The music of George Michael didn’t just fill the dancefloors from London to New York City and Tokyo in the eighties. It also helped connect communist China with the Western world. A mini tour in 1985 originally planned as a promotion stunt for the U.S. market ended up as vital ping pong diplomacy.
In April 1985, George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley took to the stage in Beijing at the People’s Gymnasium in front of 15,000 people, becoming the first Western pop act to play a concert in China. They played another show in the southern city of Guangzhou at the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall.
Three decades ago, as China was changing from Chairman Mao’s Cultural Revolution, it gradually started opening up to Western culture. The first performers to get through the door were Wham!.
It took the group’s manager at the time, Simon Napier-Bell, 18 months to convince the Chinese government to green-light two performances. Napier-Bell, now 77, even sabotaged the efforts of rock band Queen to be the first to perform in China by playing up frontman Freddie Mercury’s flamboyance in a brochure he presented to Chinese officials—as opposed to the more “wholesome” alternative of Wham!—as he revealed in a book published on the 20th anniversary of Wham!’s China gigs.
“I think we will have a different view of communism than when we first arrived. Well, I certainly have.” – George Michael
A 60-minute film documenting the tour called Foreign Skies: Wham! In China directed by legendary British director Lindsay Anderson was released as a VHS home video tape.
Lindsay Anderson had previously directed the art films ‘If….’ and ‘O Lucky Man’ introducing Malcolm McDowell.
Watch the full documentary here:
Picture of the cassette tape distributed to Wham! concertgoers in 1985 (A cassette tape featuring Wham!’s songs on one side, and Chinese covers on the other, was handed to each concertgoer).