Thursday, November 27, 2008
GN'R Banned in China
In an article Monday headlined "American band releases album venomously attacking China," the Global Times said unidentified Chinese Internet users had described the album as part of a plot by the West to "grasp and control the world using democracy as a pawn."
The album "turns its spear point on China," the article said.
Reports suggested that the China National Publications Import and Export Group, the state-owned monopoly responsible for importing all music, has told record shops not to bother trying to order the long-awaited album, which took the band 17 years to produce.
In addition, the album's official website, chinesedemocracy.com, has been blocked automatically by internet censors, while Baidu, the Chinese version of Google, is self-censoring any searches for the album.
Chinesedemocracy.com has responded with a poll asking visitors if they thought the Chinese should be allowed to access it and about 70 per cent of respondents said yes.
So far, the only way Chinese fans of the rock group have been able to listen to the album is on the band's Myspace page.
GN'R developed a major following in China in the late 1980s, when the young Mr. Rose was recording early hit songs like "Welcome to the Jungle." China was in the throes of its own rebellious era, and heavy metal was its protest music. GN'R's popularity soared in the wake of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators. Learning the band's 1991 ballad "Don't Cry" was a rite of passage for a generation of Chinese guitarists.
"It was not only the music, the band's clothes also pushed the craze," says 30-year-old Chen Lei , one of Beijing's best-regarded rock guitarists, who cites GN'R as a primary influence.
GN'R nostalgia remains strong. A program on state-run China Central Television last year ranked "Qiang Hua" (literally, "Guns Flowers"), as the group is known in Chinese, at No. 8 on a list of top rock bands of all time.
Some fans in China relish how the album discomfits the establishment. "Rock 'n' roll, as a weapon, is an invisible bomb," says one.
The album reportedly cost over £9 million to make and may have helped speed the demise of Axl Rose's record company, Sanctuary, and its subsequent buyout by Universal Music Group. Its 14 tracks, which spread across 77 minutes, have been described by the New York Times as "the work of a fading rock star with far too much money and time on his hands, and no one around who could tell him: 'No'."
Axl Rose, the 46-year-old lead singer of Guns N' Roses, is the only original member of the band left. Chinese Democracy has been gestating since 1991, meaning that Rose recorded an average of 4.5 minutes of music a year.
Mr. Rose in recent years has visited Chinese cities including Beijing, Shanghai and Xian, and he worries he won't be let back in, says his assistant, Beta Lebeis. "Everything is so controlled," she says.
One casualty: GN'R promoters in China dropped plans for two shows this year, says Ms. Lebeis.
The new album's title track, already released as a single, begins with eerie, high-pitched noises that sound vaguely like chattering in Chinese. In the song's three verses, Mr. Rose sings of "missionaries," "visionaries" and "sitting in a Chinese stew."
The overall message is unclear, but his most provocative lines aren't. "Blame it on the Falun Gong. They've seen the end and you can't hold on now," Mr. Rose sings. It is a reference to the spiritual movement that Beijing has outlawed as an "illegal cult" and vowed to crush.
Some Chinese artists, loath to be branded as democracy campaigners, declined valuable offers to help illustrate the album. "I listened to their music when I was little," says Beijing visual artist Chen Zhuo . He was "very glad" when GN'R asked to buy rights to use his picture of Tiananmen Square rendered as an amusement park -- with Mao Zedong's head near a roller coaster. Then, Mr. Chen looked at lyrics of the album's title song and, after consulting with his lawyer and partner, declined the band's $18,000 offer. "We have to take political risks into account as artists in China," says the 30-year-old.
However, the Ministry of Culture said it did not know whether the album was banned or not. "This is the first time we've heard about it," said a spokesman, adding that the ban "might just be a rumour".
The Ministry of Culture forbids imports of music that violate any of 10 criteria, including music that publicizes "evil sects" or damages social morality. In reality, many songs make it into China anyway, pirated and via the Internet.
Yet, for some fans in this nation of 2.6 billion ears, the new album's title is an irritation. Democracy is a touchy subject in this country. Elections are limited to votes for selected village-level officials, and senior leaders are all chosen in secret within the Communist Party. Many Chinese wish for greater say in their government. But others -- including some rockers -- think too much democracy too quickly could lead to chaos, and they resent foreign efforts to push the issue.
Guitarist Chen Lei says the Chinese Democracy album title suggests "they don't understand China well" and are "just trying to stir up publicity."
On Chinese blog sites, a common platform for teenagers to vent their anger, few people were upset by the album's lyrics. "How can they know about China if they have never been. This explains why Americans are always clowns," said one anonymous blogger.
However, another blogger commented: "Helpless Chinese under the iron fist is a good song. Where can I buy the album? I'll get angry if I can't buy the album."
It's unclear how much exposure the new record will get. "I have to say, Chinese Democracy sounds sensitive," says a Beijing radio station's programming chief who doubts it will get much air play.
The title alone makes it "impossible" to imagine the album will be released in China, says Nicreve Lee , a student in northeastern China who runs a Web site called GN'R Online (www.gnronline.cn). He says his first reaction listening to the title track was, "This is an anti-China song." But, he says, "I gradually began to understand what the song wants to say. Perhaps Axl Rose doesn't know China well, but at least he is on the right track."
posted 10:32 PM