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Stones Set to Invade China

Censorship, bootlegging still an issue

More than thirty-five years after the Rolling Stones tweaked the
lyrics of “Let’s Spend the Night Together” for the Ed Sullivan
Show
, the band will take the stage for a pair of shows in
China, April 1st in Shanghai and April 4th in Beijing, and
censorship of sexually tinged material is again at issue.

In March, a promoter for the event said that the band was forced
to cut four songs — “Brown Sugar,” “Honky Tonk Women,” “Beast of
Burden” and “Let’s Spend the Night Together” — from a potential
set list, by order of the Chinese Ministry of Culture. However, the
Stones claim that no such demands were made. “Two of the songs
erroneously reported to have been banned were not even on the list
of songs submitted for possible inclusion in the band’s
performance,” a spokesperson for the band said.

The concerts follow the release of 40 Licks in China,
the first legitimate Stones release in the country’s history. Which
isn’t to say that albums by the Rolling Stones can’t be found in
China. While most Western albums wouldn’t pass muster with the
Culture Ministry, the country’s bootleg industry deals with volume
in the millions. Because so many albums are pressed in Asia,
export-quality albums find their way to the black market through
deliberate factory overruns. And a thriving replication industry
has helped lead to a bootleg industry in China estimated at more
than ninety percent of the country’s album sales, the largest
piracy figure in the world, according to the International
Recording Media Association, a global watchdog organization akin to
the Recording Industry Association of America.

Some artists like Eminem (whose albums likely will never have a
legitimate distribution channel in Asia) and Radiohead (banned
after appearing at the 1998 Tibetan Freedom Concert) are a
non-presence outside the bootleg market. But the inroads attempted
with authorized releases — like EMI’s 40 Licks and the
1999 release of Yellow Submarine, the first Beatles album
authorized in China — have been undermined by an illegal industry
that offers albums for the equivalent of fifty cents.

“Anything over here, you hear over there,” says David O’Dell, an
Austin, Texas, native, who worked as an A&R rep for Rock
Records and Magic Stone, two upstarts in China. “But it’s not
played on the radio, because that’s illegal. So the demand for CDs
is enormous.”

O’Dell says that the profitability of bootlegs makes legitimate
releases a losing proposition for those trying to legitimately
export music. “It’s easy for the record store to buy the pirated
ones for pennies with a profit margin that’s huge,” he says. “The
legal pressings are an extremely low quantity, and you’d have to
pay U.S. prices. Nobody can afford that. For pirates, it’s too
cheap; we get everything made in China. It’s just our way of life,
and it’s biting back. But I don’t think Mick Jagger is
hurting.”

Keith Richards, for his part, doesn’t seem to be either. “It’s
about time they let us in,” he told the press at the time the shows
were announced. The two concerts — set for April 1st in Shanghai
and April 4th in Beijing — are the band’s first performances in
China; a request to play a concert in 1970 was rejected.

And as for the bootleggers, the game has grown a bit
more complicated. IRMA’s latest figures are from 2001. Stats from
2002 will likely be processed later this year and will reveal
whether or not China has been able to make any headway in curbing
the bootlegging. In the late Nineties the government shut down more
than thirty factories guilty of illegally copying CDs. But a
crackdown on the bootleggers has just moved the production centers
to neighboring areas like Hong Kong, which continues to feed an
audience craving the Western sounds its government predominantly
prohibits.

In This Article: The Rolling Stones

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