Shen Yun

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Shen Yun Performing Arts
Dance company and symphony orchestra
Founded2006; 14 years ago (2006)
FounderPractitioners of Falun Gong
Area served
DivisionsNew York Company, International Company, Touring Company, World Company

Shen Yun
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese
Simplified Chinese
Literal meaningDivine euphony arts troupe
Japanese name

Shen Yun Performing Arts is a United States-based performing arts and entertainment company that tours internationally, producing dance performances and symphony concerts.[1]

Shen Yun was founded in 2006 by Chinese expatriate adherents of Falun Gong, a new religious movement.[2][3] The company remains an extension of Falun Gong. Adherents pay for venue costs, promote the show, and sell tickets; after performance expenses, proceeds go toward Shen Yun. Falun Gong leader Li Hongzhi describes the performance as a means of "saving" audiences.[1] Shen Yun operates out of a 427-acre compound located in Deerpark, New York, where Li Hongzhi, the founder of Falun Gong, and many of his followers reside. [4][5]

The performances have received criticism for promoting sectarian doctrines and negative views toward evolution, atheism, and homosexuality, as well as being "filled with cult messages".[6][7][8] The group receives frequent promotion from the media extension of the Falun Gong, The Epoch Times, an international media organization that has itself received significant media attention for promoting conspiracy theories.[9]


The company says that its name, "Shen Yun", translates as "the beauty of divine beings dancing".[10] The first word, 神 (shén), means "deity, spirit, supernatural", and the second word, 韻 (yùn), means "melodious tune, rhyme".[8]


In 2006, a group of expatriate Chinese Falun Gong practitioners living in North America founded Shen Yun in New York.[11] The claimed purpose of the company was to revive Chinese culture and traditions from the time before Communist rule.[12][13]

In 2007, the company conducted its first tour with 90 dancers, musicians, soloists, and production staff.[14] Early shows were titled "Chinese Spectacular",[2][3] "Holiday Wonders",[15] "Chinese New Year Splendor", and "Divine Performing Arts", but now the company performs exclusively under the name "Shen Yun". As of 2009, Shen Yun had developed three full companies and orchestras that tour the world simultaneously. By the end of the 2010 season, approximately one million people had seen the troupe perform.[16]

Billing and promotion

Shen Yun promotes itself as "a presentation of traditional Chinese culture as it once was: a study in grace, wisdom, and virtues distilled from five millennia of Chinese civilization". The company is described in promotions as reviving Chinese culture following a period of alleged "assault and destruction" under the Chinese Communist Party. Shen Yun is heavily promoted in major cities with commercials, billboards, and brochures displayed in the streets and in businesses, as well as in television and radio profiles.[7]

Shen Yun performances are often produced or sponsored by regional Falun Dafa associations, members of Falun Gong, which in China is considered to be a cult and is banned by the government.[11] Some audience members have objected to the show's promotion strategy, which does not note the religious- and political-themed content of the performance.[17][18]


Each year, Shen Yun creates original 2 1/2-hour productions. Each consists of approximately 20 vignettes featuring classical Chinese dance, ethnic dance, solo musicians and operatic singing.[16][19] Bilingual masters of ceremonies introduce each performance in Mandarin and in local languages.[16][20]


Large-scale group dance is at the center of Shen Yun productions.[3] Each touring company consists of about 40 male and female dancers, who mainly perform classical Chinese dance, which makes extensive use of acrobatic and tumbling techniques, forms and postures.[21]

Shen Yun's repertoire draws on stories from Chinese history and legends, such as the legend of Mulan,[22] Journey to the West and Outlaws of the Marsh. It also depicts "the story of Falun Gong today".[23] During the 2010 production at least two of the 16 scenes depicted "persecution and murder of Falun Gong practitioners" in contemporary China, including the beating of a young mother to death, and the jailing of a Falun Gong protester. In addition to classical Han Chinese dance, Shen Yun also includes elements of Yi, Miao, Tibetan and Mongolian dance.

Shen Yun performs three core elements of classical Chinese dance: bearing (emotion, cultural and ethnic flavor), form (expressive movements and postures), and technical skill (physical techniques of jumping, flipping, and leaping).[2] Shen Yun choreographer Vina Lee has stated that some of the distinct Chinese bearing (yun) has been "lost in the process" since the cultural changes of the Communist revolution.[2]


Shen Yun dances are accompanied by a Western classical orchestra that integrates several traditional Chinese instruments, including the pipa, suona, dizi, guzheng, and a variety of Chinese percussion instruments.[16][24] There are solo performances featuring Chinese instruments such as the erhu.[2][19] Interspersed between dance sequences are operatic singers performing songs which sometimes invoke spiritual or religious themes, including references to the Falun Gong faith.[16][25] A performance in 2007, for instance, included a reference to the Chakravartin, a figure in Buddhism who turns the wheel of Dharma.[26]

The music for Shen Yun was composed by Jing Xian and Junyi Tan. Three of Shen Yun's performers—flutist Ningfang Chen, erhuist Mei Xuan and tenor Guan Guimin—were recipients of the Chinese Ministry of Culture’s "National First Class Performer" awards. Prior to joining Shen Yun, Guan Guimin was well known in China for his work on soundtracks for more than 50 movies and television shows. Other notable performers include erhu soloist Xiaochun Qi.[27]

Costume and backdrops

Shen Yun dancer Seongho Cha performing in 2009

Shen Yun’s dancers perform wearing intricate costumes, often accompanied by a variety of props.[2][16] Some costumes are intended to imitate the dress of various ethnicities, while others depict ancient Chinese court dancers, soldiers, or characters from classic stories.[2] Props include colorful handkerchiefs, drums,[2] fans, chopsticks, or silk scarves.[23][28]

Each Shen Yun piece is set against a digitally projected backdrop, usually depicting landscapes such as Mongolian grasslands, imperial courts, ancient villages, temples, or mountains.[16][20][29] Some backdrops contain moving elements that integrate with the performance.[28]


Shen Yun's seven companies tour for six months each year, performing in over 130 cities in North America, Europe, Asia, Australia, and Latin America.[16] Notable venues include the David H. Koch Theater at New York's Lincoln Center in Manhattan;[30] the London Coliseum in London, England; the Palais des congrès de Paris; and the Kennedy Center Opera House in Washington, D.C. By the conclusion of Shen Yun's 2010 performance, an estimated one million people had seen the performance worldwide.[16]

Shen Yun does not perform in China. The Chinese government has attempted to cancel Shen Yun performances through political pressure via its foreign embassies and consulates.[31][32][33][34][35][36] Chinese diplomats have also sent letters to elected officials in the West exhorting them not to attend or otherwise support the performance, which they describe as "propaganda" intended to "smear China's image."[37][38] Members of the Communist Party's top political consultative body have also expressed concern that China's state-funded arts troupes have been less popular internationally than Shen Yun.[39] Shen Yun representatives say the Chinese government’s opposition to the show stems from its depictions of modern-day political oppression in China, and that it includes expressions of traditional Chinese cultural history that the Communist government has tried to suppress.[40]

Shen Yun was scheduled to perform in Hong Kong in January 2010, but the performance was cancelled after the government of Hong Kong refused entry visas to Shen Yun's production crew.[41] The decision was overturned in March of the same year, but the company has yet to return.[42] Attempts to shut down the show have also been reported by theatres and local governments in various countries including Ecuador, Ireland, Germany and Sweden.[43]


The 2018 and 2019 performances included lyrics and digital displays disparaging atheism and belief in evolution as "deadly ideas" and "born of the Red Spectre",[7][8] and is a common complaint of attendees of the performance. Reviewers characterized these contents as an "anti-evolution", "religious sermon", and "cult propaganda".[6] Many viewers and reviewers complain about such elements a misrepresentation of the show's content in Shen Yun's advertising, in a way that "feels more like propaganda than straightforwardly presented cultural heritage."[44] Alix Martichoux from Houston Chronicle wrote "For many disgruntled Shen Yun attendees, it's not necessarily that the show itself is bad — though to be fair, some complain it is. Most of the negative reviews were people upset they were blindsided by the political content."[6] Walter Whittemore wrote on The Ledger that "We paid a premium for seats that would provide us an excellent view of Chinese tradition. Instead, we contributed unwittingly to a religious movement that denies evolution and science, claims the earth was inhabited by aliens, demonizes atheists and homosexuals, and condemns mixed marriages."[45] As of April 2019, disparagement of atheism and evolution was still present in the show.[6][7][8] Misrepresentation of content in advertising was also commonly complained by viewers.

Falun Gong-affiliated political propaganda have also been noted as prominent elements. An outstanding case is described by Jia Tolentino from The New Yorker: "Chairman Mao appeared, and the sky turned black; the city in the digital backdrop was obliterated by an earthquake, then finished off by a Communist tsunami. A red hammer and sickle glowed in the center of the wave. [...] a huge, bearded face disappearing in the water, [...] a tsunami with the face of Karl Marx."[7] David Robertson, minister of St. Peter's Free Church in Dundee, Scotland, wrote that although he enjoyed the show, it is "filled with cult messages", writing: "Some of the messages were hardly subtle – not least when the colourful Falun Gong practitioners in the park were beaten up by the black clad villains with the Chinese Communist symbols on their back. Or when a massive (digital) wave with an ominous picture of Karl Marx threatened to overwhelm the city, until the light (in the form of Li Hongzhi, the Falun Gong leader), dispersed it and destroyed him! [...] As soon as it started – with everything inch perfect, and the fake fixed smiles on every dancer and the constant spiritual waffle about 'truthfulness, harmony, compassion and forbearance' I knew that we were in the presence of a religious cult. And so it turned out to be."[8]

Symphony orchestra

In October 2012, Shen Yun's symphony orchestra made its debut performance at Carnegie Hall in New York. The performance featured conductors Milen Nachev, Keng-Wei Kuo, and Antonia Joy Wilson, and the program included both classical works such as Beethoven's Egmont Overture and Antonio Vivaldi's Concerto in C Major, as well as original compositions that fuse Chinese and Western instruments.[46]

In 2013 the symphony orchestra toured to seven American cities. In addition to Carnegie Hall, it performed at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.[47] and Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco.[48]

See also


  1. ^ a b Junker, Andrew. 2019. Becoming Activists in Global China: Social Movements in the Chinese Diaspora, p. 99. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9781108655897
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Hunt, Mary Ellen (4 January 2009). "Chinese New Year Spectacular in S.F., Cupertino". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 4 September 2009.
  3. ^ a b c Wenzel, John (1 October 2007). "Chinese New Year embracing tradition". The Denver Post. Retrieved 5 September 2009.
  4. ^
  5. ^ Junker, Andrew. 2019. Becoming Activists in Global China: Social Movements in the Chinese Diaspora, p. 99-101. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9781108655897
  6. ^ a b c d Martichoux, Alix (21 December 2018). "You've seen the ads. But what's the deal with Shen Yun?". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved 7 January 2019.
  7. ^ a b c d e Jia, Tolentino (19 March 2019). "Stepping Into the Uncanny, Unsettling World of Shen Yun". New Yorker. Retrieved 20 March 2019.
  8. ^ a b c d e Robertson, David (28 January 2019). "Chinese Culture, Cult and Communism – Shen Yun – A Review". Retrieved 31 March 2019.
  9. ^ Tolentino, Jia. 2019. Stepping into the Uncanny, Unsettling World of Shen Yun. The New Yorker. March 19, 2019. Online. Last accessed May 18, 2020.
  10. ^ "Frequently Asked Questions". Retrieved 2 December 2012. Shen Yun literally translates as: The beauty of divine beings dancing.
  11. ^ a b Wright, E. Assata (22 December 2011). "Shen Yun returns". Hudson Reporter. Retrieved 22 February 2020.
  12. ^ "Shen Yun Performing Arts to Return to Lincoln Center, 1/10-19". broadwayworld. Retrieved 22 May 2020.
  13. ^ Wenzel, John. "Chinese New Year embracing tradition". The Denver Post. Retrieved 22 May 2020.
  14. ^ Adriana Rambay Fernandez, Dancing around the world, Hudson Reporter, 22 January 2012.
  15. ^ Higgins, Beau (15 November 2007). "'Holiday Wonders' Chinese Meets West Extravaganza". Broadway World. Retrieved 5 September 2009.
  16. ^ a b c d e f g h i Hodara, Susan. 5,000 Years of Chinese Music and Dance, in One Night. New York Times. 13 August 2010.
  17. ^ Konigsberg, Eric (6 February 2008). "A Glimpse of Chinese Culture That Some Find Hard to Watch". The New York Times.Dabkowski, Colin (30 May 2010). "Song & dance spectacular not exactly what it seems". Buffalo News. Retrieved 21 June 2010.
  18. ^ Pousner, Howard (17 January 2012). "Many Atlantans OK with Chinese dance troupe's politics". Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Archived from the original on 30 August 2011. Retrieved 23 April 2012.
  19. ^ a b Sparacino, Micaele (19 January 2010). "Deities, Dragons, Dancers, and Divas". Retrieved 29 January 2010.
  20. ^ a b Goodwyn, Albert (11 January 2007). "Chinese New Year Spectacular". San Francisco Bay Times. Retrieved 5 September 2009.
  21. ^ Delza, Sophia (June 1958). "The Dance in the Chinese Theater". The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism. 16 (4): 437–452. doi:10.2307/428042. ISSN 0021-8529. JSTOR 428042.
  22. ^ "International Incident". The Pacific Northwest Inlander. Archived from the original on 25 May 2009. Retrieved 15 November 2009.
  23. ^ a b Paula Citron. A dazzling show with a clear message. The Globe and Mail: Arts. 22 January 2008.
  24. ^ Elina Shatkin. Vina leads Divine Performing Arts' Chinese New Year Spectacular. Los Angeles Times. 1 January 2009.
  25. ^ Citron, Paula (22 January 2008). "A dazzling show with a clear message". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 31 October 2012.
  26. ^ Joel Markowitz, ‘January Pleasures’, DC Theatre Scene, 28 January 2007.
  27. ^ Robert Baxter, "New Year show, old traditions preserve Chinese culture," Courier Post, 30 December 2007.
  28. ^ a b Sid Smith, ‘Women flow like water in spectacle’, 28 January 2008.
  29. ^ Meredith Galante. A Day In The Life Of A Professional Dancer In A Traditional Chinese Company. Business Insider. 11 January 2012.
  30. ^ "Shen Yun Performing Arts" Archived 27 January 2013 at the Wayback Machine David H. Koch Theater.
  31. ^ International Religious Freedom Report 2010 Report, 17 November 2010. US Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
  32. ^ Epoch Times Article, Hans Bengtsson, 28 March 2009, "Empty Threats From The Chinese Embassy Backfire"
  33. ^ Epoch Times Article, Joshua Philipp, 4 June 2010, "Despite Chinese Regime Pressure, The Show Goes On"
  34. ^ Moldova country report, 17 November 2010. US Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
  35. ^ Romania country report, 17 November 2010. US Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
  36. ^ Ukraine country report, 17 November 2010. US Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
  37. ^ Keegan Hamilton, Chinese Government Kindly Reminds Seattle Officials About the 'Evil Cult' Coming to Town Archived 9 February 2012 at the Wayback Machine, Seattle Weekly, 6 February 2012.
  38. ^ "Chinese New Year Spectacular 'just propaganda': Chinese Embassy", Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. 17 January 2007.
  39. ^ Li, Raymond (8 March 2013). "State-funded arts troupes fail to shine against Falun Gong rivals abroad". South China Morning Post. Retrieved 26 April 2013.
  40. ^ Regina Weinreich (24 June 2011), Beauty and the Beast:Shen Yun at Lincoln Center. New York, The Huffington Post.
  41. ^ "Falungong decries HK as democracy row deepens". My Sinchew. Agence-France Presse. 27 January 2010.
  42. ^ Sonya Bryskine, Kong Court Upholds Freedom and Shen Yun, The Epoch Times, 10 March 2010.
  43. ^ Hune-Brown, Nicholas (12 December 2017). "The traditional Chinese dance troupe China doesn't want you to see". The Guardian.
  44. ^ Tillotson, Kristin (6 February 2015). "Shen Yun: Politics behind the performance". Star Tribune. Retrieved 7 January 2019.
  45. ^ Whittemore, Walter. "Letter: Propaganda posing as entertainment". The Ledger. Retrieved 7 January 2019.
  46. ^ "Shen Yun Symphony Orchestra". Carnegie Hall. 28 October 2012. Archived from the original on 12 September 2014..
  47. ^ "Shen Yun Performing Arts to Return to Lincoln Center, 1/10-19". broadwayworld. Retrieved 14 November 2018.
  48. ^ "Musician Enjoys Listening to 'Amazing musicians' of Shen Yun Symphony Orchestra". 23 October 2013. Retrieved 14 November 2018.

Further reading

External links

Media related to Shen Yun Performing Arts at Wikimedia Commons