This post has been updated.
Later this month, the American rock band Bon Jovi was due to play its first shows in mainland China, with concerts planned in Beijing, Shanghai, and Macau. The band's namesake singer, Jon Bon Jovi, celebrated the news by recording a famous Chinese love song in Mandarin, a move that endeared him greatly to fans.
However, just a week before the first concert, promoter AEG Live Asia has announced that the dates in Beijing and Shanghai have been cancelled. The problem? According to a number of sources, the band's performance permits have been pulled. Bon Jovi appears to be the latest American act to run afoul with China's notoriously opaque Ministry of Culture, the body that approves or denies performances and releases by musicians and others.
One source who works in the Chinese music industry says that the permit problem appears to have stemmed from a 2009 music video that featured imagery from the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989.
The same source suggested that a video of a 2011 video that showed Bon Jovi performing in front of images of the Dalai Lama, along with other important figures, may also have caught the Ministry of Culture's attention.
Bon Jovi's management was unable to provide comment at the time of writing. In a statement, promoter AEG Live Asia, announced that the shows had been cancelled "due to unforeseen reasons" and that there would be a full refund to anyone who bought tickets. "We would like to apologize for the inconvenience and disappointment that this will cause," the statement says.
The news follows a summer of trouble for Western acts in China. In July, the Los Angeles-based band Maroon 5 canceled shows planned in Beijing and Shanghai in September. There was no official reason given for the change in Maroon 5's plans, but many speculated that permits had been pulled after Jesse Carmichael, the band's keyboard player, attended the Dalai Lama's birthday party in California and tweeted about it. China regards the Tibetan spiritual leader as a separatist due to his calls for autonomy for the Himalayan region.
Less than a month later, American singer-songwriter Taylor Swift faced scrutiny after planning to sell merchandise featuring her initials and the name of her album,"1989," direct to fans in China. There was no political message intended by Swift's merchandize, but in China the events might be seen as reference to the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests of 1989, where hundreds if not thousands of civilians were killed when the Chinese army moved in to clear the square.
Western performers in China have sparked political controversies before: In 2008, Icelandic singer Bjork was criticized by the Ministry of Culture after she chanted pro-Tibet slogans at a concert in Shanghai. A number of musical acts, including American singer Bob Dylan and British band Oasis, subsequently had to cancel tours due to their perceived political leanings.
However, those involved in organizing the events say there seems to have been an unusually high number of events canceled at the last minute this year. “This put the fear into all of us,” Archie Hamilton, a festival promoter in Beijing, told the Associated Press in May. “Everyone’s afraid of getting it wrong and losing a lot of money."
For some Chinese music fans, the news that yet another act had cancelled their shows hit hard. "I booked flight tickets from Shenzhen to Shanghai in June [when tickets went on sale]," a fan complained on Weibo. "No words I've learned could express how crushed I am." Others complained, perhaps sarcastically, that it was the Dalai Lama's fault.
"Better go abroad if you want to go to concerts," one exasperated fan wrote. "Too risky in China."
Xu Yangjingjing contributed to this report.
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