Dylan fans welcome hero for first-ever China gig

Image caption Beijing rock band The Power Powder regularly play Bob Dylan songs at their gigs

In a hot and cramped room in one of Beijing's more fashionable districts, four musicians meet regularly to blast out rock classics.

As their style and sound suggest, The Power Powder have been influenced by some of the great names in rock 'n' roll - including the US legend Bob Dylan.

When he plays in Beijing on Wednesday, they will be in the audience, revelling in the singer's first gig in mainland China.

Hundreds of fans will turn out for the performance, including those inspired by what Bob Dylan came to represent.

Agreed playlist

Getting permission for the US musician to play in China was not easy.

The authorities have been wary of foreign performers, particularly since the Icelandic singer Bjork signalled her support for Tibetan independence at a concert in Shanghai in 2008.

Since then officials appear to have tightened the rules surrounding performances by foreign artists.

Bob Dylan's two gigs - the other will be in Shanghai - had to be approved by the national ministry of culture.

Image caption The US rocker has inspired Chinese musicians - and those seeking political change

Officials said the singer would have to strictly abide by an agreed playlist.

The musicians who make up The Power Powder seem unconcerned; they are just glad that they are getting the chance to see their idol in the flesh.

And they are prepared to pay a hefty sum to see him. Their tickets cost 980 yuan ($150; £93) each, as much as a monthly salary for some people in the Chinese capital.

"We just really want to go see him," said the band's lead singer and guitarist Xiao Men, who bears more than a passing resemblance to The Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards in his youth.

"We've listened to Bob Dylan's music for a long time and have been hugely influenced by him."

The band, who usually play gigs every week, are also looking for a few tips from one of the world's best performers.

"It's a great opportunity to learn," said Xiao Men.

Framed photograph

The Power Powder are among Dylan's younger fans in China. There are those though who have been following him for decades. Professor Teng Jimeng is one of them.

He first heard about Bob Dylan in the 1980s when teachers from the United States arrived at the university where he was studying in Liaoning province.

They used some of Dylan's lyrics in their English classes.

At the time, Prof Teng, who now teachers American studies at Beijing Foreign Studies University, did not understand their political message.

Songs like The Times They Are a-Changin' had influenced the protest movement in the United States in the 1960s.

Two decades later China was going through its own transformation, as major changes in society ushered in a period of genuine debate and openness.

Bob Dylan's songs become anthems for a new generation of youngsters seeking change.

"Dylan represents freedom, youthful rebelliousness and participation in the socio-political life of the country," said Prof Teng as he played some of his favourite songs.

"That fitted in with the general ethos of China in the 1980s."

That movement culminated in the protests that took place in Beijing and other cities across China in 1989.

Prof Teng, who keeps a framed photograph of Bob Dylan on his desk, was at the Beijing protests, listening to his Bob Dylan songs. "You miss those exciting days and nights," he said.

But times really have changed in China.

The protest movement was crushed by troops and now, Prof Teng said, young people do not seem interested in any political message Bob Dylan's songs might offer.

The economic boom of recent years means young people are more interested in making money and having a good time than politics.

"In the past it was all about saving the nation, but now it's about saving yourself," said a glum-looking Prof Teng as he waited for a courier to bring him his ticket for the Bob Dylan concert.

More on this story