Sunday, March 2, 2014

Shen Yun | The First Time I Left a Performance

Every year there is a blanket of advertising that envelops Boston when Shen Yun comes to town. After seeing the appealing advertisements for several years, we purchased tickets for a matinée performance yesterday afternoon. My heart sank a little while we were driving down to the theater. The Yelp reviews were less than stellar. (read my yelp review here)

Many of them took issue with the religious and spiritual undertones that were embedded (yet unadvertised) within the show. Billed as a celebration of 5,000 years of Chinese culture, the show also finds time to discuss the persecution that some practitioners of Falun Gong face in mainland China.

The performance is underwritten and produced by practitioners of Falun Gong/Falun Dafa. The practice is a modern day phenomena, founded in 1992, based on one man's appropriation of ancient Chinese practices. I'll get to Falun Gong in a moment. Let's talk about the performance itself. 

I'm fairly sure yesterday afternoon's performance of Shen Yun at the Boston Citi Performing Arts Center's Wang Theater would have been better if produced by Abby Lee Miller of Dance Mom's fame.

It was bad. I left at intermission. I've never left a performance. Ever. 

Bright lighting and colorful costumes covered up stilted uninspiring music, choreography suitable for high school dance troupes who have just learned to twirl, tortured singing, and a presentation of history that is nothing more than a cheap caricature of a lush rich culture. The advertisement for Shen Yun features phenomenal computer generated images that are projected onto a screen at the back of the stage. In reality these graphics are something suggestive of what a high school art class might do with a low-powered computer from the late 1990s. The dancers would disappear into trapdoors behind props and then appear in cartoon form on the screen. Hardly the stuff one might imagine when hopping for an awe-inspiring meld between a beautiful dance performance and high technology. 

I was underwhelmed.

I came home wanting to learn more about this performance. I wanted to dig further into the Yelp reviews of Shen Yun, which is translated as "beauty of divine beings dancing." What it really appears to be is a propaganda piece to convince Western audiences to be appalled at the plight of Falun Gong practitioners in China. Some also have left feeling that the propaganda is designed to convince people to follow the tenants of Falun Gong. Knowing something about the triple jewels of Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha, I found the cartoonish presentation offered by Shen Yun to be an insulting joke. 

There are mountains of glowing reviews. Interestingly, the vast majority of these reviews appear in papers published by various Falun Gong/Falun Dafa organizations. I was hard pressed to find anything other than what the practitioners of Falun Gong want us to hear. Here are excerpts from three pointed reviews I did find.

You've really got to hand it to the folks behind "Shen Yun," the unconscionable piece of religious propaganda that appeared Thursday night in Shea's Performing Arts Center.... Marketed as a survey of 5,000 years of Chinese culture through classical and folk dances from the country, "Shen Yun" turns out to be little more than a church pageant. Were it advertised as such, some of its flaws could be forgiven. Since it was not, it deserves to be held to account for the deception its creators have wrought. --Colin Dabkowski, Buffalo News

Whatever you think of “Shen Yun,” the fact that an organization would manipulate Internet search results to this degree should raise a red flag. -- Colin Dabkowki, Buffalo News

They move with great discipline and some grace, but the promised acrobatics are few and far between. The best of the routines - some ferocious drummers, a Mongolian bowl dance, a Tibetan dance of welcome - are those that are simplest and least admonitory. The rest are tainted by the baggage they are asked to carry. The result is one of the weirdest and most unsettling evenings I have ever spent in the theatre. --Sarah Crompton, The Telegraph 
And then there are the anti-gay aspects of Falun Gong. I found Vancouver based journalist Nathaniel Christopher's post entitled "Falun Gong is Homophobic." Who would have guessed that the $200 some odd dollars I spent on tickets for Shen Yun would have ended up supporting an anti-gay organization?

I'll let Li Hongzhi, founder of Falun Gong, speak for himself. The following two questions and answers are from a public teaching that Hongzhi gave in Geneva Switzerland in 1998. The full transcript is available on the Falun Dafa website.

Question: Why is homosexuality considered immoral? 
Teacher: Think about it, everyone: Is homosexuality human behavior? Heaven created man and woman. What was the purpose? To procreate future generations. A man being with a man, or a woman with a woman—it doesn’t take much thought to know whether that’s right or wrong. When minor things are done incorrectly, a person is said to be wrong. When major things are done incorrectly, it’s a case of people no longer having the moral code of human beings, and then they are unworthy of being human. 
Let me tell you why today’s society has become how it is. It results from there not being an upright Fa to keep human beings in check. This Dafa is taught right in the most chaotic environment, at a time when no religion can save people, and where the circumstance is that no god takes interest in people anymore. The Fa is almighty. The best time periods wouldn’t require such a great Fa to be taught. Only in the worst time periods can the power of the Fa manifest. There are other reasons, too. 
Question: Why is it that homosexuals are considered bad people? 
Teacher: Let me tell you, if I weren’t teaching this Fa today, gods’ first target of annihilation would be homosexuals. It’s not me who would destroy them, but gods. You know that homosexuals have found legitimacy in that homosexuality was around back in the culture of ancient Greece. Yes, there was a similar phenomenon in ancient Greek culture. And do you know why ancient Greek culture is no more? Why are the ancient Greeks gone? Because they had degenerated to that extent, and so they were destroyed. 
When gods created man they prescribed standards for human behavior and living. When human beings overstep those boundaries, they are no longer called human beings, though they still assume the outer appearance of a human. So gods can’t tolerate their existence and will destroy them. Do you know why wars, epidemics, and natural and man-made disasters happen in this world? They’re precisely because human beings have karma, and those events exist to remove it. No matter how wonderful a time period may be in the future, there will still be wars, epidemics, and natural and man-made disasters on earth. They are a way of eliminating karma for people. Some people who have sinned can have their karma eliminated through the death of the flesh body and suffering, and then they’ll be free of that karma when they reincarnate. Their lives don’t really die and they reincarnate again. But the karma that some people have accrued is too much, in which case the fundamental elements of their existence will be implicated and destroyed. 
Homosexuals not only violate the standards that gods set for mankind, but also damage human society’s moral code. In particular, the impression it gives children will turn future societies into something demonic. That’s the issue. That kind of destruction, however, isn’t just about disappearing after they’re annihilated. That person is annihilated layer after layer at a rate that seems pretty rapid to us, but in fact it’s extremely slow in that time field. Over and over again, one is annihilated in an extremely painful way. It’s terribly frightening. A person should live in an upright manner, living honorably like a human being. He shouldn’t indulge his demon-nature and do whatever he likes.

And from Zhuan Falun, written by Li Hongzhi in 1996 and translated into English in 2008.

When I discuss what has happened with society, people immediately get it, which indicates that man’s innate nature has not changed. However, mankind has slid to a terribly dangerous point. When I talked about homosexuality while giving classes in the West, I said, “These wanton sexual practices in the West have gotten almost as bad as incest.” Someone then brought up that “homosexuality is legally protected by the state.” Good and bad are not to be gauged by the approval of some individual or collective. Human judgment of good and bad is based entirely on people’s own notions. People think, “I think he’s good…” or “He’s good to me, so I would say he’s good.” Or he has formed a set notion, and, if according to his notion someone is good, he will say that person is good. The same holds true with groups. When something is in the group’s interest or it furthers a certain goal, the group will say that it’s good and consent to it. But it is not necessarily truly good. The truth of the universe, the Buddha Fa, is the sole, unchanging criterion that measures human beings and everything that exists—the sole criterion that determines what is good or bad. I told them [the students in the West], “To be perfectly frank, your government may approve of it, but your Lord does not!” Each time mankind has reached this point, it has in fact been in grave danger and out of control.

Mankind, in this mental state devoid of virtuous thoughts, seeks after drastically different things than before. For fame and gain, people resort to killing, arson, and framing. All that matters to them is money, not friends or family. Human relationships completely hinge now on money. You thus see unconscionable and outrageous acts of every sort being committed for money. Products, promotional items, and sound and video recordings that promote promiscuous sex are everywhere. For money, people will harm others without hesitation and produce, traffic, and sell drugs. Those miserable drug addicts will stop at nothing—stealing, robbing, and cheating others for money—to buy those expensive drugs. Television programs, newspapers, magazines, and literary works are full of casual sex. People go so far as to commit incest across generational lines. Repulsive homosexual behavior meanwhile bespeaks of a filthy, deviant state of mind that lacks rationality. Organized crime is so rampant there is no place it doesn’t reach, yet it appeals to young people who, driven by their demonic side, crave violence. Crime bosses have become the objects of admiration, and people flock to them.

While I'm annoyed I spent a great deal of money on a performance that was terrible, I'm deeply disappointed that the money I spent went toward supporting a racist and homonegative cult (see also here, and here, and here). 

Buyer beware.

Update, March 9, 2014

I just got this unsolicited email.

dear jason,

Thank you for watching Shen Yun Performance. Researches show that ones who have watched Shen Yun Performance would be protected by Master Li Hongzhi and never get ill.Even those who get terminal illnesses could have instant improvement and miraculous recovery. (Pease refer to the column of merit award in Minghui net for further information.)This letter is sent to check if you have felt some changes in your physical body after watching Shen Yun performance. Hope to hear from you.

1 comment:

  1. We saw it (unfortunately) last Saturday night. Everything written above is true - I even said the same to my husband during the performance - that the Dance Moms crew would have done better. It was truly like an elementary school production - or church pageant. Pathetic performance and $200 and 3 hours of our lives we'll never get back.