A top Chinese daily on Wednesday condemned pop star Elton John for dedicating his Beijing show to dissident artist Ai Weiwei, saying it was disrespectful and could lead to bans on other Western performers.
The Sunday night dedication was reminiscent of Icelandic singer Bjork chanting “Tibet, Tibet” at a 2008 concert in Shanghai, which resulted in China’s cultural minders refusing performance permits for some Western acts.
“John’s unexpected action was disrespectful to the audience and the contract that he signed with the Chinese side,” the Global Times said in an editorial.
“He forcibly added political content to the concert, which should have been nothing more than an entertaining performance.”
Ai, 55, is a world-renowned conceptual artist and outspoken critic of China’s communist government.
He disappeared into police custody for 81 days last year, drawing worldwide headlines and casting a spotlight on the government’s growing concern over social unrest, especially as “Arab spring” street protests rocked the Middle East.
After being released he was convicted of tax evasion, fined US$2.4 million by the Beijing tax bureau and barred from leaving the country for one year.
“John’s action will also make the relevant agencies further hesitate in the future when they invite foreign artists,” said the Global Times, a paper run by the ruling Communist Party’s People’s Daily.
“John himself is a senior entertainment figure, but has raised difficulties for future arts exchanges between China and other countries.”
The iconic Grammy Award-winning artist is scheduled to return to China next week to play at a concert in the southern city of Guangzhou, following shows in South Korea, Malaysia and Hong Kong. John performs in Hong Kong on December 4.
Tickets for the performance remained on sale on Wednesday and the promoter said cultural authorities had not informed them of any cancellation.
But the Global Times suggested “that Chinese audiences need not hesitate to protest the provocateur and boo him off the stage”.
Ai said he welcomed the editorial because it was a rare instance of state-run media mentioning his name and reporting on controversial issues that are routinely censored.
“I’m quite happy they did this, at least they are starting to talk about the things that a lot of people think about,” Ai said.
“They [the paper] realise that they need to have their own voice and that they can’t remain silent all the time” on controversial issues censored by the authorities.