“The Real Dylan in China”

I have to add to what I just wrote about Bob Dylan in China under the headline, “Did Dylan sell out in China?” and draw your attention to Sean Wilentz’ post today on the New Yorker blog.

Wilentz, a professor at Princeton University, is, you may know, the author of the superb book, “Bob Dylan in America,” so he knows what he’s talking about when he writes:

“I’d argue Dylan made a fool of the Chinese authorities, while getting paid in the bargain. He certainly made a fool of Maureen Dowd– or she made a fool of herself.”

And Wilentz continues:

“But Dylan learned long ago that he is not a particularly good conventional political spokesman. His gifts lie elsewhere, in composing and singing songs of love and loss and the rest of human experience, above and beyond politics, although politics is always there as well. His art has changed the world mightily, and not just in righting political wrongs.”

So true!

Did Dylan sell out in China?

New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd wrote yesterday that Bob Dylan had sold out in China when he was there recently for the first time, by not singing some of his most famous protest songs from the 60s like “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “The Times They Are a-Changin’,” because he did not want to offend the Chinese authorities.

Under the headline “Blowin’ In The Idiot Wind,” Dowd wrote that Dylan should have done that, especially now, during the current wave of violations against human rights in China.

Dowd’s article has, as expected, caused much debate among both Dylan fans both here in America, and among Western journalists and Chinese living and working in China, according to the China expert at The Atlantic, James Fallows. On his blog, Fallows writes about how both his Chinese and Western friends are upset and angry with Dowd.

One of them asks, do you really think that the Chinese were pleased that Dylan sang “My Way of Thinking” with this verse?

“So much oppression

Can’t keep track of it no more”

Those who have critiziced Dowd’s column have a point, writes Fallows. At a minimum, he writes, it is not clear cut that Dylan sold out to be able to come and sing in China.