As Tim and I were walking through Tiananmen Squarein July 2002...
...I decided to get out my guitar and play "Olympia, WA" by Rancid.
We knew there was a chance that I'd get arrested, so Tim started taking
pictures. That's the Imperial Palace in the background. You can barely
make out the picture of Mao.
It didn't take long for a substantial crowd to gather. The Chinese
are very enthusiastic, and there are a lot of people in Tiananmen Square
all day. That's the Great Museum of the People's Excellent Revolution in
But before I finished my second song they sent a police officer backed
up by a very large Paddy Wagon to talk to me, and I really wanted to get
through the last chorus of "New Sensations" by Lou Reed. In the background
you can see Mao's tomb and the Great Obelisk for the Great Soldiers Who
Died in the Patriotic Wars of the People. Mao lays in state just like Lenin.
The only difference is that most people in China seem to really think their
dead revolutionary was a great guy; the come in from the provinces and
line up for hours to see him.
Although the Paddy Wagon was an implied threat, the police officer
didn't arrest me or ask me to move on. He just started asking me questions.
"What is your name?" "How long you live in China?" "May I see your passport?"
(Which I'd left at the hotel) "What hotel do you live in?" "What other
cities do you visit in China?" "What other countries do you visit in Asia?"
They found a cop who spoke pretty good English.
Although he didn't say anything about my guitar playing, I got tired
of answer questions so eventually I said, "Would you like me to stop playing
my guitar and go?"
"You would leave? Yes, thank you."
I resisted the reflex to say "Thank you" back and said, "You're welcome."
The whole thing was over in about 10 minutes. And as this was pretty
much the way we expected it to go, it was basically a contrived happening.
Something to do before we went out for Chinese food.
The police don't stop you from playing elsewhere in China. I played
on the main shopping street in Beijing, on the Great Wall, on the Waterfront
in Shanghai, and a lot of other places, big crowds gathered and nobody
hassled me. I think the Chinese police are just a little sensitive about
anything that draws a crowd in Tiananmen Square. And don't think that I
took a big risk by provoking the police like this. The Chinese government
is really supersensitive about their reputation in the west. They don't
want to do anything to give them a bad reputation with foreigners or anything
that will discourage tourists from coming. So, I was really completely
safe as long as I didn't do anything out of bonds like say, "Mao was bad."
While we're on the subject, why do you suppose they call it a "Paddy
Wagon?" I think it's because the Paddy Wagon came into use when police
forces in many U.S. cities were dominated by the Irish. However, they also
call it a Paddy Wagon in England, and I'm quite sure there has never been
a time at which the Irish dominated the English police force.