His Excellency George Michael, Ambassador to China

Here is an old story that I heard just recently:

Thirty years ago,  rock music manager Simon Napier-Bell traveled to Beijing on a mission to open the Chinese market for Wham!.  He did not have any gunboats, nor even a point of contact inside the government.  He started cold calling officials, offering lunch at the upscale expat restaurants.   Being careful not to phrase his proposal in terms that would demand a yes or no answer, he suggested in an indirect way that wouldn’t it be great if a major Western pop music act could come to China…   and wouldn’t that demonstrate China’s openness to other cooperation–foreign investment for example.  Over many lunches he worked his way up the official chain until he was making his pitch to the Minister of Culture.

It took 18 months to pave the way for Wham! to make global news by being the first Western pop music act to play in communist China.  Napier-Bell tells the story in his 2006 book.

The impact of this concert on the Chinese people is impossible to measure beyond the anecdotes of those who were there, or wished they had been.  It probably did not affect the rate of foreign direct investment in China, though it did help Wham! break into the U.S. pop music market.  For me, the story speaks to the potential for enterprising private individuals to take initiative in building new bridges between cultures.