Posts Tagged ‘china philharmonic orchestra’

China singing a new tune?

Monday, December 1st, 2008

by Ken Smith

Making the rounds among China music-watchers the past couple of weeks has been a report that, following the fuss over lip-synching at the Beijing Olympics, the Ministry of Culture may be clamping down on professional performers “faking it.” First reported in the Guardian, then picked up in numerous news sites and chatrooms, the Ministry will start pulling performing licenses of any professional singer or musician caught miming more than once in a two-year period.

Does anyone really believe this will happen? The article cites the Shanghai Noon News’s claim that less than 20 percent of performers in China actually sing their shows live. There’s a reason for this. China’s regulations may be cruel, silly and short-sighted, but they are rarely arbitrary. Pop music is often mimed for the same reason that television never goes live. The last thing the government really wants, or will even tolerate, is spontaneity. For anyone who gives this report a shred of credibility, I have only one word: Bjork.


Thanksgiving Day saw a performance of the Verdi Requiem by the China Philharmonic Orchestra at Beijing’s Forbidden City Concert Hall commemorating the Karajan Centenary. Ordinarily, that would hardly be worth more than a news brief, except that this particular performance was one that, according to a Telegraph article (carried by, was under threat due to a supposed “ban on Western religious music.”

The original article, which immediately fueled conspiracy theories both in Europe and China, is a masterpiece of bad reporting – a loosely strung series of half-facts with no apparent context. Particularly irritating is the fact that the Chinese sources are anonymous and untraceable. Each point, too, is clearly refutable to anyone with a passing knowledge of the Beijing Music Festival, one of the supposed victims of the ban. Admittedly, last Thursday’s Requiem was originally supposed to be part of the Festival, but this was more a matter of the China Phil not having its act together than a censorship decree. (Nor was Handel’s Messiah “banned” from the public – it was intended from the beginning to play at Beijing’s Wangfujing Church, which with its limited seating capacity of 400 never sells tickets to the public anyway.)

Even the very timing of the story was suspicious, coming out as it did on China’s October 1 national holiday and opening night of the Beijing Festival, ensuring that no one would be able to refute the article for several days. It makes me wonder what disgruntled musician or manager placed that story, and why.

A few weeks ago in Shanghai, a Chinese reporter asked me in hushed tones if I thought there was any truth to China’s alleged sacred music ban. “You tell me,” I said. “Better yet, tell me if any reputable source anywhere in the world follows this up with even a hint of substance.” So far, I have yet to hear a word.