It’s a non-profit performing arts and entertainment group based in the United States that puts on dance and symphonic events around the world. Shen Yun means “divine rhythm arts troupe” in Chinese. Falun Gong, a new religious movement, runs it. More than 480 actors and dancers make up the seven performing arts companies that makeup Shen Yun. More than 130 places in Europe, North America, Oceania, and Asia have seen Shen Yun perform in front of millions.
Falun Gong’s 427-acre (1.7 km2) Dragon Springs property in Deerpark, New York, northwest of New York City is where Shen Yun’s leader and founder, Li Hongzhi, and many of his followers also live. Shen Yun was created in 2006 by Chinese expatriate Falun Gong believers.
Shen Yun receives the proceeds from the sale of tickets and the rental of the performance space paid for by Falun Gong believers. There appears to be a link between the finances of Shen Yun and Falun Gong, with the two organizations sharing funding, executives, and a common goal. As a technique of “rescuing” the audience, Li Hongzhi characterizes the Shen Yun performance.
On the 11th of May, Shen Yun will perform at the Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center. However, it’s highly likely that you’ve seen a flyer for Shen Yun while simply checking your mail. Not many artists can afford that kind of advertising blitz when they only bring one show to the DECC’s Amsoil Arena — much less the substantially smaller Symphony Hall, which will host Shen Yun.
There aren’t many times when the News Tribune receives panicked calls about an out-of-the-the-the-way show. Concerned by Shen Yun’s anti-science, anti-gay, and anti-feminism attitudes, a single reader wrote to express her displeasure.
According to the DECC website
The performance promises “a magnificent tapestry of celestial paradises,” “old legends,” and “contemporary heroic tales” in its gauzy advertising. “Shen Yun opens a portal to the five millennia civilization of mesmerizing beauty and enlightening knowledge, featuring one of the world’s oldest art forms — classical Chinese dance.”
Only a mention of the show’s commemoration of “China before Communism” gives any indication that politics might be involved. Because the Communist government has ruled China since 1949, Shen Yun’s producers are at odds with the government. Her dance program may contain a wide range of themes, but Communist characters frequently emerge as ominous figures, and a massive wave carrying Karl Marx’s visage has threatened to engulf cities in several of Shen Yun’s past performances.
According to the website of Shen Yun, the company has had to deal with the Chinese Communist Party’s intervention from its start, with the Party modifying its sabotage techniques every year.
There’s a story there, but it’s not five millennia old. The religious movement known as Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, was founded three decades ago. Just two days before Shen Yun’s visit to DECC, a Chinese man named Li Hongzhi began lecturing publicly about his prescribed way to enlightenment. In 1992. Falun Dafa is a meditation and patience-inspiring system that borrows from both the Buddhist and Taoist traditions.
China’s leaders were cracking down on a popular movement
Toward the close of the 1990s, China’s leaders were cracking down on a popular movement that had gained a following. The New York Times writes that the movement has “always struggled to demonstrate its bona fides against Beijing’s efforts to discredit it as an ‘evil cult,’ partly because its loud allegations of persecution in China may sometimes be difficult to confirm or veer into hyperbole.”
According to a 2020 Times article, the Epoch Times, a news source linked to the Falun Gong movement, has grown in popularity while also spreading falsehoods and conspiracy theories about China’s government. Li Hongzhi and Falun Dafa are linked to Shen Yun, despite the fact that legally, Shen Yun is a nonprofit performing arts company headquartered on a compound called Dragon Springs in upstate New York.
Support and lobbying from local devotees is a major factor in the long-term box office success of Shen Yun’s touring companies, which have appeared in over a dozen countries since their inception in 2006. This year’s Shen Yun trip was recognized by the Chanhassen-based Minnesota Falun Dafa Association on its webpage.
Shen Yun plays wrote about a colorful musical spectacle
Tolentino witnessed two recent Shen Yun plays and wrote about a colorful musical spectacle that went from relaxing imagery into an “anti-evolution ballad” and dramatizations of Falun Gong practitioners suffering persecution. Tolentino wrote for the New Yorker. It was Tolentino’s interpretation of Li Hongzhi, who taught that homosexuality is synonymous with moral degeneration, that led her to notice that two of the show’s antagonists were holding hands.
There is significant skepticism, according to Tolentino, over Shen Yun’s claims of authenticity in classical dance: “Shen Yun argues that it is one wellspring of creative purity — that in 2006, five thousand years of cultural heritage were revived”
Shen Yun promises fantastical displays like “fairies appear from a sea of billowing clouds” and “Mongolians ride on horseback across meadows as big as the sky.” However, if you go to see Shen Yun, you may end up with more ideology than you bargained for.
Shen Yun’s Bay Area concert included
Portrayals of Falun Dafa persecution and “heavy-handed” messaging against “modern mentality and ways” (in the lyrics of one song mentioning evolution), but it wasn’t as political as she anticipated… or, perhaps, wanted.
At the very least, Martichoux commented, “I was hoping for more propaganda, and at least that would have been more fascinating.” That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy myself.”
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