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Elton John breaks Chinese censorship to honor Ai Weiwei at Beijing gig

Veteran performer dedicates show to dissident artist after meeting him in Beijing
Photograph of Sir Elton John and Ai Weiwei from Ai's Weibo account

Chinese concert goers might find they have less opportunities to see Western performers after Sir Elton John dedicated his Beijing stadium show to dissent artist Ai Weiwei, a persistent thorn in the side of the Chinese communist government.

Western musicians have to submit set list and song lyrics to the government, and promise not to make controversial statements, before given permission to perform in the one-party state.

After a 2008 Bjork concert in Shanghai, in which she chanted 'Tibet, Tibet', many Western acts were refused permits to play in China.

John told the audience of 12,000 people at the Mastercard Arena in Beijing on Sunday that he was dedicating his show to ‘the spirit and talent of Ai Weiwei’. The BBC reports that ‘a murmur of shock rippled through the crowd’.

Ai, who met John briefly before the show, told AFP the dedication was ‘a big surprise’ and that the Ministry of Culture ‘are probably not too happy about this, but there is not much that they can do about it’.

Ai added that John is ‘a very popular singer who has a lot of influence’. He reported on Twitter that photographs of him and John had been removed from Sina Weibo (China’s Twitter).

Chinese media reports of the concert mentioned the appreciative crowds and set list of hits like Rocket Man, Candle in the Wind and Circle of Life, but did not mention John’s mention of Ai.

Ai, who designed the Beijing Olympics’ Bird Nest Stadium with architects, started to criticize the Chinese government around that time for forced evictions in the run up to the 2008 Olympics. He was also highly critical of the local government in Sichuan after 1,000s of children died in the earthquake there in 2008, allegedly due to poorly constructed school buildings.

John is scheduled to return to China on 6 December to play a concert in Guangzhou.  

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