Information Warfare: Censors Caught Blowing In The Wind


May 16, 2011: Earlier this year, as American folk singer Bob Dylan prepared to make his first visit to China, he was asked by the Chinese government to send them a list of songs that were to be used. That was done and Dylan did not hear back from the Chinese. Dylan then went to China, performed, and sang the same songs he always does. Not missing were the protest songs of the 1960s that made Dylan a legend in the first place. The biggest problem the largely-Chinese audience had was the fact that Dylan's voice today is quite different from what most Chinese have heard (mostly tracks recorded in the 60s and 70s). But some of these recordings have been used as background music in ads, movies and Chinese TV, and those got more of a reaction from the audience. All this got no reaction from the Chinese secret police.

But in the weeks before this performance, the Western media assumed that the Chinese government had censored Dylan's playlist. After noting what was performed, this seemed unlikely. Finally, someone got through to Dylan himself and asked about the playlist sent to the Chinese authorities. There was nothing to report. The playlist was sent, nothing was heard back about it and the show went on.

What the foreigners missed here was that the Chinese censorship bureaucracy is vast, unpredictable and often doesn't work. The Chinese censors can move quickly and decisively, but most of the time they act like government bureaucrats, if they act at all.


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