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Empty noise - thoughts on Live Earth Shanghai

Shanghai’s Live Earth concert was a wash out. Li Siqi and  Liu Liyuan explain why they remain cheerful.

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The curtain has finally fallen on the Live Earth concerts. The series of eight events around the world were unprecedented – but no matter how you try to gloss it up, the Shanghai concert was the least successful. Over-priced tickets, a cramped venue, poor organization and a disappointing line-up have all come in for criticism.

The 2,000 capacity venue wasn’t even full, and half of those who did attend scattered when a rainstorm struck. When Sarah Brightman - the only performer who could be accurately described as a superstar - arrived on stage technical problems forced her to retreat and return later. By any standards this was not a success – and much less so when you evaluate it against the scale and vision of Live Earth.

London’s concert attracted more than 90,000, Sydney more than110,000 and in the US more than 70,000 attended. In Rio de Janeiro the event was at risk of cancellation due to crowd control concerns. And yet China, with 1.3 billion people -- 20 million of them in Shanghai, mustered an embarrassingly small audience of 2,000.

Many of the organizers’ good intentions also failed to be implemented. Despite calls for spectators to use public transport to reach the venue, roads outside were still lined with private cars. I asked one member of the audience how he’d made the journey and he reluctantly admitted he’d driven. 150 volunteers were present to help the audience sort their litter into the correct bins, yet the ground was still scattered with trash once they’d left. And although the aim of the concert was to use star performers to raise environmental awareness, we have to wonder how many of those present actually noticed anything beyond the big names.

The series of coordinated concerts symbolized the fact that the environmental issue is one that nobody living on the planet can avoid, and Shanghai’s participation makes it clear that China is no different. But it was also the least successful of any of the concerts, with the least impressive line-up and poorest organization. It had been described in the media as a ‘window on China’ - but all you could have seen through this window was a population uninterested in the environment.

But we should not be too harsh on the organizers. In the West the practice of holding large-scale concerts for good causes is more established – Live Aid in 1985, for those affected by the September 11th attacks in 2001, and the Live8 concerts for global poverty in 2005. In the west the music industry and music consumers are familiar with this type of event. But while they are not unknown in China, they are extremely rare. Indeed even being able to hold the concert was a step forward and it allowed us to see the difference between those events and their more common commercial counterparts – an adherence to principals and commitment to goals, even if they are distant. And so we can be forgiving of some of its failings. The lacklustre line-up may have been due to local government’s long and complicated procedures for approval. In May, when preparations for the other concerts were virtually complete, Live Earth Shanghai did not even have a license to go ahead – making it impossible to sign up popular performers and leaving inadequate time for preparation and publicity.

And anyway, the event was held for the public good and the results will be at least better than nothing. We cannot just write it off for not being as successful as we hoped, and there are still things to praise. The tickets may have been expensive, but at least one half were given away free. The performers all gave voice to the environmental theme of the night, with some of them even choosing songs accordingly and mentioning green ideals in their introductions. Power saving tips such as using energy-saving bulbs, taking public transport and adjusting air-conditioning settings were broadcast, along with inventive short films on issues such as saving water. Bins set up to collect disposable plastic raincoats – always essential in Shanghai’s rainy season - were provided and used. The discarded light sticks normally seen after a concert were also absent, with most spectators adding to the atmosphere with waves and cheers.

Most noteworthy is that most attendees were university students or white collar workers in their twenties and thirties. That, at least, is a positive sign – the younger generation is becoming environmentally aware. These are the people who are becoming China’s driving force, and their participation gives us hope for China’s environmental movement.

So there is cause to be optimistic about the future. I once joked with a friend that only optimists can be environmentalists, as they have to believe the current situation can be improved and be willing to work towards that. And if we take an optimist’s view, the unimpressive concert in Shanghai is no bad thing – it tells us that there is still much to be done to make the people of this country aware of their environment, and that this is the time to start doing so.

Li Siqi, China Dialogue Editorial Assistant

Liu Liyuan, Wenhui Bao trainee reporter

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Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous


这篇文章试图探索这场令人失望的音乐会闪光的内心。我并不确定我们能对到场的观众大多是学生、白领及中产阶级这样的现象抱多大的希望。怎么才可以断定他们对环保有着认真的态度呢?多他们来说,这场音乐会可能仅仅只是一场音乐盛事而已。环境保护已经至关紧要,我们需要立即采取行动。对下一代寄予如此厚望有悖对环境采取紧急行动的准则。寥寥的参与者和媒体让人深深失望。 Carlo 伦敦

Silver lining is just not enough

This article is trying to see the silver lining on what must have been a disappointing event. I am not sure how much faith we should put into the fact that most people were students, white collar and middle-class. How can we tell that they had a serious interest in the environment? For some it may have been just another flashy event. Although looking towards the future for environmental change is crucial, we need to act now. Putting so much faith into future generations deviates from the urge to do more now. The poor attendance and media coverage remains deeply disappointing. Carlo, London

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous



My Sigh

As a Shanghai people, what could I say? Shanghai is not a suitable place for environmental activities.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous



hope for China

I was very disappointed about the failure of Shanghai concert. But after reading this article, i am full of hope for China again. I trust China can Chinese can do very well in environmental protection and trust young Chinese generation can be the main power of environmental protection. Be better, China!

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

Leading the way

We definately need to support this kind of activities in the future, even we did not achieve the settled goal for this concert this time. I am sure, more and more new generation will pay attentiion to Environment and out living circumstance. We still have the chance to make a better living condition.

Snowland Brown bear


即使没有达到预期目标,我们也绝对应该支持这样的活动。我确信会有越来越多的新一代人对环境问题引起关注。我们仍然有机会创造更好的生活环境。 Snowland Brown bear

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous




One thing is for sure,the reporter must be very young that it is impossible that she ever withnessed the Hongkong concert and some ad-hoc concert for 8*8 event.There is no tradition here? Actually the bick should and must stop at the organizers,they suck.A good concert,especially this kind of green one,should star form grassroot not top down.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous



If second concert

If such a concert is held again, how will Chinese government prepare for and conduct it? What reaction will Chinese have? Making mistake is hackneyed, but if making the same mistake second time, we need think about it seriously.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous


举行演唱会来拯救地球,一晚上排放的CO2却和中国每月CO2正常排放量一样多。像这样的演唱会是西方世界的产物,另一种市场阴谋,通过它制造出更多的财富,名誉,权利。年轻人过来欣赏演唱会,根本就不管它是环保,人权或是爱情什么的,他们只想及时行乐!每个人包括媒体在内也在作乐,目的是建立环保意识— 就好像来看演出的人不知道他们要保护环境似的?谁都知道环保,但是没人想承诺采取行动保护环境,去享乐吧,演唱会失败了,不足为奇。说几个有感知的中国人。

Has to be wash out - No Surprises

Concerts for saving planets, generate CO2 equal to China's monthly normal consumption in one night concert. Such concerts are western world's brain child. It is another marketing gimmick through which more wealth, fame and power is created. Youth come to enjoy the concert, irrespective of whether it is environment, or human rights, or love! For them it is time to enjoy, have fun! Everyone including media makes merry - and the purpose is to create awareness - as if those who come to attend the concert do not know that they have to protect the environment? Everyone knows, but no one wants to commit their actions to save - just enjoy...No surprises if it is a washout. Shows sensible people in China.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous



Influence imperceptibly

Although those being there are just for attending the concert, actually they also learnt a lesson. The author is right that we should be optimistic to our future.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous



No more words, action!

I'm always concerned about environmental protection. Facing the unrecoverable environmental damages resulting from economic growth, I don't know what to say.

A concert like this has a very good purpose, but if the government is not actively involved, how can the attendants (mostly fans) save Shanghai and save China? Ridiculous! Were there any rich people, any CEOs or executives? I've no more comments on this!

No more words, just start from my own behavior and start from today. Think this would be fine!