Singing and dancing ‘in the service of … a propaganda exercise

A cursory reading of reviews of the Shen Yun show quickly reveals that those who see it – art critics and the public alike – are unimpressed by the stage antics.

In Foreign Policy magazine of April 29, 2015, Isaac Stone Fish, a journalist and senior fellow at the Asia Society’s Center on US-China relations, said: “Shen Yun … is not about the arts. It’s not about ‘reviving 5,000 years of civilisation’, as the show’s ubiquitous fliers proclaim; nor is it a Chinese version of the wildly popular Canadian circus company Cirque du Soleil, as the older gentleman sitting next to me at the performance expected.

“Rather, Shen Yun exists to transmit a message: that heavenly forces will destroy modern-day China, obliterating the Chinese Communist Party [CCP], which has ruled the country since 1949.”

In a critique in the Hamilton Spectator in Ontario on Jan 1, 2015, Ingrid Mayrhofer was no less scathing: “The show tried our patience right at the beginning with garish electronic imaging and loud Western instruments. The background projection outdid the dancers on the stage with visual [effects], and the military-style sound smothered the hall.

“Approximately 20 minutes into the spectacle, the announcers began to talk about Falun Gong and how the Chinese government persecuted the sect, offering the next dance as an illustration thereof. At this point, we agreed that we did not have to endure without complaining.”

In the Oregonian of Jan 14, 2014, Jamie Hale said: “Organisers for the arts troupe Shen Yun bill its performances as ‘an extraordinary journey across 5,000 years of Chinese civilisation’ told through dance, music and breathtaking imagery’. They promise that the show … will ‘touch your soul’. But beneath the layers of coloured, flowing cloth is a message that wraps up politics, propaganda, religion and media.”

In Britain, Sarah Crompton of the Daily Telegraph of Feb 25, 2008, said: “This show is advertised as a Chinese spectacular — a kind of Eastern version of Cirque du Soleil. It is nothing of the kind. Acrobatics, singing and dancing skills are used in the service of a propaganda exercise on the part of Falun Gong, a group banned as an ‘evil cult’ by the Communist Chinese government in 1999.

“Most of the members of the Divine Performing Arts troupe are members of Falun Gong. But their beliefs do not simply form a backdrop to a neutral presentation of traditional Chinese dance and legends. They are the focal point of the evening.” In the New York Times of Feb 6, 2008, Eric Konigsberg’s remarks also covered what went on offstage.

“Audience members who filed out of Radio City before and during intermission said they were troubled by the material. ‘I had no idea it was Falun Gong until now that it’s too late, and it really bums me out,’ said Steven, a Chinese immigrant living in New Jersey who, along with his family, was among the first to leave and asked that his last name not be published.

“It’s a little too political, too religious, especially the dance showing some girls getting tortured in the prisons. That’s too much for Chinese New Year, especially with our children.”

And then there was Susan Walker of the Toronto Star on Jan 21, 2008, who wrote: “The healing powers of the music and dance on display in this admittedly spectacularly tacky show was the icing on the cake of enlightenment and truth that was offered up at every opportunity in a presentation of ‘the true essence of Chinese culture’ before it was ‘damaged by the Chinese Communist Party’. The production is so heavily laden with Falun Gong messages as to negate any pleasure the dancing and singing might have afforded.”

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