Beijing’s ‘Bjork Policy’ Takes Aim at Musicians

July 25, 2008 Updated: October 1, 2015

Bjork's call for Tibetan freedom at a Shanghai concert in March unnerved communist officials. (Hannah Johnston/ Getty Images)
Bjork's call for Tibetan freedom at a Shanghai concert in March unnerved communist officials. (Hannah Johnston/ Getty Images)
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is tightening its grip on artistic freedoms by banning all music performers who could possibly “threaten national sovereignty” according to a post on the CCP’s Ministry of Culture’s Web site.

The move appears to be in response to a Shanghai performance last March by the eclectic pop star Bjork, where she gained crowd participation in her repeated chanting of “Tibet!” after singing her song Declare Independence. 

The Icelandic singer/songwriter is known for her distinctive vocal style and unique stage presence. Though sometimes an unconventional fashionista (she attended the Oscars in a gown that looked like a swan), she has never been described as “threatening.”

Not only is Bjork banned from performing in China, but any musician who has been involved in any activity that could “violate religious policy or cultural norms” is also banned according to the Ministry of Culture statement.

In June 1996, Bjork joined music groups Radiohead, Smashing Pumpkins, Cibo Matto, Rage Against the Machine, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, and De La Soul in the Free Tibet concert held in San Francisco, Calif. The show was organized by the Beastie Boys who also gave a performance. In subsequent years, similar, yet smaller concerts were organized in New York, Washington D. C., and Tokyo.

Many other celebrities have also voiced support for Tibet, such as Richard Gere, Sharon Stone, Russell Brand, and Paris Hilton—though they will not be doing so in China.

The Bjork Policy appears to prevent copycat instances of Bruce Springsteen’s famous performance in East Germany in 1988 before the fall of the Berlin Wall.  In front of 160,000 concert-goers, Springsteen introduced his rendition of Bob Dylan’s Chimes of Freedom by declaring, “I’m not here for or against any government … I came to play rock n’ roll for you East Berliners in the hope that one day all of the barriers will be torn down.”

No one could have predicted the events about to unfold at the time, but the wall did indeed fall soon after the concert, and the symbol of the Cold War was finally gone.

Musicians and celebrities appear to hold an unofficial position of power in modern society, and many people are influenced by the political views of their favorite artists. The power of music can bring the truth to people in a direct way, through a universal language. With its Bjork Policy, the CCP is clearly trying to suppress every possible avenue that could bring the truth to China’s people.