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Pop star's return sign of freer China

The Straits Times, 10 September 2000

Concert by Luo Dayou, once banned, and the thousands of fans who packed Shanghai Stadium to watch him show how much China has changed

SHANGHAI -- In what could be called a new Chinese revolution, tens of thousands packed Shanghai Stadium on Friday night to sing, sway and scream for a man who is back in China after having been banned by the authorities for years.

The appearance of Luo Dayou, regarded by some as Taiwan's Bob Dylan, and the fact that thousands came from cities throughout the country to watch him perform, is a sign of how much China has -- and has not -- changed in the 20 years since the lucky few who could venture overseas started smuggling in his tunes.

The 45-year-old Luo was banned from performing in China after the 1989 crackdown on student protesters around Tiananmen Square, when he wrote The Dwarf's Song -- a reference to the diminutive Chinese leader then, Mr Deng Xiaoping.

But his current tour also betrays a continuity of sorts.

He only made it to China, sources said, because Mr Deng's family members, who are influential in China, stepped in and helped.

Originally, Luo was scheduled to sing in five cities. But Beijing banned him from performing in the capital because of concerns about Tiananmen Square.

Besides Shanghai, he will only be allowed to sing in Hangzhou, south-west of Shanghai. A concert in Guangzhou was stopped.

Beijing hasn't forgotten, but Beijing just doesn't matter that much anymore, said 34-year-old lawyer Lu Weiwei from Guangzhou, who came to the concert with her husband.

The Taiwan-born Luo was on the first wave of the invasion of China by Taiwanese and Hongkong artistes. The enduring popularity he enjoys here is an indication of how deeply the Taiwanese and Hongkong cultures have influenced China.

To some, Luo's show was a sign that China has got much freer.

We're nostalgic, said 33-year-old Wang Jian, on a morning flight with several college classmates. This guy was with me for the key moments of my youth. --Washington Post