Discussing anything to do with Tibetan calls for greater autonomy is one of the great taboos in China but Björk lived up to her billing in the Chinese financial capital – local media had called her the “Queen of the Wildly Unpredictable” and flagged the show as “Björk’s Shanghai Surprise”.
Her comments, low key as they were, illustrate the kind of problems the Chinese government is going to have keeping a lid on athletes and other visitors making political statements during August’s Olympic Games in Beijing. Björk, who performed in the ceremonies at the Athens Games, has used the song “Declare Independence” to highlight political issues during her current tour, including backing Kosovo’s independence.
Many of the 3,000 fans gathered for the show in the Shanghai International Gymnastic Centre reportedly missed the reference, and state media did not report the incident, but news of Björk’s message did prompt a number of outraged responses on bulletin boards and blogs.
“If she really did this, then this woman really makes people throw up,” ran one comment on Sina.com, while the Danwei website quoted another person saying : “Those who put on the show should be severely fined and not allowed to bring this kind of trash in for performances.”
Björk is the latest of a host of singers to play in China. Until a couple of years ago only the safest pop was allowed. Lately, more risqué acts have come to China but bands like The Rolling Stones have stuck closely to the agreed text to avoid offending their hosts.
Björk has always insisted she is an amateur when it comes to politics, but she once said : “Maybe I can be a spokesperson for people who aren’t normally interested in politics.”
Tibet is rarely discussed in China. The People’s Liberation Army occupied Tibet, which has a distinctive Buddhist culture, in 1950 and Beijing has kept a tight grip on it ever since, though it claims the region enjoys significant autonomy.
Björk’s protest comes as several Tibetan independence groups are running campaigns to promote their cause ahead of the Olympics.