The first concerts in China by American rock star Jon Bon Jovi have been unexpectedly cancelled this week by a decision of the Ministry of Culture. While an official reason has not been given, and only “unforseen circumstances” have been mentioned to the press by the rock star’s management, on Chinese social media questions were raised about this decision having to do with the infamous censorship rules implemented by Beijing all over the country. In particular, images have been circulating of a picture of the Dalai Lama in the backdrop of a Jon Bon Jovi concert in Tokyo in 2010, as well as a video for the 2009 hit ‘We Weren’t Born to Follow’ featuring the iconic ‘Tank Man’ photograph of Tiananmen Square, as possible reasons.

Last month a planned concert by the US pop group Maroon 5 in China was cancelled, prompting speculation that the authorities refused permission because a band member met the Dalai Lama. The band later removed a Tweet by Jesse Carmichael, who plays both keyboard and rhythm guitar, about meeting the Dalai Lama at events for the leader’s 80th birthday.

The Chinese authorities have been particularly concerned about rock gigs by Western artists since Bjork chanted ‘Tibet’ during her song Declare Independence at a concert in China in 2008.

Freedom of expression is tightly controlled and limited in China and in Tibet. ICT has documented the increasing dangers for young Tibetan singers in a political climate in which almost any expression of Tibetan identity or culture can be termed ‘criminal.’

For instance, Lo Lo, a Tibetan singer, is currently seriously ill in prison after he was sentenced to six years for singing songs including ‘Raise the Tibetan flag, children of the Snowland’. The ICT report, ‘The teeth of the storm‘ documents the dangers for free expression of Tibetans and resilience of a new generation.

Matteo Mecacci, President of the International Campaign for Tibet, said: “The recent decisions of the Chinese authorities to cancel concerts of foreign artists, should serve as a wake up call to all those who think that China is just a normal country where you can do business as usual. Unfortunately, in today’s China, political propaganda, censorship or “unforeseen circumstances” can at any time over-ride not only freedom of expression, but also commercial and corporate interests, as well as the enjoyment of so many Chinese people. And when concerts of rock stars with the profile of Bon Jovi are canceled, it is sobering to think how much harsher is the treatment for Tibetan pop stars when they sing songs about the Dalai Lama or conduct a remarkable cultural resurgence and continue to oppose assimilation.”