Shen Yun in the eyes of a London retired teacher

21 Jul

Strangely enough, I’d forgotten all about this discussion, but when someone was offering leaflets outside my Chinese class I was definitely up for seeing the show. I write for a website called Dimsum. There’s no pay, but I can get to see the shows for free. I was allocated two seats in the front stalls at the RFH yesterday, a real treat for me and my husband. I was a bit surprised by an American MC, and to learn it was a New York based troupe, but fair enough. A bit glittery and slick, but more or less based on Chinese traditional stuff, and the orchestra and dancers were superb. The emphasis was on Buddhist and Daoist beliefs about the afterlife.

Things turned sinister towards the end of the first half. A dance drama showed Chinese police beating up a couple of women imprisoned for religious beliefs. Then there was a song, supposedly about a Chinese woman thinking of her folks at New Year and reminding them ‘Dafa hao’ -‘Da fa’ would be good. Suddenly it clicked – Dafa is the name of Falun Gong call their divine being. By chance I’d also rewatched the DVD, ‘Out of the Death Trap’, about people in a Chinese village dying because a strange new cult didn’t hold with medical intervention.

By the end of the interval there were six empty seats around me and a growing unease in the audience. Another dance drama was even worse, with a young child flung across the stage (all done in dance) and some people defending her and her mother against Chinese police.

This morning I was in a quandary. The show was slick, and entertaining, no doubt about it. But how to recommend to a Chinese readership a show that attacked their government? By this time I’d read in the programme that the ‘most of the performers practised the principles of Falun Gong’. There had been no indication of this at all in the pre-show notices. I decided to ring the RFH.

It seems my query was was one of many, including some from representatives from the Chinese Embassy. It’s a shame if the Chinese government thinks such a prestigious body as the RFH is sanctioning criticism at such a sensitive time, not to mention the audience which was predominantly Chinese. It isn’t as if it were a discussion forum with both side giving their views. I wondered if the RFH had been aware in advance of the content.

My point is that it should have been billed as ‘The Falun Gong Show’ and everybody would know where they stood. I felt suckered into going along with it. How I would have felt if I’d been Chinese and paid £55 for the seat, thinking I was going to see just traditional songs and dances? I imagine I’d be very angry.

When I lived in China I regularly attended Christian church services and visited Buddhist and Taoist temples. In fact, I was surprised at the level of religious tolerance.

I’ve decided not to write a review, but if anyone wants to read about a genuine Chinese/UK collaboration show with no covert message, there’s my review of the Five Circles Arts Festival on the review forum.

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