A grainy shot from Ai Weiwei's Instagram of him (R) and singer Elton John (L) backstage at the singer's Beijing concert on November 25. (Ai Weiwei/Instagram)
Elton John's dedication of his concert to dissident artist Ai Weiwei while performing in Beijing on Sunday garnered a large amount of international media attention this week, but an official response from the government has yet to be made. A Chinese-language article in Asahi Shimbun stated that when asked about the event in a press conference on November 27, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei conveniently avoided producing an official answer when he stated that he "does not know" who Elton John is. Netizens on Weibo responded in many ways, ranging from incredulity to discussions of the event itself.
Many netizens reacted with skepticism that a Foreign Ministry spokesperson could not know such a high-profile singer, and were critical of the Ministry's response:
The Foreign Ministry’s response makes people speechless.
Genuinely doesn’t know, I have no idea.
Burying their head in the sand.
Who says? Even the Global Times knew.
"Doesn't know that person." Amusing.
The Foreign Ministry would only need to watch the news.
A central office of the state has certainly heard of that person.
No sense of shame.
Foolish, isn't simply closing the country and excluding foreigners also a loss of face?
Indifference as well as ignorance.
Some gave the spokesperson the benefit of the doubt, and admitted that they didn't know who Elton John was either:
The discussion also featured critical or supportive comments about Elton John and Ai Weiwei. Some only used the character "Ai," (艾), which, in addition to being the character in Ai Weiwei's name, is also the first character in the transliteration of Elton John's name, so they could have been discussing one or the other.
Who is Ai Weiwei?
Ai is just foolish, not worth a mention.
Ai Weiwei is of course trash.
Ai is not perfect, many of his methods can't be approved of. But, owing to the fact that a discussion can't be published, his image has been changed into two extremes. He's not perfect, but he's not evil.
I support Ai's position, but his personal conduct is too disgusting.
Others did not like the fact that the story was coming from a Japanese news source:
The Associated Press reported that at the concert itself, reception was lukewarm. The report states that audience members merely "rumbled in recognition" that Ai Weiwei is a touchy subject. In an English-language op-ed, Global Times argued that the dedication wasn't a big deal, citing concertgoers who said that they barely heard the announcement and that "there was no particular reaction at all" from the audience.
Despite downplaying the incident in the English version, a Chinese-language Global Times article treated the singer's announcement much more seriously, comparing the incident, as well as Bjork's 2008 concert declaration of support for Tibetan independence, to a Japanese mayor's expressing doubt that the Nanjing Massacre occurred, earlier in 2012. "The situations are different," the article states, "but not without similarities."