The colorful ads for Shen Yun Performance (https://www.shenyun.org) company have been popping up in the San Jose area for more than a decade. Purported to be a dance troupe to show “China Before Communism,” I had assumed that the performance would be folkloric in nature. After shelling out $400 for two tickets, I looked forward to finally seeing this heavily promoted event. But as I sat in the performance, I became increasingly uncomfortable. (Image Falun Gong logo, from Wikimedia Commons, in the Public Domain.)
When the curtain rose, I was impressed at the clouds of theatrical smoke that enveloped the dancers. They appeared to be floating in the clouds. The audience gasped! The performance was beautiful. In between each piece, a man and woman came to the stage to announce the next piece and offer a bit of commentary on the Shen Yun organization. He, a male of Caucasian descent, dressed in a Western suit and speaking English. She, a female of Asian descent, dressed in a colorful Asian-style gown, and speaking Chinese. Occasionly each would speak the other’s language. (BTW, Shen Yun is based in New York.)
Things were going okay—costumes beautiful, music a bit uninspired—until they performed a piece that depicted the oppression of Falun Gong (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Falun_Gong) practitioners in modern China. A woman was arrested for her beliefs and then a medical team appeared and harvested her heart from her. The live organ harvesting was done off stage. The medical team returned with a box containing the prisoner’s heart. Okay, not so family friendly and certainly not “China Before Communism.” While I don’t condone organ harvesting, It is not something I want to see in a performance.
As the performance continued, I noticed more and more references to divine beings descending from heaven to guide the Earth. I didn’t think too much of it, having been raised a Catholic, a faith that has its share of divine beings. Then a baritone sang a solo about the divine beings coming to Earth and that our problems were due to evolutionary beliefs and atheism. Whoa! Blame evolutionary theory and atheists? Today’s wars are not caused by atheists. It’s Christians, Jews, and Arabs the last time I looked.
When intermission arrived, I considered leaving. I sat stunned in my seat, feeling as if I’d been tricked into attending some kind of religious revival. Instead, I did a little research while waiting for part two.
Shun Gong performances are the main outreach arm for Falun Gong, a “new religion”started by Li Hongzhi in 1997. Banned in China, Falun Gong maintains its headquarters in Deer Park, New York on a 427-acre compound call Dragon Springs. Its founder Li Hongzhi claims he is a being whose purpose is to help humanity avoid destruction. He says he has cultivated supernatural powers since age 8. Is Li Hongzhi a human? His reply, "You can think of me as human."
Falun Gong is an ultraconservative movement that is against evolution, homosexuality, feminism, atheism, and modern medicine. Besides running the Shen Yun organization. Falun Gong operates Epoch Media Group which in turn runs New Tang Dynasty Television and The Epoch Times newspaper. They are noted for promoting QAnon and anti-vaccine beliefs, among other conspiracies. They have also produced political ads for Trump as well as far-right politicians in France and Germany.
Back from intermission, the second half is basically parallel to the first—opens with a cloud-filled stage. The solo singer act is a soprano whose pitch and wide vibrato are annoying, but not as annoying as hearing a repeat of the anti-evolutionary, anti-atheism message. This time she mentions today’s current moral decay (to which a few people in the back clap). There are more pieces set in current China showing the persecution of Falun Gong. This time we learn how Falun Gong practitioners are pacifists who help even the police when they are in need. A police dancer “falls” and can’t walk. A Falun Gong person picks up the cop and carries him even as the cop continues to beat the person. In the end, the cop is won over to Falun Gong, though his colleagues are not. It's not a pretty sight.
The final number, Grand Perfection, ends with Buddha flying to the stage, light rays circling the Buddha’s head and enveloping the back wall of the stage.
The most enjoyable part of the performance was the screen backdrop. It was a projection that could show beings flying into the stage, or leaving it. The actual dancers would go toward the screen, quickly disappear under a long box built in front of the screen, and then the projection showed them flying away. It works in reverse for those making an entrance from “heaven.” Dancers appear to fall out of the screen. Other things came and went from the projected to the real world—a magic fish, golden bowls, warriors, and so on. It was quite fun to see, but I’d prefer to see the technology used in another context.
Shen Yun has a merchandise table at each performance, where they sell colorful silk scarves along side the Falun Gong manifesto, as written by Founder Li Hongzhi. I decided not to buy the book. I've already given too much to this "nonprofit" to promote its ideas under the guise of art.