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Surprised by the politics in shows like Shen Yun?

ShenYun12(2) (Small)

At Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre, Chinese performnace troupe Shen Yun featured drummers, dancers and propaganda that surprised some audiences. Some were OK with the message, but some were offended.

In the days since Shen Yun Performing Arts, the Chinese drum and dance troupe, left Atlanta to move onto the next stop on its perpetual tour, conversation continued to rumble about the shows they’d performed at Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre.

Some loved the performance, but commenters on Inside Access were upset by the Falun Gong politics of the show, “subtle as a taser shot to the noggin,” the AJC review said. It’s not that commenters necessarily disagree or deny that persecution has taken place in China. They were surprised to see it — especially a few violent scenes,  one involving a taser and another where a mother and child are beaten — in a show promoted as a music-and-acrobatic spectacular

Wrote Marilee Coughlin:

While the dancers are fabulous, and the costumes are gorgeous, I felt like I was at a revival or brain-washing session. … it was billed as a family show, but I question whether children should see a show where a mother and child are beaten by black-shirted men and the mother dragged off stage, apparently dead – then on the garish screen, she can be seen “ascending” accompanied by monks. Creepy sums up parts of the show quite well.

Local Falun Gong groups sponsored the show, but people I’ve heard from said it wasn’t adequate warning that politics might enter into a performance touted as family friendly. The show has taken a drubbing in international press, but AJCer Howard Pousner talked with several audience members who weren’t offended by the message, but they weren’t expecting it either. (You can read his entire story, “Many Atlantans OK with Chinese dance trouple’s politics.”) Several said they were fine with it: they wanted to know the other side of the story.

Here’s what another commenter, KJ, had to say:

My recommendation for the show’s creators.. [sic] If you want to focus on the message and political struggle, do it. The world would write rave reviews about a play or show that took an issue straight on. You probably couldn’t do the show in China or that would be the last show, but I believe the rest of the world prefers an “in your face” approach. State your message and stir it up.

I asked for a response from the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre’s PR agency, and received this statement from J. Barkley Russell on behalf of the local presenting organizations, not Cobb Energy Centre itself:

On behalf of the presenting organizations, we acknowledge the concerns expressed by some attendees at the Shen Yun performances regarding the sensitive content in certain sections of the show. As in years past, our brochures, window posters, website and press releases disclosed the show’s presenting organizations, New Times Cultural and Education Center, Inc. (NTCEC) and the Southeast US Falun Dafa Association—they have presented the show since it began appearing in Atlanta, four years ago.

In the future we will consider adding information to our materials that references the show’s content. We hope this has addressed your concerns.

I didn’t see this show, but in the commercials, billboards, and even the press materials, I didn’t see anything explicit about the show’s point of view, except for a passing reference about Chinese traditions before Communism.

On my own, I would have stayed to watch. Reporterly curiosity means I sit through a lot of things the surprise me, whether they delight or horrify. But it’s entirely different to see a show for work than to see a show with friends or family.

I wonder how common an experience this is. The closest situation I can recall is an early screening of “Million Dollar Baby.” The the mood in the theater changed as the movie became less about boxing and more about — surprise! — assisted suicide.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and experience on this. Have you been surprised or offended by an unexpected political message in art, whether on stage, in the movies or elsewhere? What responsibility do organizations and venues have to tell audiences beforehand? Should audiences be expected to do their own digging?

For instant updates, follow @insideaccess on Twitter.

79 comments Add your comment


January 26th, 2010
2:37 pm

Chinese traditional culture has always been very appealing. Those who are affected by Shen-Yun(mostly becouse of the costumes, background and sacred atomasphere) are understandble. But if you DO interested in Chinese classical dance, I suggest you go and see a genuine performance given by Chinese who REALLY love dancing and have been educated in a proper dance school. I do not care if there is a political or religious content in Shen-Yun at all. But I cannot accept if someone says ‘Shen-Yun is real Chinese thing’. FaLunGong, could you please just separate polical struggle from art, history and Chinese culture. I can tell how inferior the show is compared to the real thing. I feel so disgraced seeing it.


January 26th, 2010
4:27 am

RJ, There is indoctrination in everything you hear and listen at a subliminal level, from the music and videos you watch.. They constantly fill and upload your hard drive making you have the thoughts and feelings you do, etc. At least Shen Yun is upfront and simply speaks of universal principals of Truth and Compassion, with the use of Traditional Chinese culture and history in Dance and music, how upfront and more honest can you be than that, I am done trying to convince you, for your arguments are not rational and are emotionally filled with some disdain, there is no point to try to convince you to see the goodness of the show. Good luck with life, and thanks for the chat. Your response was amusing “wipe the tears off your eyes”Lol,thanks, but seriously it is a great show with a great message, with a classical taste. Chas, what ever the Chinese government is paying you, it’s not worth your life.

Take Care Everyone, and I am looking forward to seeing the show next year. Everyone has a right to their opinion, But Chas, I am sure you are a spy for the Chinese Government, and I hope you quit soon before the CCP collapses and you have to face war crimes for aiding this ruthless regime at the War Crimes Counsel of Genocide in the few years. Seriously quit, its bad luck for your family too.


January 26th, 2010
12:53 am

@SW and @Chas,

Perhaps, both of you are highly aware of the outcome of being Chinese Spy overseas or perhaps you are physically in China. If you are physically in US, please make sure to follow the Law of the US. Lying, killing innocent citizens, and slandering are allowed by Communist governments throughout the world for the past 100 years, but these are not allowed in free/democratic society like US.

In addition, Ancient Jews says that “Do not allow evil slip through your lips and tongues.” The Bible says “Death and life are in the power of the tongue; and you will eat the fruit thereof.”


January 26th, 2010
12:12 am

RJ, the “Chinese spy” bit is pretty much the standard retort from Falun Gong disciples. Time and again the show has hidden it’s affiliation with Falun Gong.


January 26th, 2010
12:09 am


Obviously, you need to continue to grow your human spirituality. Hopefully, the following messages, from “Mary’s Message to the World” published in 1991, will give you some advice.

“….I, Mary, Mother of Jesus, am alive and concerned for you. My message is to the whole globe and not only to church members. Listen and pay attention to my words sent through this soul (Annie).
Each individual living on earth will have some trials and tribulations to endure, and since these will be worldwide events, I wish to reach as many people as possible….There is only one place to find Him, OUR CREATOR, and that is in your heart and your mind. Make peace with yourself and seek to find God in your heart and mind. Return to the origin of all. Return to your original starting point-God. We all have this in common, that each of us originated in God….The time is drawing near when you will be shaken and frightened….The earth will shake and be moved by violent forces which will cause many to lose their physical lives…The real tragedy during this time would be to lose one’s spiritual growth…..My desire is to warn you of the coming trying times. I wish for you to turn to God in your hearts and through your minds, for in this way some of you will survive these catastrophic events by renewing your spiritual values…..Prepare to judge yourself and make amends for your prejudices, intolerances, fears, envy, animosity and false pride. These are the errors of the flesh…..Send thoughts of love to ALL PEOPLE on earth….Do not allow countries, religions, or anything to keep you from sending out the LOVE of GOD. It is only by love, prayer and meditation that you will be safe…..This is not punishment, but the effect of centuries of hatred, anger and fear…”

RJ, as a Christian, continue to read your Bible and continue to give love. FYI: Gao Zhisheng, a rightous Christian Chinese Attorney, who speaks up for injustice persecution of Chinese Falun Gong practioners, were being arrested, tortured and imprisoned by Chinese government. And do not forget early Christians were being persecuted by Romans in the same way 2000 years ago!!


January 25th, 2010
10:31 pm


Wipe the tears out of your eyes and read what I said. Shen Yun can promote Falun Gong every day until Jesus comes, and I don’t care.

What I object to is the show is being promoted on false pretenses, as a celebration when, in actuality, it is indoctrination.

(True, I did say it was a mediocre performance, but at least I was telling the truth. The promoters of Shen Yun appear to be incapable of the same.)


January 25th, 2010
4:22 pm

@RJ, Maybe you could find that Irish Man in you, the man with a pure and courages heart. One who supports the human spirit.


January 25th, 2010
4:18 pm

@RJ,an Irish Man would be proud of a show like this, with a spirit to never give up on what you believe. I hope you could value that spirit in the show, instead of bashing this beautiful show for the past 3 days. There were 2,000 people in the audience in San Diego, and all gave a standing ovation. There were some even in tears. Finally, to make a point, everything we hear and see is constantly giving us a message, at least Shen Yun’s Message is one of hope. Even in their fliers they say that the show is “independent of the China’s Regime” and it seeks to revive traditional Chinese Culture.

To add to it, there are about 1 Million people in concentration camps in China. Stop bashing this show, and stop doing things to support the Chinese Government’s brutality, rape, murder and slavery of their own citizens. If you take a look at the shows throughout human history, they always depict good and evil and a story of good truimphing over evil cruel people. And this show like many others has some of this, along with a lot of entertainment.


January 25th, 2010
3:57 pm


I’ve been called a lot of things in my life, but never a Chinese Spy. (Strange gig for a guy who is half-Irish.)

Your paranoia is exceeded only by how loudly I laughed when I read your comment.


January 25th, 2010
3:12 pm

Geat show,family, I and many of my friends and colleages have seen Shen Yun Peforming Arts, they loved it. To sum up the Show, about 100 performers, about 40 orchestra members and many dancers with a beautiful backdrop depicing Chinese History, Culture and Spirituality through dance, music and song. Falun Dafa covers the Buddhist and Taoist aspects of the spirituality that has made flourshihed in China for almost 2500 years. And out of the 20 scenes, 2 portray the stoy of persecution of the Chinese Communist Government.

Totally, a wonderful show, you see history, culture, human rigths and deep meaning to life with the spiritual components. I read all the posts, RJand Chas, have written a lot and seemed to have twisted the truth, it appears they may be actually one of the many Chinese Spys or tools of the government that try to defame this beautiful show and prevent people from knowing the truth, the Persecution of Falun Dafa.

my friends loved, and the show has received great reviews all over the world. I have never seen a show with this much heart, love, skill, depth, meaning, goodness, and beauty. If you see it, you will be touched by its wonderful colors, skill, and Compassion that you can feel from the performers and their moves, it remarkeable.