China Censorship: Lady Gaga Unbanned, Rock Legend Cui Jian Shuns Official Favor
It's been a mixed week for freedom of expression in China, for two recording artists who could hardly be less similar.
Lady Gaga had her new set ARTPOP greenlit for sale in the mainland after she was banned for vulgarity in 2011. Meanwhile, similarly banned rock icon Cui Jian, who has been in and out of official favor in recent years since he supported the crushed democracy movement in China in 1989, has declined a major public appearance over censorship concerns.
Cui Jian was due to appear on the Spring Festival Gala of China Central Television (CCTV), a marathon variety show that airs on the eve of Chinese Lunar New Year, which this year falls on Jan. 31. The show watched by hundreds of millions of Chinese on the eve of what is China's biggest holiday.
However, China's "Godfather of Rock" seems to have changed his mind as he did not think the all-powerful State General Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television would let him sing "Nothing to My Name," the anthem of the democracy movement of 1989, which was crushed in Tiananmen Square in Beijing.
After her unbanning in China, the words on Lady Gaga's Twitter feed were breathless: "I'm so excited!!!! The Chinese Government Approved ARTPOP to be released in China with all 15 songs! Next I hope I can come to perform!"
It's hard to imagine Lady Gaga on stage in Beijing but stranger things have happened. When she was banned in 2011, another singer was also ruled out of contention, Katy Perry, and she made her Beijing debut earlier this month at the Beijing National Indoor Stadium.
It seems that Lady Gaga's album cover, designed by Jeff Koons and showing her straddling a big shiny blue ball while cupping her breasts, will have to be toned down for the censors.
When the authorities banned her for vulgarity in 2011, the list of songs included "Hair," "Marry The Night," "Americano," "Judas" and "Bloody Mary." The Back Street Boys were also among 100 songs banned, some 10 years after they released "I Like It That Way."
Cui Jian is a divisive figure, important for pioneering rock music in Chinese in China, but disliked for his countercultural importance by the authorities. He appeared with the Rolling Stones performing "Wild Horses" during their Shanghai debut in 2006.
Other foreign names lined up for the Spring Festival show include the French actor and former Bond girl Sophie Marceau, who is wildly popular in China.
She is reportedly lined up to sing La Vie En Rose together with the Chinese singer Liu Huan to mark the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between France and China, which is not very rock and roll but there you go.
Liu Huan duetted during the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics with Sarah Brightman.
These are troubled times for the Spring Festival gala, which is struggling to find relevance as younger viewers go online for hipper Lunar New Year treats, and is also under pressure to tone down the glitz as the Communist Party tries to discourage lavish displays of ostentation.
This year's show will be choreographed by film director Feng Xiaogang in a bid to make it slightly hipper.
This year, there are rumors online that for the first time in nearly a quarter of a century, the singer Song Zuying, the reigning queen of state-sponsored folk music, leader of the People's Liberation Army's Art Troup and known variously as Nightingale and Mommy, will not be appearing. Last year she duetted with Celine Dion at the show.
Less glitz is the trend.
"Excessive use of stage lighting, sound effects and decorations will be banned, fewer celebrities will be hired and more grassroots people will come to the stage," the China Youth Daily newspaper quoted a CCTV spokesperson as saying.