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Beijing, China Targets Rodgers and Hammersteins Oklahoma Musical

Updated on May 27, 2012
Poster from cancelled performance
Poster from cancelled performance
Mako shark statue
Mako shark statue

Let's stay focused here. China, regardless of the illusion that it is free, it remains a Communist nation with capitalism weaved into it. For instance, although Hong Kong is part of China and its "golden egg" handed over by the British a few years ago, it is considered a "special" sector, namely, one would not know the Chinese government has control over it. At a whim, it could radically make it less capitalist. Shanghai is similar. These are showcase areas of China allowed to be more open and more capitalist to entice foreigners to come as business partners.

Beijing has 120,000 foreigners living there. In a sea of millions, it is a drop in the bucket, yet Chinese officials have a growing concern on the impact of foreigners have on "everyday Chinese people" and their imported culture. Recently, China began its 100 day cleansing of foreigner illegals in Beijing. Many visas expired, yet they remain working and living there. Public performances by foreigners are scrutinized for their message and content- things like freedom, independence, rebellion in the performance and subject to being cancelled.

So, when the American classic musical, Oklahoma was scheduled to be performed in Beijing's famed Mako Arts Center, was cancelled just days before opening night, it looked suspicious. The Peking University Institute of World Theater performers for Oklahoma had a unusually large dose of Americans in it. At the last minute, the theater manager refused to sign the contract after being pressured by officials. The only reason for it was "impossible". When China's Foreign Ministry was contacted by reporters, a "no comment" resulted.

This Oklahoma production was sponsored by the U.S. Embassy as a goodwill arts measure. As to why Oklahoma's message was vetoed is anyone's guess because the 1943 play is about two cowboys in love with two farm girls. They even "sing in the rain" about it. Odds are its just another flexing of muscle by the Chinese government to let everyone know that, while it might seem free as the wind, its people are always on the chain.


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