19 October 2019
Bon Jovi's China concerts have been cancelled as mainland authorities apparently discovered that his band had used an image of the Dalai Lama during a show elsewhere in the past. Photos: YouTube
Bon Jovi's China concerts have been cancelled as mainland authorities apparently discovered that his band had used an image of the Dalai Lama during a show elsewhere in the past. Photos: YouTube

Why Jon Bon Jovi’s Mandarin song choice may have backfired

Bon Jovi is among the many pop rock bands that focus heavily on branding and marketing. Steered by lead singer Jon Bon Jovi, the group’s hit numbers mostly feature the theme of love.

Formed in 1983, the band has performed in various locations around the world, except for one big market — Mainland China. 

The band had hoped to set that right with a couple of concerts in the country this month.

But the plans have come crashing down at the last minute as China’s culture ministry has cancelled the scheduled performances in Shanghai and Beijing.

No official reason was given, as is the usual case in China during such actions.

However, media reports have speculated that authorities were peeved as they learnt that the US rock band had used an image of the Dalai Lama as a backdrop during a 2010 concert and that the group had also tweeted about the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader.

Meanwhile, they also allegedly found that Bon Jovi’s “We Weren’t Born To Follow” music video features fleeting images of the pro-democracy protests in Beijing 26 years ago.

“We Weren’t Born To Follow” was the lead single of the 2009 album – The Circle – the band’s eleventh studio production that was packaged as a reflection of the economic meltdown and political turmoil around the world.

It was a break from the band’s usual commercial tone featuring soft topics such as love and rock and roll.

The music video featured many public figures and historical moments.

For Chinese authorities, the most sensitive images could have been scenes of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests and the iconic “Tank Man”, the protester who temporarily stopped the advance of a column of tanks by standing straight in their path, Western media speculated.

While this seems a plausible explanation, some Chinese however believe that the main reason for the show cancellation could be something else.

During the QiXi Festival, or “Chinese Valentine’s Day” on Aug. 19, Jon Bon Jovi uploaded onto YouTube his personal rendition of the classic romantic Chinese song “The Moon Represents My Heart” (月亮代表我的心). 

He sang the song in perfect Mandarin, aiming to win the hearts of Chinese fans ahead of the scheduled concerts. 

The two-minute performance certainly gained a lot of attention, garnering more than 1.4 million hits on YouTube, and another 100,000 hits on Youku, one of China’s leading online video sites.

But government authorities were said to have been unhappy. The reason: the song is not a mainland China original, but something that belongs to the repertoire of Teresa Teng (鄧麗君), a Taiwanese pop singer. 

Teng — who died in 1995 — had been very popular in Taiwan, but she wasn’t allowed to perform in China due to political reasons.

Teng had been a vocal champion of democracy and had expressed her support for the 1989 Tiananmen student protests, angering the Communist authorities on the mainland.

As Jon Bon Jovi sang one of her songs, Chinese authorities might have found it unpalatable, prompting them to retaliate by withdrawing permission for the band’s Beijing and Shanghai concerts, observers say.

Some netizens remarked that Jon Bon Jovi should perhaps have sung “In Hope Field” (在希望的田野上) – the song made famous by China’s current First Lady Peng Liyuan, rather than the one from Teresa Teng.

Or he could have even performed the ridiculous award-winning song “Little Apple” by Chopstick Brothers, and still made his way into the Chinese market.

Well, it’s too late now and Bon Jovi can’t do anything about it.  

As for the disappointed Chinese fans, they can still catch a glimpse of the rock band if they travel to Macau or Taiwan.

The US group will be performing on Sept. 25 and 26 at the Cotai Arena in Macau, and later proceed to Taiwan for shows at the Taipei World Trade Center on Sept. 28 and 29.

The Sept. 29 show was added to the concert schedule at the last minute after the China event cancellations.

Bon Jovi China tour canceled, report cites Dalai Lama images (Sept 10, 2015)

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Sept. 15.

Translation by Darlie Yiu

[Chinese version中文版]

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Bon Jovi had planned to perform for the first time ever in China, with shows in Beijing and Shanghai, but the hopes have been dashed. Photos: David Bergman &,

HKEJ writer