A singer who pulled down his pants during a performance at a rock festival in northern China has been detained by authorities, the latest incident highlighting the fine line artists must tread in a country where the space for free expression is highly limited.
In a statement Monday, the local culture bureau of Shijiazhuang city said the singer – identified by the surname Ding – was detained by police for “damaging social morality.” Meanwhile, a show organizer was fined $28,000 and suspended from hosting concerts, it added.
Videos on Chinese social media show the frontman of the band Violent Champagne drop his shorts during a gig at the Rock Home Town festival in the city on Saturday.
“Drop the briefs!” audience members can be heard chanting in the videos. But the footage shows the singer keeping his underwear on.
The recent return of live performances after years of pandemic lockdowns has been welcomed by music lovers in China.
But as the events in Shijiazhuang have showed, authorities keep a close watch and react to anything perceived to cross unacceptable political or moral lines.
Shijiazhuang, the capital of the Hebei province surrounding Beijing, has been known for its indie music scene, something city officials have been keen to capitalize on.
Earlier this month the city announced it would host the Rock Home Town festival until October to help attract tourists and boost consumption amid China’s sluggish post-Covid economic recovery.
But many commentators online questioned how dedicated officials really were to the ethos of rocking out in the wake of the singer’s detention.
“Shijiazhuang wants to be the City of Rock, but do you have that gene?” said a comment on China’s Twitter-like Weibo following the singer’s detention.
“Before you start to rock, you are rolled away,” another quipped.
The Shijiazhuang culture bureau said Violent Champagne were not part of the festival’s official lineup, according to a report in state-run Jimu News.
In its statement Monday, the bureau said it would “strengthen supervision of performances” at the event.
“We hope that performers and staff will consciously abide by laws and regulations, strengthen morality, and provide healthy and positive entertainment for audiences,” it said.
Shijiazhuang was put on the music map in 2010 when the song “Kill the One from Shijiazhuang” by local band Omnipotent Youth Society was released and became a hit.
The melancholic tune carried lyrics depicting a man’s frustration with the banality of life – a sentiment that resonated among many in the predominantly working class province known for its iron and steel industries.
The song came back into the limelight again in 2021 when the Communist Youth League of Hebei changed the title to “The Shijiazhuang man that can’t be killed,” recasting the lyrics glorifying China’s resilience and its rapid economic development in the past decades.
That rendition received an immediate backlash on China’s video sharing platform Bilibili, with many netizens criticizing the awkward instillation of “positive energy” by party officials into a song that originally had a very different sentiment.