Chinese culture wars came to the California Center for the Arts, Escondido (CCAE) last week. Shen Yun, the New York-based performing arts company affiliated with the Falun Gong spiritual movementm was at the Center for a series of performances from Jan. 26-28.
Falun Gong was founded in Northeast China in 1992, emphasizing Buddhist and Taoist tradition. While the Chinese Communist Party initially supported the movement, or at least looked the other way, Party leadership in the mid-1990s began viewing the practice as a threat to its power. The Communist party cracked down on the movement in July 1999 arresting Falun Gong members sending practitioners underground.
Falun Gong had 70 million to 80 million followers in China before the crackdown. The movement now has an estimated two million to three million followers outside China. Epoch Magazine is the officials publicity arm covers the group’s Shen Yun performances nationwide , including several stories based on its Escondido shows.
Founded in 2006, Shen Yun’s shows offer a richly varied and colorful journey through Chinese culture, with lively folk and classical Chinese dances as well as more dramatic episodes of storytelling. Though there is a distinctly political edge to the modern tales of oppression that are interspersed with ribbon dances and bowl dances, there is also much to fill the eyes and entertain.
Re-printed by permission, here are three tales of Shen Yun at CCAE…
Theatergoer drives 116 miles to watch Shen Yun
Phill Gutierrez and his wife drove from Big Bear Lake to see Shen Yun Performing Arts Jan. 26 at California Center for the Arts.
“We did make a trip [of it],” he said, “but it was wonderful, and we’re glad to be here.”
Mr. Gutierrez, a teamster who works for one of the largest unions in the country, said he thoroughly enjoyed Shen Yun’s costumes and orchestra, which includes traditional Chinese and Western instruments.
He described the Shen Yun Performing Arts Orchestra as a great mixture of sounds.
“You hear the Chinese flavor, but then you hear the violin and the cellos, the horn instruments, the wind instruments, and it was just a great mixture. So it was very, very entertaining,” he said.
Shen Yun is a New York-based, classical Chinese music and dance company with a mission to revive China’s rich cultural heritage through performing arts.
The performance includes vignettes that serve as a portal into China’s 5,000-year history, from the Yellow Emperor descending from the Heavens to rule the Middle Kingdom, and through the Tang and Song Dynasties, all the way to modern times.
Mr. Gutierrez was moved by the spirituality of traditional Chinese culture displayed in the performance.
“[It was] very inspirational, very inspirational,” he said, regarding the mention of heaven in several pieces. He also referred to one of the two vocal soloists in the performance whose song lyrics were displayed on a backdrop in both English and Chinese.
“One of the lines that stood out was, ‘Status and wealth cannot be taken with you.’ [That’s] very important because in this world, people strive for wealth and success, but in the end, you can’t take it with you—So, it’s very inspirational.
“The teachings of the ancients were just so spot on. It’s what this world needs today because our society is deteriorating, especially here in America. Our traditions [and] our values are just going down the drain. But here, in this musical, there’s still a message of faith, of hope, [and] an afterlife. That is very important,” he said.
Mr. Gutierrez added that the message throughout the performance was powerful, and he hopes more people will see it.
Reporting by NTD Television and Albert Roman.
Shen Yun Inspires Bravery
When students have problems they come to see the school’s counselor. And often the advice they get is: “Be brave.”
Retired science teacher and school counselor Martha Bowling saw Shen Yun tell stories of bravery when she saw the performing arts company at the California Center for the Arts on Jan. 26.
“The heart would not give in—that it would hold its belief and its faith, and that was very beautiful, the story of Falun Dafa,” she said.
Ms. Bowling was referring to the piece “A Steadfast Heart,” which shows how an elderly couple is persecuted by the Chinese regime because they practice the exercises of the spiritual school Falun Dafa, which is deeply rooted in Chinese traditional culture.
Each of the Shen Yun’s individual songs or dances highlights some cherished value of traditional Chinese culture—compassion, loyalty, kindness or bravery—often by telling a story, sometimes through the singing of award-winning vocalists. In “A Steadfast Heart,” their belief helps the elderly couple to overcome persecution with divine help.
Founded in 1992, Falun Dafa is a spiritual meditation practice that teaches truthfulness, compassion, and forbearance. But since 1999, the communist regime has been brutally persecuting the practice. Millions of Falun Gong practitioners have been arrested, illegally detained, tortured, and even killed for their organs.
“There is always evil and lie, lying that tries to destroy people’s faith, and people’s caring, and people’s goodness. That theme ran through the monkey story [“Monkey King and Dragon Palace”], it ran through the stories of the Red Guards [“Monks and the Red Guards”]—very powerful. And it’s encouraging, that there are lots of brave people out there, and it challenges me to be brave,” said Ms. Bowling.
For thousands of years, the Chinese called their country the “Divine Land” (“Shen Zhou” in Chinese) and the teachings of Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism were the heart of the culture. It was believed that the arts were given to humankind as a way to bring some of the divine to earth.
New York-based Shen Yun seeks to revive the sense of divine inspiration through classical Chinese dance and music, after systematic political campaigns like the Cultural Revolution almost destroyed the traditional culture in China.
According to Ms. Bowling, Shen Yun succeeded in its endeavor: “It’s magic, and brings the divine and mystical to earth, to a stage, to our eyes. And in a very beautiful way.”
Reporting by Marie-Paul Baxiu and Valentin Schmid.
Spirituality of Shen Yun
Authors Rick Ireton and Jan Spiller drank in the brilliant artistry and spirituality of the ancient legends, myths, and the modern day tales of China on the evening of Jan. 28.
The California Center for the Arts was once again the setting for Shen Yun Performing Arts as the company begins its 2016 global tour.
Mr. Ireton has written several books, and has a predilection for themes of love and spirituality. Ms. Spiller is an author of some best-selling astrology books. Her books have been published in 17 languages, including Chinese.
“I would say it’s an uplifting, beautiful, enlightening performance that we’re seeing,” Mr. Ireton said.
“It brought tears to my eyes,” Ms. Spiller added. “I was so moved by the courage of these people to come here and with their artistry, perform the arts of [ancient] China for the world.”
A group of world-class dancers, musicians, and vocalists who practice the cultivation practice of Falun Dafa came together in 2006 to form Shen Yun Performing Arts, a non-profit. They train in upstate New York and focus on bringing back to the world the rich, ancient Chinese culture.
However, Shen Yun is banned in China because free speech and the expression of spirituality is something communists fear.
“I loved it. I loved it,” said Ms. Spiller. She thinks Shen Yun’s performance is a perfect manifestation of their purpose and that that purpose should be spread everywhere: “A spiritual message, and it’s a beautiful thing.”
In addition to the fact that Shen Yun cannot perform in China, Falun Gong has been persecuted there since 1999.
Ms. Spiller’s eyes filled with tears as she spoke about a particular dance.
“The Steadfast Heart’ takes place in contemporary China. A couple join with others to practice the spiritual meditation practice Falun Dafa, but the CCP police arrive just as they are to start their morning exercises. The police beat and arrest them, and the husband is struck down and arrested. After torture in the CCP jail shatters his mind and body, a heavenly scene of salvation unfolds, bringing divine grace.
Mr. Ireton is familiar with this struggle, and has always wanted to help and let people know what the CCP is doing to practitioners of Falun Dafa.
“I’m grateful for this [performance], that they would get the word out about the condition of people just trying to be who they are naturally,” he said.
“We’re spiritual beings, we’re beautiful, we should be able to express our beauty. It’s odd to me that China would frown on this sort of teaching and expression of their [ancient] culture that’s so beautiful.”
“My thoughts on China trying to squelch the light of the people—it is like trying to stop a flower from blooming, or a bird from singing.” Continuing his thoughts, he said, “or us from singing or loving.”
“It’s like how can you do that? I’m trying to rationalize the thinking, and [the CCP] must be afraid of the human spirit and what would happen to people as we find our self in masses and truly begin to love one another, as we are loved,” he said.
Mr. Ireton thanked Shen Yun for their courage and effort” “It’s a labor of love. And it’s beautiful and I commend [Shen Yun] for doing such a beautiful job!”
“The light drives out darkness,” he said, and the more that this performance is shown, and the more people recognize their own “darkness, … it will [be] overcome.”
Reporting by Marie-Paul Baxiu and Cheryl Casati.
New York-based Shen Yun Performing Arts has four touring companies that perform simultaneously around the world. For more information, visit Shen Yun Performing Arts.
Epoch Times considers Shen Yun Performing Arts the significant cultural event of our time. We have proudly covered audience reactions since Shen Yun’s inception in 2006.