China Beat Archive


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November 29, 2008 in The China Beat


Copyright November 29, 2008 Jeff Wasserstrom. Used by permission.


My next posts were all supposed to deal with my recent trip to China, but news about the long-awaited Guns’n’Roses release, “Chinese Democracy,” stirring up controversy in China is something that I can’t resist weighing in on. I won’t go into details about whether or how it has actually been banned in Beijing, as you can find out about that other places, including here and here. And I don’t need to fill you in on the China-related content of the album (a work I hasten to admit I haven’t heard yet), as that is covered thoroughly in an excellent Huffington Post piece by David Flumenbaum.

Still, two things make it hard for me to stay silent. First, I don’t think anyone has so far made an obvious and lame Shakespearean pun (but one that still has a point): I think that this Rose (album) by any other name would have been quite different indeed in terms of impact in China. Yes, as Flumenbaum notes, the title track has lyrics that deal with hot-button topics, but had these words been buried in an album called “Madascar” or “I.R.S.” (the names of two other tracks), it might at least have taken longer to be banned or draw fire from Chinese netizens. (Of course, this isn’t a sure-fire argument. I was amazed to see copies of Cui Jian’s “The Power of the Powerless” for sale in Beijing around the turn of the millennium, at a time when he was still having trouble giving public concerts. Surely, the title is or can at least be read as an allusion to Vaclev Havel’s 1978 work, yet this slipped under the official radar.)

Second, this Guns N’ Roses phenomenon gives me the final item to add to a long gestating “Top Five List” of “The Weirdest Rock Music Moments with Chinese Characteristics” of the last 30 years. When Bjork caused controversy early this year, I blogged about that for China Beat and Shanghaiist, and in doing so brought in some of these moments (the Icelandic songstress making waves with a Shanghai conference reference to Tibet surely qualifies), so there’ll be some repetition here. But this list, in chronological order, will contain some novelties as well.