China has a big thing for big numbers: 1.3 billion people, 9 million square miles of geography and a 5,000-mile-long border fence. The United States owes them something like $900 billion. In keeping with that high-number tradition, Shen Yun Performing Arts has decorated Sacramento with millions of ads.
Formerly known as Divine Performing Arts, Shen Yun will come to town this weekend. The show features traditional Chinese dance and costumes, all backed with a live 40-something-piece orchestra. Its mission? “Revive the true, five-millennia-old artistic tradition of China that thrived before decades of suppression by the Chinese communist party.”
That glossy pamphlet reads a bit like a Scientology tract. Example: 15-year-old NYC resident James Watson says: “I saw China before with my eyes, but this show led me to experience China with my soul. Every dancer displays all kinds of virtue and beauty, which really touched my heart and inspired me.”
Wow. Who knew American teenagers could be so articulate?
A quick Google search reveals that Shen Yun has ties to Falun Gong, which the Chinese government labeled an “evil cult,” and then imprisoned and tortured its practitioners. Shen Yun has been criticized for not adequately disclosing its Falun Gong connections in promotional materials; sections of the performance depict the Communist Party brutalizing Falun Gong adherents.
Still, the show exhibits gorgeous costumes and athletic choreography. And it’s made it all the way to Radio City Music Hall and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Shen Yun stops at Sacramento’s Community Center Theater Saturday and Sunday.
Reactions to the show have reflected public opinion about its, er, founding spiritual movement. Famed Talkin’ Broadway critic Richard Connema called it “mind blowing.” The Daily Telegraph called it “propaganda as entertainment.”
So, traditional Chinese performance or cult indoctrination? Decide for yourself.