Shen Yun Under Siege: Unmasking Beijing’s War on Traditional Chinese Arts

Traditional Chinese dancers during a Shen Yun Performing Arts performance.
Traditional Chinese dancers during a Shen Yun Performing Arts performance. (Image: via Shen Yun Performing Arts)

You may have already watched or heard of a Shen Yun performance, especially given it’s been touring the world for over a decade. But for those unfamiliar with Shen Yun Performing Arts — it’s a non-profit traditional Chinese dance and music performance backed by a symphony orchestra that blends Western and Chinese instruments.

Multiple Shen Yun companies tour the world each year, visiting 150 cities with each performance, including 20 dance pieces depicting legends from China’s ancient past and stories set in more contemporary times.

Based in the U.S., Shen Yun produces an all-new program each year, and it’s proven to be a phenomenon with audiences worldwide.

“I saw this show in person when it came to Phoenix, AZ. It was breathtaking; the story truly touched my heart. I will see it again if it comes back,” said one person commenting on the YouTube video for the Shen Yun Performing Arts Intro below.

On the company’s website, the tagline “China before communism” gives a nod to the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) efforts to destroy China’s traditions — especially the 10-year-long Cultural Revolution — upon seizing power in 1949. Since then, the people within China’s borders have suffered while under the CCP, despite what the regime’s massive propaganda machine says otherwise.  

This Shen Yun Performing Arts Intro video has had over 3.6 million views:

Beijing’s campaign against Shen Yun

Given that the performing artists are mostly Falun Gong practitioners, the regime has been doing its utmost to interfere with it, something exposed in the recent report “Diplomatic Disruptions and Disinformation: Beijing’s Global Drive to Stop Shen Yun” produced by the Falun Dafa Information Center.

The report documents and exposes the CCP’s persecution of “Falun Gong practitioners inside and outside China, of which Beijing’s campaign against Shen Yun is a prime example,” the center said in a statement.

“The effort is a key dimension of the regime’s broader transnational repression aimed at Falun Gong practitioners, their peaceful activism, and their supporters around the world,” the center said. “More than 130 incidents of harassment, sabotage, disinformation, and physical attacks by Chinese officials or their proxies targeting Shen Yun have been documented in 38 countries — including the United States — since 2007.”

The report said that: “In at least 25 known cases, Chinese diplomatic pressures or other Beijing-driven incentives have succeeded in preventing a Shen Yun performance — including by provoking last minute cancelations — in countries as diverse as Greece, Moldova, Ecuador, and Malaysia.”

The report said that in most cases, Chinese diplomats are the main actors in attempts to silence Shen Yun.

A scene from a Shen Yun Performing Arts performance.
A scene from a Shen Yun Performing Arts performance. (Image: via Shen Yun Performing Arts)

Among other points in the 20-page report was how the CCP has even targeted Shen Yun’s training center, which is located in upstate New York at a 400-acre campus known as Dragon Springs, which houses two accredited academic institutions — Fei Tian Academy of the Arts and Fei Tian College.

“According to leaked CCP documents, targeting this campus for surveillance, espionage, and legal harassment is a priority for the CCP,” the report says.

“The campus has faced vandalism, frequent spying via drones, frivolous lawsuits, and localized social media campaigns spreading falsehoods. In an unprecedented case, on May 26, 2023, federal U.S. prosecutors charged two Chinese men with attempting to bribe an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) official in New York to target Shen Yun Performing Arts.”

The report said that the U.S. State Department has included “nine incidents of the CCP targeting Shen Yun in its annual reports on international religious freedom, and ambassadors have occasionally raised the issue with local officials.”

The report also said that internal CCP documents revealed that instructions to sabotage Shen Yun came from the very top of the Party hierarchy, with directives deeming the suppression of the performing arts company to be “an important part of the … struggle against Falun Gong.”

What is Falun Gong?

Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, has been undergoing persecution in mainland China since 1999. With meditation and slow-moving exercises, practitioners follow three main principles: Truthfulness, Compassion, and Tolerance. The practice began in northern China during the early 1990s. Easy and free to learn, it quickly spread through China and beyond its borders.

Due to the practice’s popularity, the CCP began to persecute practitioners in 1999. The persecution has been brutal, with the most notable known example being the repeated reports that practitioners are being targeted for live organ harvesting in the country’s organ transplant industry. 

By the mid-1990s, Falun Gong exercise sites with thousands of participants, like this one in Guangzhou, were common in China.
By the mid-1990s, Falun Gong exercise sites with thousands of participants, like this one in Guangzhou, were common in China. (Image: via

This persecution is also depicted in Shen Yun, while the official website for the performance says that many of the company’s artists escaped the ongoing persecution in China.

The persecution of the practice is the crux behind why Shen Yun has been attacked as it has.

“The CCP views Shen Yun as a serious threat to its power. The CCP has spent nearly 25 years trying to eradicate and demonize Falun Gong and even longer to destroy China’s traditional culture,” the report says.

“All these efforts can be unraveled by a Shen Yun performance, which showcases authentic Chinese culture, world-class artistry by talented Falun Gong practitioners, and storylines about the CCP’s deadly religious persecution,” it says.

“The CCP cannot abide having its crimes exposed or its lies about Falun Gong undermined, so it is responding with this unprecedented campaign.”

“While most theater managers and government officials worldwide have rebuffed pressure from the CCP, a few theaters — especially in countries with strong ties to the CCP — have caved to the pressure and canceled or rejected Shen Yun performances.”

For more on why the CCP is “terrified” of Shen Yun, see what Chris Chappell says on this episode of China Uncensored below.

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  • James Burke

    What keeps the world ticking? James is always looking for the answer and the latest news from around the globe. When he's not behind his computer, he's basking in the Thailand sun, or dreaming of the southern hemisphere, where he grew up in rural Australia.