Tina Wang, 11.24.08, 11:46 AM EST
The rock band's long-delayed album 'Chinese Democracy' targets the party, and Beijing is finding the harsh light bad for its complexion.
Forbes: For China's ruling circles, the title of heavy metal group Guns N' Roses' new album triggers some memories they would rather forget. After keeping fans waiting for 17 long years, Guns N' Roses released Chinese Democracy for sale this weekend with lyrics and a Web site sure to trigger action by Chinese censors. About two decades ago, Beijing experienced the same commingling of rock music and pro-democracy advocacy, right on its doorstep, in the protests at Tiananmen Square.
Beyond the album title, Guns N' Roses, known as "Qiang Hua" in China, did not shy away from pressing Beijing's most sensitive buttons. One line in the title track has Axl Rose singing, "Blame it on the Falun Gong. They've seen the end and you can't hold on now," as if addressing Communist Party leaders. Falun Gong gained international recognition after Beijing banned the movement, saying that its adherents disturbed social stability. The album art features Beijing artist Shi Lifeng's Red Star painting, which portrays a bloodied fist holding up a star covered by flailing figures. Guns N' Roses' label, Geffen Records, told the Chinese press that it did not expect to obtain approval to distribute the album in mainland China. Access within China to the album's Web site has also reportedly been intermittent or blocked.
For the Communist Party, the music can indeed be a sore point. A movement to spread rock music, known as yaogun yinyue, flowered in China in the late 1980s, paralleling escalating calls for economic and political reform from students, labor advocates and intellectuals. Chinese rocker Cui Jian took the band scene by storm around 1987 with his hit song "Yi Wu Suo You," or "I have nothing / Nothing to my name," which was seen as capturing a generation's discontent and sense of dispossession. The protesters, particularly college students, that filled Tiananmen Square in a series of sit-ins between April 15 and June 4, 1989, blasted Cui's music, as well as that of foreign rock bands popular at the time, from speakers. The government ended up banning most of Cui's concerts, and he wore a red bandana during performances in protest against the government's violent Tiananmen crackdown.
Chinese authorities seem to have their hands full dealing with unwanted attention from global pop music performers this year. Bjork's performance of the song "Declare Independence," followed by her "Tibet!" shout in Shanghai in March--during the sensitive period leading up to the summer Beijing Olympic Games--prompted a tightening of regulations, including preapproval of all songs to be performed.