Chinese Rock Group Is Denied Exit Visa THE GIG IS UP

Article excerpt

IN the latest sign of the government's tight hold on culture, Beijing barred China's only all-women rock group from traveling to Australia for a performance that should have taken place yesterday.

The travel ban on the Beijing group Cobra spotlights the subtle grip of communist authorities on forms of artistic expression, say Western diplomats and Chinese involved in the music world.

The strict controls thrust Cobra into a quandary: It may perform, but not before a large audience.

"The Culture Ministry doesn't openly oppose Cobra, but it doesn't give it any form of support either," says a Chinese source on condition of anonymity. Without official backing, it is extremely difficult for bands like Cobra to perform at large venues.

Officials indicated to the band after a raucously successful 1990 concert in China that it could no longer play to big crowds. Cobra now performs at international hotels and private parties.

The denial of Cobra's first opportunity to perform abroad apparently was intended as a message to rock musicians and fans overseas. The group was to play at a festival of Chinese culture in Melbourne. In order to perform abroad, musicians must gain the approval of the ministry.

"The Culture Ministry probably feared Cobra would give foreigners the impression that Chinese youth are rebellious and decadent, even though Cobra's music is comparatively tame," the Chinese source says.

Formed in 1989, the group plays a broad range of styles, from reggae to fusion to standard "California" rock. It shies from direct political comment but expresses the disillusionment and alienation of many Chinese youth with China's repression and the pell-mell rush to prosperity. …