Shen Yun

From Justapedia, unleashing the power of collective wisdom
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Shen Yun Performing Arts
TypeDance company and symphony orchestra
Founded2006; 17 years ago (2006)
FounderPractitioners of Falun Gong
Area served
DivisionsNew York Company, International Company, Touring Company, World Company
Shen Yun
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese神韻藝術團
Simplified Chinese神韵艺术团
Literal meaningDivine euphony arts troupe
Japanese name

Shen Yun Performing Arts (Chinese: 神韻藝術團, lit. "divine rhythm arts troupe") is a United States-based non-profit performing arts and entertainment company that tours internationally, producing dance performances and symphony concerts.[1][2] It is operated by the Falun Gong new religious movement.[3] Shen Yun is composed of seven performing arts companies,[4] with a total of approximately 480 performers.[5] Shen Yun has performed in front of millions[6] and has toured more than 130 cities across Europe, North America, Oceania, and Asia.[7][8]

Shen Yun was founded in 2006 by Chinese expatriate adherents of Falun Gong, and is based at Falun Gong's 427-acre (1.7 km2) Dragon Springs compound in Deerpark, New York, northwest of New York City, near where the new religious group's leader and founder, Li Hongzhi, and many of his followers also reside.[9][10][11] Falun Gong adherents pay to rent the performance venue, promote the show, and sell tickets, with the profit going to Shen Yun.[1] The finances of Shen Yun and Falun Gong appear to be linked, with technically separate corporations sharing funds, executives and the same mission.[3] Li Hongzhi describes the Shen Yun performance as a means of "saving" audiences.[1]

Shen Yun performances have received criticism for promoting sectarian doctrines and negative views toward evolution, atheism, and homosexuality.[12][3] The group is promoted by The Epoch Times, a media outlet affiliated with Falun Gong.[13] In 2019, a NBC News assessment concluded that "The Epoch Media Group, along with Shen Yun, ... make up the outreach effort of Falun Gong".[3] The Chinese government bars Shen Yun from performing in China as it considers Falun Gong to be an "anti-society cult" and has attempted to cancel its performances abroad by pressuring theaters and governments.[14][13]

History and ties to Falun Gong

In 2006, a group of expatriate Chinese Falun Gong practitioners living in North America founded Shen Yun in New York.[15] The stated purpose of the company was to revive Chinese culture and traditions from the time before Communist rule.[16][17]

In 2007, the company conducted its first tour with 90 dancers, musicians, soloists, and production staff.[18] Early shows were titled "Chinese Spectacular",[9][10] "Holiday Wonders",[19] "Chinese New Year Splendor", and "Divine Performing Arts", but now the company performs exclusively under the name "Shen Yun". As of 2009, Shen Yun had developed three full companies and orchestras that tour the world simultaneously. By the end of the 2010 season, approximately one million people had seen the troupe perform.[20]

Shen Yun, the media organization The Epoch Times, and a variety of other organizations operate as extensions of the new religious movement Falun Gong. According to 2020 report by Los Angeles Magazine:

Both Shen Yun and Epoch Times are funded and operated by members of Falun Gong, a controversial spiritual group that was banned by China's government in 1999 ... Falun Gong melds traditional Taoist principles with occasionally bizarre pronouncements from its Chinese-born founder and leader, Li Hongzhi. Among other pronouncements, Li has claimed that aliens started invading human minds in the beginning of the 20th century, leading to mass corruption and the invention of computers. He has also denounced feminism and homosexuality and claimed he can walk through walls and levitate. But the central tenet of the group's wide-ranging belief system is its fierce opposition to communism.
In 2000, Li founded Epoch Times to disseminate Falun Gong talking points to American readers. Six years later he launched Shen Yun as another vehicle to promote his teachings to mainstream Western audiences. Over the years Shen Yun and Epoch Times, while nominally separate organizations, have operated in tandem in Falun Gong's ongoing PR campaign against the Chinese government, taking directions from Li.[13]

Shen Yun operates out of Falun Gong's headquarters in the 427 acres (1.73 km2) Dragon Springs compound in Deerpark, New York, where it has large rehearsal spaces. Dragon Springs is registered as a religious property under the church name Dragon Springs Buddhist.[21] The exact financial and structural connections between Falun Gong, Shen Yun, and The Epoch Times remain unclear. According to NBC News:

The Epoch Media Group, along with Shen Yun, a dance troupe known for its ubiquitous advertising and unsettling performances, make up the outreach effort of Falun Gong, a relatively new spiritual practice that combines ancient Chinese meditative exercises, mysticism and often ultraconservative cultural worldviews. Falun Gong's founder has referred to Epoch Media Group as "our media", and the group's practice heavily informs The Epoch Times’ coverage, according to former employees who spoke with NBC News.
The Epoch Times, digital production company NTD and the heavily advertised dance troupe Shen Yun make up the nonprofit network that Li calls "our media". Financial documents paint a complicated picture of more than a dozen technically separate organizations that appear to share missions, money and executives. Though the source of their revenue is unclear, the most recent financial records from each organization paint a picture of an overall business thriving in the Trump era.[3]

Billing and promotion

Shen Yun promotes itself as "a presentation of traditional Chinese culture as it once was: a study in grace, wisdom, and virtues distilled from five millennia of Chinese civilization". The company is described in promotions as reviving Chinese culture following a period of alleged "assault and destruction" under the Chinese Communist Party. Shen Yun is heavily promoted in major cities with commercials, billboards, and brochures displayed in the streets and in businesses, as well as in television and radio profiles.[12]

Shen Yun performances are often produced or sponsored by regional Falun Dafa associations, members of Falun Gong, which in China is considered to be a cult and is banned by the government.[15] Some audience members have objected to the show's promotion strategy, which does not note the religious- and political-themed content of the performance.[22][23]

In 2021, the troupe began billing its shows as "China Before Communism".[24]



Large-scale group dance is at the center of Shen Yun productions.[10] Each touring company consists of about 40 male and female dancers, who mainly perform classical Chinese dances, making extensive use of acrobatic and tumbling techniques, forms and postures.[25]

Shen Yun's repertoire draws on stories from Chinese history and legends, such as the legend of Mulan,[26] Journey to the West and Outlaws of the Marsh. It also depicts "the story of Falun Gong today".[27] During the 2010 production, at least two of the 16 scenes depicted "persecution and murder of Falun Gong practitioners" in contemporary China, including the beating of a young mother to death, and the jailing of a Falun Gong protester. In addition to classical Han Chinese dance, Shen Yun also includes elements of Yi, Miao, Tibetan and Mongolian dance.

Shen Yun performs three core elements of classical Chinese dance: bearing (emotion, cultural and ethnic flavor), form (expressive movements and postures), and technical skill (physical techniques of jumping, flipping, and leaping).[9] Shen Yun choreographer Vina Lee has stated that some of the distinct Chinese bearing (yun) has been "lost in the process" since the cultural changes of the Communist revolution.[9]


Shen Yun dances are accompanied by Chinese instruments: the pipa, suona, dizi, guzheng, and a variety of Chinese percussion instruments. A full Western orchestra leads the melodies.[20][28] There are solo performances featuring Chinese instruments such as the erhu in between dances.[9][29] Interspersed between dance sequences, other than the erhu performances, are operatic singers performing songs which sometimes invoke spiritual or religious themes, including references to the Falun Gong faith.[20][30] A performance in 2007, for instance, included a reference to the Chakravartin, a figure in Buddhism who turns the wheel of Dharma.[31]

The music for Shen Yun was composed by Jing Xian and Junyi Tan. Three of Shen Yun's performers—flutist Ningfang Chen, erhuist Mei Xuan and tenor Guan Guimin—were recipients of the Chinese Ministry of Culture's "National First Class Performer" awards. Prior to joining Shen Yun, Guan Guimin was well known in China for his work on soundtracks for more than 50 movies and television shows. Other notable performers include erhu soloist Xiaochun Qi.[32]

Costume and backdrops

Shen Yun dancer Seongho Cha performing in 2009

Shen Yun's dancers perform wearing intricate costumes, often accompanied by a variety of props.[9][20] Some costumes are intended to imitate the dress of various ethnicities, while others depict ancient Chinese court dancers, soldiers, or characters from classic stories.[9] Props include colorful handkerchiefs, drums,[9] fans, chopsticks, or silk scarves.[27][33]

Each Shen Yun piece is set against a digitally projected backdrop, usually depicting landscapes such as Mongolian grasslands, imperial courts, ancient villages, temples, or mountains.[20][34][35] Some backdrops contain moving elements, such as digital versions of the dancers, that integrate with the performance.[33]


Shen Yun's seven companies tour for six months each year, performing in over 130 cities in North America, Europe, Asia, Australia, and Latin America.[20] Notable venues include the David H. Koch Theater at New York's Lincoln Center in Manhattan;[36] the London Coliseum in London, England; the Palais des congrès de Paris; and the Kennedy Center Opera House in Washington, D.C. By the conclusion of Shen Yun's 2010 performance, an estimated one million people had seen the performance worldwide.[20]

Shen Yun does not perform in China and the Chinese government has attempted to cancel Shen Yun performances elsewhere through political pressure exerted by its foreign embassies and consulates.[37][38][39][40] Chinese diplomats have also sent letters to elected officials in the West exhorting them not to attend or otherwise support the performance, which they describe as "propaganda" intended to "smear China's image."[41][42] Members of the Communist Party's top political consultative body have also expressed concern that China's state-funded arts troupes have been less popular internationally than Shen Yun.[43] Shen Yun representatives say the Chinese government's opposition to the show stems from its depictions of modern-day political oppression in China, and that it includes expressions of traditional Chinese cultural history that the Communist government has tried to suppress.[44]

Shen Yun was scheduled to perform in Hong Kong in January 2010, but the performance was cancelled after the government of Hong Kong refused entry visas to Shen Yun's production crew.[45] Attempts to shut down the show have also been reported by theatres and local governments in various countries including Ecuador, Ireland, Germany and Sweden.[46]

Symphony orchestra

In October 2012, Shen Yun's symphony orchestra made its debut performance at Carnegie Hall in New York. The performance featured conductors Milen Nachev, Keng-Wei Kuo, and Antonia Joy Wilson, and the program included both classical works such as Beethoven's Egmont Overture and Antonio Vivaldi's Concerto in C Major, as well as original compositions that fuse Chinese and Western instruments.[47]

In 2013, the symphony orchestra toured seven American cities. In addition to Carnegie Hall, it performed at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.[48] and Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco.[49]


Sarah Crompton of The Daily Telegraph wrote of a 2008 Shen Yun performance:

"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... But what I really object to is that such a politically motivated performance is being smuggled on to stages around Europe in the name of family entertainment. And at the group's first performance in Britain on Friday at the Festival Hall, I was not alone. While many of the audience - the majority of Chinese origin - applauded, others were appalled."[50]

The 2018 and 2019 performances included lyrics and digital displays disparaging atheism and belief in evolution as "deadly ideas" and "born of the Red Spectre",[12][51] and is a common complaint of attendees of the performance. Reviewers characterized this content as "anti-evolution", "religious sermon", and "cult propaganda."[52] Many viewers and reviewers complain that such elements are misrepresented by the advertising of a show that in the end "feels more like propaganda than straightforwardly presented cultural heritage."[53] Alix Martichoux from the Houston Chronicle wrote, "For many disgruntled Shen Yun attendees, it's not necessarily that the show itself is bad – though to be fair, some complain it is. Most of the negative reviews were people upset they were blindsided by the political content."[52] Walter Whittemore wrote in The Ledger:

"We paid a premium for seats that would provide us an excellent view of Chinese tradition. Instead, we contributed unwittingly to a religious movement that denies evolution and science, claims the earth was inhabited by aliens, demonizes atheists and homosexuals, and condemns mixed marriages."[54]

As of April 2019, disparagement of atheism and evolution was still present in the show.[52][12][51] Misrepresentation of content in advertising was also a common complaint by viewers, and Falun Gong-affiliated political propaganda has been noted as a prominent element. An outstanding case is described by Jia Tolentino from The New Yorker:

"Chairman Mao appeared, and the sky turned black; the city in the digital backdrop was obliterated by an earthquake, then finished off by a Communist tsunami. A red hammer and sickle glowed in the center of the wave. [...] a huge, bearded face disappearing in the water, [...] a tsunami with the face of Karl Marx."[12]

David Robertson, minister of St. Peter's Free Church in Dundee, wrote that he enjoyed the show despite it being "filled with cult messages." He continued:

"Some of the messages were hardly subtle – not least when the colourful Falun Gong practitioners in the park were beaten up by the black clad villains with the Chinese Communist symbols on their back. Or when a massive (digital) wave with an ominous picture of Karl Marx threatened to overwhelm the city, until the light (in the form of Li Hongzhi, the Falun Gong leader), dispersed it and destroyed him! [...] As soon as it started – with everything inch perfect, and the fake fixed smiles on every dancer and the constant spiritual waffle about 'truthfulness, harmony, compassion and forbearance' I knew that we were in the presence of a religious cult. And so it turned out to be."[51]

Claims of interference from Chinese government

Shen Yun said that the Chinese government has attempted to stop the group from performing abroad by sending letters or e-mails to theaters in multiple countries,[55][56] including Ecuador, Ireland, Germany[57] and Sweden.[58] According to Shen Yun, the Chinese government also attempted to cancel Shen Yun's performance in Hong Kong by rejecting the entry visas of six members.[59][60]

See also


  1. ^ a b c Junker, Andrew. 2019. Becoming Activists in Global China: Social Movements in the Chinese Diaspora, p. 99. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9781108655897
  2. ^ ProPublica, Mike Tigas, Sisi Wei, Ken Schwencke, Brandon Roberts, Alec Glassford. "Shen Yun Performing Arts Inc - Nonprofit Explorer". ProPublica. Archived from the original on 27 February 2020. Retrieved 26 May 2020.
  3. ^ a b c d e Zadrosny, Brandy; Collins, Ben (20 August 2019). "Trump, QAnon and an impending judgment day: Behind the Facebook-fueled rise of The Epoch Times". NBC News. Retrieved 14 January 2022.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  4. ^ Bellware, Kim; news, closeKim BellwareReporter covering national breaking. "The latest target of racist rumors about coronavirus: The ubiquitous dance troupe Shen Yun". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on 21 May 2020. Retrieved 27 May 2020. {{cite news}}: |last2= has generic name (help)
  5. ^ "Shen Yun Performing Arts at Queen Elizabeth Theatre". Queen Elizabeth Theatre Canada. Retrieved 23 May 2020.
  6. ^ Hodara, Susan (13 August 2010). "5,000 Years of Chinese Music and Dance, in One Night". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 30 December 2016.
  7. ^ Hodara, Susan (13 August 2010). "5,000 Years of Chinese Music and Dance, in One Night". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Archived from the original on 30 December 2016. Retrieved 23 May 2020.
  8. ^ "Shen Yun 2020". FOX40. 22 November 2019. Retrieved 23 May 2020.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h Hunt, Mary Ellen (4 January 2009). "Chinese New Year Spectacular in S.F., Cupertino". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 4 September 2009.
  10. ^ a b c Wenzel, John (1 October 2007). "Chinese New Year embracing tradition". The Denver Post. Archived from the original on 13 January 2008. Retrieved 5 September 2009.
  11. ^ Junker, Andrew. 2019. Becoming Activists in Global China: Social Movements in the Chinese Diaspora, p. 99-101. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9781108655897
  12. ^ a b c d e Tolentino, Jia (19 March 2019). "Stepping into the Uncanny, Unsettling World of Shen Yun". The New Yorker. Archived from the original on 24 August 2019. Retrieved 20 March 2019.
  13. ^ a b c Braslow, Samuel. 2020. "Inside the Shadowy World of Shen Yun and Its Secret Pro-Trump Ties". Los Angeles Magazine. 9 March 2020. Online Archived 26 May 2020 at the Wayback Machine.
  14. ^ "New York dance troupe says China banned shows over Falun Gong links".
  15. ^ a b Wright, E. Assata (22 December 2011). "Shen Yun returns". Hudson Reporter. Archived from the original on 22 February 2020. Retrieved 22 February 2020.
  16. ^ "Shen Yun Performing Arts to Return to Lincoln Center, 1/10-19". broadwayworld. Archived from the original on 12 April 2019. Retrieved 22 May 2020.
  17. ^ Wenzel, John (9 January 2008). "Chinese New Year embracing tradition". The Denver Post. Archived from the original on 20 December 2019. Retrieved 22 May 2020.
  18. ^ Adriana Rambay Fernandez, Dancing around the world Archived 14 December 2013 at the Wayback Machine, Hudson Reporter, 22 January 2012.
  19. ^ Higgins, Beau (15 November 2007). "'Holiday Wonders' Chinese Meets West Extravaganza". Broadway World. Retrieved 5 September 2009.
  20. ^ a b c d e f g Hodara, Susan. 5,000 Years of Chinese Music and Dance, in One Night Archived 18 June 2017 at the Wayback Machine. New York Times. 13 August 2010.
  21. ^ Hill, Michael (April 2019). "Falun Gong US compound's neighbors fret over expansion plans". Associated Press.
  22. ^ Konigsberg, Eric (6 February 2008). "A Glimpse of Chinese Culture That Some Find Hard to Watch". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 22 January 2017. Retrieved 23 February 2017.Dabkowski, Colin (30 May 2010). "Song & dance spectacular not exactly what it seems". Buffalo News. Retrieved 21 June 2010.
  23. ^ Pousner, Howard (17 January 2012). "Many Atlantans OK with Chinese dance troupe's politics". Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Archived from the original on 30 August 2011. Retrieved 23 April 2012.
  24. ^ "Shen Yun Performing Arts is bring its newest show to Utah". KUTV. Salt Lake City. 6 July 2021. Retrieved 28 November 2021.
  25. ^ Delza, Sophia (June 1958). "The Dance in the Chinese Theater". The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism. 16 (4): 437–452. doi:10.2307/428042. ISSN 0021-8529. JSTOR 428042.
  26. ^ "International Incident". The Pacific Northwest Inlander. Archived from the original on 25 May 2009. Retrieved 15 November 2009.
  27. ^ a b Paula Citron. A dazzling show with a clear message. The Globe and Mail: Arts. 22 January 2008.
  28. ^ Elina Shatkin. Vina leads Divine Performing Arts' Chinese New Year Spectacular Archived 13 September 2015 at the Wayback Machine. Los Angeles Times. 1 January 2009.
  29. ^ Sparacino, Micaele (19 January 2010). "Deities, Dragons, Dancers, and Divas". Archived from the original on 5 October 2010. Retrieved 29 January 2010.
  30. ^ Citron, Paula (22 January 2008). "A dazzling show with a clear message". The Globe and Mail. Archived from the original on 10 March 2013. Retrieved 31 October 2012.
  31. ^ Joel Markowitz, ‘January Pleasures’ Archived 25 December 2010 at the Wayback Machine, DC Theatre Scene, 28 January 2007.
  32. ^ Robert Baxter, "New Year show, old traditions preserve Chinese culture," Courier Post, 30 December 2007.
  33. ^ a b Sid Smith, ‘Women flow like water in spectacle’ Archived 13 December 2013 at the Wayback Machine, 28 January 2008.
  34. ^ Goodwyn, Albert (11 January 2007). "Chinese New Year Spectacular". San Francisco Bay Times. Archived from the original on 29 February 2012. Retrieved 5 September 2009.
  35. ^ Meredith Galante. A Day In The Life Of A Professional Dancer In A Traditional Chinese Company Archived 27 January 2012 at the Wayback Machine. Business Insider. 11 January 2012.
  36. ^ "Shen Yun Performing Arts" Archived 27 January 2013 at the Wayback Machine David H. Koch Theater.
  37. ^ International Religious Freedom Report 2010 Report, 17 November 2010. US Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
  38. ^ Moldova country report Archived 20 February 2020 at the Wayback Machine, 17 November 2010. US Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
  39. ^ Romania country report Archived 20 February 2020 at the Wayback Machine, 17 November 2010. US Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
  40. ^ Ukraine country report Archived 20 February 2020 at the Wayback Machine, 17 November 2010. US Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
  41. ^ Keegan Hamilton, Chinese Government Kindly Reminds Seattle Officials About the 'Evil Cult' Coming to Town Archived 9 February 2012 at the Wayback Machine, Seattle Weekly, 6 February 2012.
  42. ^ "Chinese New Year Spectacular 'just propaganda': Chinese Embassy" Archived 21 July 2012 at, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. 17 January 2007.
  43. ^ Li, Raymond (8 March 2013). "State-funded arts troupes fail to shine against Falun Gong rivals abroad". South China Morning Post. Archived from the original on 15 March 2013. Retrieved 26 April 2013.
  44. ^ Regina Weinreich (24 June 2011), Beauty and the Beast:Shen Yun at Lincoln Center Archived 8 November 2012 at the Wayback Machine. New York, The Huffington Post.
  45. ^ "Falungong decries HK as democracy row deepens". My Sinchew. Agence France-Presse. 27 January 2010. Archived from the original on 12 November 2016. Retrieved 1 February 2010.
  46. ^ Hune-Brown, Nicholas (12 December 2017). "The traditional Chinese dance troupe China doesn't want you to see". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 19 December 2017. Retrieved 12 December 2017.
  47. ^ "Shen Yun Symphony Orchestra". Carnegie Hall. 28 October 2012. Archived from the original on 12 September 2014..
  48. ^ "Shen Yun Performing Arts to Return to Lincoln Center, 1/10-19". broadwayworld. Archived from the original on 14 November 2018. Retrieved 14 November 2018.
  49. ^ "All-New Shen Yun Production with Live Orchestra in San Francisco 2020!". San Francisco Classical Voice. Retrieved 30 November 2020.
  50. ^ Crompton, Sarah (25 February 2008). "Shen Yun: Propaganda as entertainment". The Daily Telegraph. Archived from the original on 13 January 2022. Retrieved 17 February 2022.
  51. ^ a b c Robertson, David (28 January 2019). "Chinese Culture, Cult and Communism – Shen Yun – A Review". Archived from the original on 31 March 2019. Retrieved 31 March 2019.
  52. ^ a b c Martichoux, Alix (21 December 2018). "You've seen the ads. But what's the deal with Shen Yun?". Houston Chronicle. Archived from the original on 7 January 2019. Retrieved 7 January 2019.
  53. ^ Tillotson, Kristin (6 February 2015). "Shen Yun: Politics behind the performance". Star Tribune. Archived from the original on 7 January 2019. Retrieved 7 January 2019.
  54. ^ Whittemore, Walter. "Letter: Propaganda posing as entertainment". The Ledger. Retrieved 7 January 2019.
  55. ^ "Moldova". U.S. Department of State. Retrieved 13 July 2020.
  56. ^ "Romania". U.S. Department of State. Retrieved 13 July 2020.
  57. ^ Zeitung, Berliner. "Zensur: Chinesische Botschaft wollte Tanztheater verhindern". Berliner Zeitung (in German). Retrieved 29 September 2020.
  58. ^ "Selling China by the Sleeve Dance". Hazlitt. 2 October 2017. Retrieved 29 September 2020.
  59. ^ "In Shen Yun, colorful past meets dark oppression". Times Union. 21 January 2011. Retrieved 29 September 2020.
  60. ^ "Dance troupe cancels Falun Gong shows". South China Morning Post. 26 January 2020. Archived from the original on 29 September 2020. Retrieved 29 September 2020.

Further reading

External links

Media related to Shen Yun at Wikimedia Commons