Chinese officials pull plug on Zen music concert by Japanese monk

Authorities in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou have pulled the plug on a concert by a Japanese Buddhist monk amid a widening political crackdown on cultural and artistic performances.

A planned concert by Zen musician Kanho Yakushiji at the city"s MAOLivehouse venue on Thursday was canceled by the organizers, who said the decision had been taken due to "force majeure," a term that typically refers to forces beyond someone"s control.

"After receiving notification from higher up, we regret to inform you that the Guangzhou leg of Kanho Yakushiji"s Fu Yuan Asia Tour 2023 that was scheduled for May 17 has been canceled," promoters Mugen Creations said in a post on the venue"s Weibo account.

The artist, who chants sutras to evocative guitar chords, also tweeted his apologies to Guangzhou fans, saying: "I"m sorry, I wanted to sing today," but the tweet had been removed by May 18.

In its place was a selfie of Yakushiji boarding a plane along with the words: "Heading to Hangzhou now. I am praying that there won"t be any issues today."

— 薬師寺寛邦 キッサコ/ Kanho Yakushiji - Japanese Zen Music (@yakushiji) May 18, 2023
The cancelation comes after Beijing police announced a criminal investigation into stand-up comedian Li Haoshi, known as "House," after he likened People"s Liberation Army soldiers to feral dogs in pursuit of a squirrel, while Xiaoguo Culture, the promoters of Li"s show, were fined tens of millions of yuan.

‘Chain reaction’

Soon afterwards, the organizers of a stand-up show by comedian Wang Defa said they had canceled his booking in the eastern province of Shandong, while a planned concert by the Taiwan group The Chairs was canceled in the eastern city of Hangzhou.

Social media users commenting under the Mugen Creations announcement on Weibo appeared to believe the move was part of a wider crackdown.

"I guess it"s part of a chain reaction after Xiaoguo," @Triple_concentrate_without_sugar commented from Guangdong, in a reference to the "self-reflection" promised by an apologetic Li and by Xiaoguo. "They are all self-examining."

"Foreigners in Beijing and Shantou have also canceled [shows]," Weibo user @Ms._Diaochan added.

"Can you tell us why? Is there anyone among the higher-ups who isn"t fossilized?" @UndecidedBz commented, while @-yuzu-flavored- added: "There must have been a notification with a red letterhead," in a reference to top priority documents from the central government in Beijing.

"Getting notification from higher up can hardly be said to be force majeure," @Don"t_be_a_pig added.

Disappointed fans

Photos posted to social media showed young people already at the venue, looking at the cancellation message on their phones.

"I was already at the doors, laughing, in high spirits over a rare opportunity to relax and get into a good mood," one disappointed fan complained on social media.

One disappointed concert-goer, Sun Qian, said she hadn"t expected it to be canceled.

"I think the cancellation could have something to do with Xiaoguo Culture," Sun told Radio Free Asia. "But a lot of performances have been canceled, including performances by foreigners in a lot of places."

"What did they think he was going to sing? Especially given that Kanho Yakushiji is a monk," she said.

According to music blogger "Music Festival Distribution Center," the first few stops of Yakushiji"s tour in Chongqing, Chengdu and Changsha had gone ahead without a hitch, while the artist himself posted a thank-you message to fans in the southern city of Shenzhen following a successful gig on May 16.

Current affairs commentator Bi Xin said the cancelations weren"t a matter of choice for the artists, venues or promoters, but were imposed on them by cultural affairs officials in the Chinese government.

"These are compulsory cultural measures, and have included a Taiwanese group that wasn"t allowed to perform," Bi said. "In this political environment, the cultural ideologies they"re all so worried about are giving rise to a new wave of cultural coercion."

The Chairs had been scheduled to play in a Hangzhou department store on Saturday, while Wang Defa had been scheduled to perform at the Linyi Xiaosheng Comedy Club on May 26.

And a performance by stand-up comic Shanliren on Sunday at 88 Wangfujing in Beijing was also canceled.

Translated by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Malcolm Foster.


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