In a span of a few days, a Japanese choral band touring China, stand-up comedy shows in several cities, and jazz shows in Beijing, were among more than a dozen that were abruptly called off, The New York Times reported.
Some of the performances were cancelled just minutes before they were supposed to begin and that too without any explanation.
Beijing authorities, just before the performances were scrapped, fined a Chinese comedy studio around USD 2 million, after one of its stand-up performers was accused of insulting the Chinese military in a joke; the police in northern China also detained a woman who had defended the comedian online.
According to The New York Times, those penalties, and the sudden spate of cancellations that followed, point to the growing scrutiny of China's already heavily censored creative landscape.
China's top leader, Xi Jinping, has made arts and culture a central arena for ideological crackdowns, demanding that artists align their creative ambitions with Chinese Communist Party goals and promote a nationalist vision of Chinese identity. Performers must submit scripts or setlists for vetting, and publications are closely monitored.
Xi on Tuesday sent a letter to the National Art Museum of China for its 60th anniversary, reminding staff to "adhere to the correct political orientation."
The Chinese President's emphasis on the arts is also part of a broader preoccupation with national security and eliminating supposedly malign foreign influence.
The authorities in recent weeks have raided the corporate offices of several Western consulting or advisory companies based in China and broadened the range of behaviors covered under counterespionage laws.
Many of the cancelled events were supposed to feature foreign performers or speakers.
It was only to be expected that Beijing would also look to the cultural realm, as its deteriorating relationship with the West has made it more fixated on maintaining its grip on power at home, said Zhang Ping, a former journalist and political commentator in China who now lives in Germany, according to The New York Times.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)