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Shen Yun: Enemy of China and Perhaps a Cult?

| Michika Yamamoto | myamamoto21@dtechhs.org | January 28, 2020 |

Illustration of a Shen Yn dancer and followers of Falun Gong. Drawing by Michika Yamaoto

If you have taken public transportation, used the internet, or frankly opened your eyes, you have likely seen the vivid ads displaying a woman in mid-air, her colorful dress trailing behind her with the bold words of “Shen Yun.” The advertisements are for tickets to see their dance and symphony, which is available in cities all over the world. The omnipresence of these advertisements has led to the show becoming a widespread meme, people even going as far as to call winter the “Shen Yun season” due to the influx in advertising. But behind the smiling faces of the picturesque dancers lies a more complicated history that the company tries to hide.

Unbeknownst to many, the group was founded by religious cult members and continues to be affiliated with said cult, Falun Gong. The practices of Falun Gong include meditation and qigong exercises, with the aim to help heal and advance the body both physically and spiritually. The group initially received support from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in the late 90s, when national medical costs became lower as more people turned to exercise overseeing a doctor. However, as followers increased, with over 70 million practitioners just seven years after the group’s creation, the CCP began to see Falun Gong as a threat. Conflict simmered, eventually boiling over in April of 1999, when roughly 10,000 Falun Gong practitioners gathered at a central government compound in Beijing for legal recognition and freedom from state interference. This only escalated the situation, as the CCP then banned Falun Gong practices. Following the ban, the CCP allegedly executed harsh state persecution on anyone affiliated with Falun Gong, including torture, organ harvesting, and other human rights violations. There has been an estimate that tens of thousands of people following Falun Gong have been killed to feed the ongoing organ trade. Many members escaped to New York where they formed Shen Yun in 2006, as an extension of Falun Gong; they have been expanding and performing worldwide ever since.

Many viewers reported feeling displeased after viewing the show because they felt they had not received the performance they paid for, averaging at a hefty $200 dollars. Shen Yun markets their show as a “colorful” dance and music performance, showcasing the “Divine culture [which] flourished in the land of China.” In reality, the show incorporates cult-like practices and references into their performance. One attendee described it as “Nothing but a front for their religious propaganda!” The actual choreography has been reported as “Repetitive, schlocky, and definitely filled with proselytizing of the very bizarre Falun Gong cult.” Additionally, newspapers such as The Guardian and the New Yorker have published scathing reviews of the show. 

Statements were released in 2012 from the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in the United States of America, expressing their views on Shen Yun. The following opinions were expressed as “Facts about the So-called “Shen Yun” Performance by the “Falun Gong.” Not only was the performance reported as displaying “tacky taste” and “low artistic standards,” they were also filled with “cult messages” and implied “attacks against the Chinese government.” 

Despite concerns and unfavorable reviews, some people genuinely enjoyed the performance, some even expressing pity for the oppressed followers of Falun Gong. Ultimately, it’s up to the public to decide whether their curiosity about the huge, colorful advertisements outweighs the contentious aspects of Shen Yun’s association with Falun Gong.

The Dragon Staff have become very interested in the origin and conspiracies revolving around Shen Yun. We are going to continue our exploration into Falun Gong and its relationship with the CCP. The Dragon Staff is continuing to interview d.tech students about their own personal experiences with Shen Yun as well as researching into adaptation of Buddhism. Prepare for a more in depth Shen Yun investigation coming soon… 

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