International: Rolling Stones Censored By Red Chinese
The Rolling Stones have played their first live concert in mainland China and at the same time experienced first-hand the stark reality of Communist censorship. The story is told in this AP article, but it’s not the whole story.
No, I’m afraid this goes deeper than just a few “classic rock” titles banned by a xenophobic socialist oligarchy. The Chinese Government seems to have taken extraordinary measures to suppress any hint of the raw sexuality and proto-punk revolutionary sensibility that made the band so popular with young Western audiences in the Sixties and early Seventies.
Super-titles projected across the stage by the government during the performance purportedly translated classic Stones song titles and lyrics into Chinese for the benefit of the audience. But in fact these “translations” were little more than crude and overt distortions of the originals, obviously designed to suppress suggestive content and promote official government propaganda.
In many cases the altered lyrics differed so drastically from the originals that authors Mick Jagger and Keith Richard would not have recognized their own work. For example, Communist government censors translated the timeless Stones anthem “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” as “(We Are One Hundred Per Cent Satisfied With) The Pragmatic And Moderate Free Market Reform Incentives of The Courageous Heirs of Chairman Mao.” Another notorious Stones hit “Brown Sugar” (originally a song about a slaver’s desire for black women) was re-entitled “Red Sorghum” by government censors and turned into a celebration of the virtues of increased agricultural output. (“Red Sorghum/How come you taste so good?/Red Sorghum/How can we meet or exceed our production quota of you?”)
Other Stones favorites met a similar fate at the hands of Chinese censors. As unsuspecting lead singer Mick Jagger capered and preened across the stage to “Honky Tonk Women,” the Chinese titles projected above him translated the song’s title as “Women of Questionable Morality No Longer Prowl The Docks And Bars Of Shanghai (Since The People’s Revolution Drove Their Vicious Western Exploiters From Our Shores.”) When the band slowed things down a bit and went into a more soulful number, that song’s title was altered to read “You Can’t Always Get What You Want (But Bright Are The Prospects of Mechanized Farming.")
Until their Chinese concert the Stones’ most notorious experience with censorship involved Sixties television variety host Ed Sullivan. Sullivan insisted that the band would not be allowed to perform on his show as scheduled unless they changed the title and lyrics to their hit “Let’s Spend The Night Together.” The band finally agreed and performed the song as “Let’s Spend Some Time Together.” (The same song was also performed at the Chinese concert as “Let’s Spend Some Time Together Reviling the Gang of Four and The Pseudo-Maoist Excesses of the Cultural Revolution.”)
Foreign reporters were also puzzled by a Chinese “mystery” phrase that hundreds of native audience members kept shouting at the stage at regular intervals during the Stones performance. After the show the official interpreter translated the phrase as: “Calm your ass down, old man, you want to have a heart attack?”