Stones still rebellious in China bow

Shanghai date puts local rocker Cui Jian center stage

SHANGHAI — The Rolling Stones, who Saturday performed for the first time in China, did their bit to promote a local rebel.

“We’re delighted to have Cui Jian joining us,” Stones frontman Sir Mick Jagger said.

Cui, often hailed as the Bob Dylan of Chinese rock ‘n ‘roll, was set to open for the Stones during their 2003 Beijing and Shanghai dates. That event was cancelled due to the SARS epidemic.

His widely known songs such as “Nothing To My Name” (aka “Yi Wu Suo You”) often invoke the cultural flowering of the 1980s now known as the Beijing Spring, which ended abruptly in Tian’anmen Square when demonstrating students clashed with the army and thousands were killed.

As someone perceived as sympathizing with the students Cui was banned from public performance for over ten years. In the late 1990s, he mainly performed at embassies, considered foreign soil where the Chinese government has no jurisdiction.

But times have changed. Today Cui plays stadium shows and produces new work seemingly without political interference.

“Every country has censorship. This is China, and so we’re talking about Chinese censorship,” said Jagger. “We were asked very politely by the Ministry of Culture to consider refraining from performing (four) songs… This time it’s five songs.” He later joked, “I’m glad the Ministry of Culture is doing its job to protect the morals of expat bankers and their girlfriends at the show.”

The significance of Cui’s appearance on stage during a touching version of “Wild Horses” was not lost on the local Chinese audience in the expatriate-dominated crowd at the 8,000 seater Shanghai Grand Theater. At times, Cui seemed overcome with emotion. Jagger and Keith Richards had to help him with the chords and lyrics.

According to event promoters, the concert will be broadcast for free on China Central Television later in the year, to a domestic Chinese audience expected to be numbered in the tens of millions.