When Ge­orge Michael rocked China in 1985

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE - By CHINA DAILY

As the world mourns pop star Ge­orge Michael, Chi­nese mu­sic fans re­called the key cul­tural role he played in the coun­try’s open­ing-up to the West.

The Bri­tish singer’s quin­tes­sen­tial 1980s group Wham! was the first ma­jor West­ern band to tour China af­ter the coun­try’s open­ing-up. The group’s 10-day tour in 1985 helped pave the way for West­ern mu­sic in China and added to Wham!’s global stature.

Michael, a two-time Grammy Award-win­ner, was 53 when he died in Ox­ford­shire, Eng­land on Sun­day.

In April 1985, Wham! (made up of Michael along with An­drew Ridge­ley) per­formed in Bei­jing and in Guangzhou.

In Bei­jing, the band drew 15,000 peo­ple to Work­ers Gym­na­sium. The duo also vis­ited the Great Wall and Tian’an­men Square, the ba­sis for the doc­u­men­tary For­eign Skies:Wham!in­China.

Zhang Qin, then a Pek­ing Univer­sity stu­dent, said: “I stood in line out­side the box of­fice the whole night to buy a ticket. The price was 5 yuan, but scalpers sold tick­ets for 25 yuan in a few days.” At that time, a worker’s monthly salary was about 40 yuan.

Singer Cheng Fangyuan sang WakeMeUpBe­foreYou Go-Go in Chi­nese be­fore the tour. The Chi­nese ver­sion aired on ra­dio and was made into a cas­sette, quickly bring­ing Wham! fame in China.

“It was an un­for­get­table ex­pe­ri­ence, the daz­zling lights, the over­whelm­ing waves of noise. We never saw a per­for­mance like that; their songs brought the hall down,” said Cheng, who saw Wham! play in Bei­jing.

“Chi­nese au­di­ences were un­fa­mil­iar with that kind of con­cert. They were im­pressed by the per­for­mance but did not know how to re­spond. Some for­eign­ers in the au­di­ence stood up, singing and danc­ing with them,” she re­called.

“Af­ter the per­for­mance, Wham! met of­fi­cials from the Min­istry of Cul­ture. I still re­mem­ber Michael looked so hand­some and cool in a col­or­ful shirt and jeans with long blond hair.”

To make the con­cert hap­pen, it took Wham!’s man­ager Si­mon Napier-Bell 18 months of per­suad­ing the Chi­nese govern­ment to let the band play, with one premise that it would help China at­tract for­eign in­vest­ment, ac­cord­ing to CBS News.

“In the end, ev­ery­body got what they wanted from it,” Napier-Bell told the Taipei Times. “Wham! be­came the big­gest, most fa­mous band in the world, and the Chi­nese got a con­cert that proved they meant what they said about open­ing up.”

The con­cert in­flu­enced Chi­nese mu­si­cians who had never seen elec­tric guitars played on stage and aroused their in­ter­est in rock ’n’ roll.

Huang Wen, a mu­sic writer, told CBS News that the per­for­mance had an im­pact on big- name mu­si­cians, in­clud­ing Cui Jian, the god­fa­ther of Chi­nese rock.

“In the early 1980s, pop songs from Hong Kong were very pop­u­lar in the Chi­nese main­land, and af­ter the con­cert, col­lege stu­dents and peo­ple in the mu­sic in­dus­try started to get in­ter­ested in rock ’n’ roll,” she said.

Hong Kong mu­sic com­poser Jim Lau wrote on Weibo: “I’ve learned Wham! and Ge­orge Michael at a young age be­cause of Care­less I even printed a photo (of Wham!) on my fa­vorite out­er­wear.

“Time has no pity, he is gone. Hit songs in that era are the most clas­sic! I still en­joy lis­ten­ing to those ex­tra­or­di­nary works,” Lau said.

“It is with great sad­ness that we can con­firm our beloved son, brother and friend Ge­orge passed away peace­fully at home over the Christ­mas pe­riod,” his pub­li­cist said in a state­ment. “The fam­ily would ask that their pri­vacy be re­spected at this dif­fi­cult and emo­tional time. There will be no fur­ther com­ment at this stage.”

“I am in deep shock. I have lost a beloved friend — the kind­est, most gen­er­ous soul and a bril­liant artist,” El­ton John posted on In­stra­gram.

“Heart­bro­ken at the loss of my beloved friend Yog. Me, his loved ones, his friends, the world of mu­sic, the world at large. 4ever loved. A xx,” Ridge­ley wrote on Twit­ter.

Bri­tish po­lice said Michael’s death was “un­ex­plained but not sus­pi­cious”.

Born Ge­or­gios Kyr­i­a­cos Panayiotou on June 25, 1963, in Lon­don to Greek Cypriot im­mi­grant par­ents, Michael formed Wham! with his school friend Ridge­ley in 1981.

Af­ter Wham!, he forged a ca­reer as a suc­cess­ful solo artist, although his time in the public eye in­cluded some run-ins with the law and drug ar­rests.

A Weibo user named Geek Sun Xinxin wrote a poem in mem­ory of Michael:

... The blond hair fly­ing on the stage, the … faces un­der the stage with sparks in their eyes

Lis­ten­ing to Last Christ­mas one more time, the fire is still on.

Heng Weili and Hong Xiao in New York, Chen Jie in Bei­jing con­trib­uted to this story.


Ge­orge Michael (left) and An­drew Ridge­ley, mem­bers of the Bri­tish band Wham!, visit the Great Wall in April 1985 dur­ing their ground­break­ing tour of China.

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