
performed at a Free Tibet concert in San Francisco in 1996.

The singer issued a statement defending her action and said that she
was not a politician but a musician whose duty was to express human

Local music promoters are now anxious that visits by other singers
could be in jeopardy, especially in a year when China knows that it is
the subject of worldwide scrutiny while it plays host to the Olympics
in Beijing.

Jason Magnus, the British founder of the Beijing Pop Festival, said
that the action by Björk would almost certainly make it more difficult
for other artists to perform. He said: "The Olympic year magnifies all
the issues with the Chinese vis-à-vis the rest of the world. It can
only have a negative impact."

Chinese nervousness was highlighted when Zhang Qingli, the Communist
Party boss of Tibet, accused the Dalai Lama yesterday of seeking to
sabotage the Games. He said: "The Beijing Olympics is the focus of
world attention and the people are exalted, but even a grand gathering
like this, he is engaging in sabotage and threatening to cause

The next performers due in China have been approved already and most
are unlikely to want to try to make waves, preferring to focus on
entertaining audiences deprived for decades of watching premier

When the Rolling Stones played in Shanghai two years ago they were
asked to exclude four songs from their set. Mick Jagger said that this
was not a difficulty for a band that had been waiting to play in China
for 30 years and had 400 songs from which to choose.

Sounding off

— Bob Dylan walked a different road from Bob Geldof at the original
Live Aid concerts in 1985 when he made a plea during his live set for
some of the cash raised from the concerts to be diverted to struggling
American farmers. Geldof later declared the protest "crass"

— Philadelphia audiences expecting Rage Against the Machine's rock/rap
were shocked in 1993 when the band strode on stage nude, except for
tape over their mouths, and remained there, in silence, for 15 minutes
to protest against music censorship

— R.E.M. helped to celebrate the 60th birthday of Aung San Suu Kyi,
Burma's pro-democracy leader, by dedicating songs to her during an
Irish concert, beamed directly into Burma, against its ruling
general's wishes, by the Democratic Voice of Burma radio station

— Sinéad O'Connor provoked several thousand complaints while
performing on Saturday Night Live in 1992. She decided to protest
against child abuse in the Roman Catholic Church by ripping up and
stamping on a photograph of Pope John Paul II, who had been shot the
year before, while shouting: "Fight the real enemy!
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