Times Staff Writer

China has offered John Denver the Great Wall, but he is holding out for the Forbidden City.

For the past 1 1/2 years, he has been trying to arrange to do a televised concert in China this fall to be broadcast live via satellite throughout the world. So far, no deal has been made, in part because Denver hasn’t reached agreement with Chinese officials on where he will sing.

“ ‘John Denver live from the Great Wall’ has a nice ring to it, but where are you going to put the audience?” Denver asked Tuesday, soon after arriving in China for another round of negotiations with Chinese officials.


He said the Chinese have suggested that he sing in some indoor arena, but he wants an outdoor location that will be instantly recognizable as China.

“If it’s indoors, it could be anywhere,” he told reporters. “We could do it in Mann’s Chinese Theater.”

Denver would like to sing either in a courtyard of the Forbidden City (the old residence of Chinese emperors) or at the Temple of Heaven, another renowned site. But he said the riot that broke out here after a soccer game May 19 appears to have the Chinese authorities “scared to death” about crowd control.

“They’re nervous about a large crowd,” he said, “especially when I’m trying to put a large crowd in a ‘national treasure’ like the Imperial City or the Temple of Heaven.”

The pop singer stopped in Peking after a tour of the Soviet Union; in Moscow he did nine concerts for Russian audiences. He is scheduled to leave Thursday for the United States and concerts scheduled this weekend.

“To be quite honest with you, I have no idea where I am or what time it is,” he told a group of Chinese broadcasting officials at a banquet Tuesday night.

Zhang Shaoji, vice president of China Central Television, said he hopes an agreement with Denver can be reached “on the basis of friendship and cooperation.”

Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads” is one of the best-known English-language pop songs in China these days.

His connections--or, as the Chinese would put it, guanxi --with the country’s leaders could not be better. He performed before China’s top leader, Deng Xiaoping, at the Kennedy Center in Washington when Deng was there in 1979, and he sang for Premier Zhao Ziyang last year in New York. “I think the Chinese are more familiar with me than with any other Western artist,” Denver said.

But he said he has been unable to line up a network or a sponsor for the China concert, which he still hopes to do Sept. 1.

“I haven’t done anything on television for several years, and I haven’t had a record in the Top 10 for 10 years,” he said. “. . . For a live concert in the United States, I need something more, especially since I’m not so hot right now.”

Denver is hoping for a television program that might show scenes from throughout China. He would like, for example, to show pandas in the province of Sichuan, or “show what it’s like for a family in China.”

But his dream is to perform at Tian An Men, the Gate of Heavenly Peace in the heart of Peking, where Chinese leaders like Mao Tse-tung and Deng have addressed the masses. He imagines a helicopter filming overhead.

“There would be a million people in Tian An Men Square, and there I would be at the rostrum, starting a concert,” he said.

What song would he open with?

“Anything they want, if they’d let me do that,” he replied.