Ageing rock band Bon Jovi has had the plug pulled on its first concerts in China after officials learnt that a picture of the Dalai Lama had featured in a video backdrop in a concert five years ago.
The abrupt cancellation of two concerts next week in Shanghai and Beijing — with tickets ranging from Rmb480 to Rmb3,880 ($75 to $600) — makes the enduring American rockers the latest musicians to fall foul of Chinese sensitivities.
The illustrious list includes Icelandic singer Björk and Maroon 5, which had its Shanghai concert cancelled earlier this year. That followed a band member’s tweet about meeting the Tibetan spiritual leader. Twitter is also banned in China.
The Communist party’s Culture Ministry acted after discovering that Bon Jovi once included a picture of the Dalai Lama in a video backdrop during a concert in Taiwan in 2010, according to people familiar with the matter.
China’s leaders revile the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader as a “splittist” and a “wolf in monk’s robes”, and accuse him of advocating Tibetan independence from his base in neighbouring India.
The Chinese government regularly bans artists, academics and political leaders from going to China if they are seen as supportive of the Dalai Lama or the Tibetan independence movement.
Sino-British relations were put into the diplomatic deep freeze for more than a year after British Prime Minister David Cameron met the Dalai Lama in 2012.
On Tuesday concert organisers were desperately trying to convince officials to relent on the Bon Jovi concerts but the chances of Beijing overturning the cancellation order are slim, according to people familiar with the matter.
A representative from AEG, the promoter of the Bon Jovi concerts in China, said it was unable to comment on the cancellation order as it was waiting for more information.
In an interview with Chinese state media before the Culture Ministry cancellation order, frontman Jon Bon Jovi described the band’s music as being about “individual freedom and expression”. The band’s upcoming album is called Burning Bridges.