Wham! vs. Queen in China

OK, for some reason I was reading Wham!’s Wikipedia page a while back (yeah, I know), and I found this hilarious section:

In March 1985, Wham! took a break from recording to embark on a lengthy world tour, including a ground-breaking 10-day visit to China, the first by a Western pop group. The China excursion was a publicity scheme devised by Simon Napier-Bell (one of their two managers—Jazz Summers being the other). It culminated in a concert at the Workers’ Gymnasium in Beijing in front of 15,000 people. Wham!’s visit to China attracted huge media attention across the world. Napier-Bell later admitted that he used cunning tactics to sabotage the efforts of rock group Queen to be the first to play in China: he made two brochures for the Chinese authorities – one featuring Wham! fans as pleasant middle-class youngsters, and one portraying Queen singer Freddie Mercury in typically flamboyant poses. The Chinese opted for Wham!

It would be cool to see those two brochures, if they still exist. (They’re probably in hilariously bad Chinese, if in Chinese at all.)

Wham! on the Great Wall

So how did the concert go? The Guardian gives an amusing account:

According to Simon Napier-Bell, the band’s manager, Michael tried to get the spectators to clap along to Club Tropicana, but “they hadn’t a clue – they thought he wanted applause and politely gave it”.

He said some of the more adventurous Chinese did eventually “get the hang of clapping on the beat, even learnt to scream when George or Andrew waved their butts”.

The diplomat reported that “there was some lively dancing but this was almost entirely confined to younger western members of the audience. Some Chinese did make the effort, but they were discouraged in this by the police.

Sounds like a blast. The tickets cost 5 yuan. Wham! did not enjoy it.


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. Hi John. Thanks for posting this. I was living in Zhengzhou at the time, and was visiting the Great Wall with my mom and sister the same day Wham did. We saw them, and even showed up in the background of one of their videos. You can read about it here: http://joannpittman.com/uncategorized/2010/wham-bam-beijing-circa-1985/. And here: http://joannpittman.com/uncategorized/2010/wham-bam-the-great-wall/. I wrote those posts back in 2010; unfortunately the links to the video clips are broken. I also have a friend who attended the concert in Beijing. Good times. Good times!

  2. Stavros Says: July 1, 2016 at 12:09 pm

    Many years ago, I saw the video Wham filmed while in China. It was a collection of montage sequences, the type of images that actually make a certain generation of Chinese nationals very nostalgic for the past. What grabbed my attention was the naivety of China’s youth of that day – their humility on display was very heart-warming. At the time, I was studying at university in my home city. I was surrounded by Chinese students, all of whom were sophisticates of course and were not at all like the youth described in this blog post. What a difference one generation makes.

  3. 5 yuan sure doesn’t go as far as it used to.
    But I can still ride the local bus for one kuai!

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