Shen Yun Performing Arts catapulted onto the world stage in 2006. Nobody knew anything about the group that produced it, and now it’s one of the biggest shows on earth. This just doesn’t happen!
How did Shen Yun achieve such massive success? How come Shen Yun, a show about Chinese culture, is not allowed to perform in China? Why are some people saying that Shen Yun offers hope to China and the world?
It isn’t that these facts are hidden. It is just that most people don’t know enough about Shen Yun before they go. I’ve seen Shen Yun a bunch of times, and I think I have uncovered the truth. Let’s explore it together in this Shen Yun review.
Shen Yun Review: What Do You See at a Performance?
Even though this is a show about Chinese culture, the overwhelming majority of theatre audiences are non-Chinese. I was listening this year, and I heard people whispering between performances to each other things like, “beautiful, look at the colors,” and similar sentiments. But mostly, people were just smiling and appeared content.
Speaking of colors, I counted 19 different dance and music performances. This means there were 19 unique color palettes on display, because each one of the dance pieces showcased at least a dozen dancers in totally new apparel. Talk about quick costume changes!
The Shen Yun Symphony Orchestra, which also performs once a year at Carnegie Hall in New York, accompanies the performers on stage. This orchestra’s East-West arrangement and style is a true rarity in the world. The Chinese instruments add volumes to the ethnic character of the performances, while the Western instruments lend strength to the sound and carry the action.
Most of what Shen Yun presents is classical Chinese dance, and it's on display in great glory.
We are told that this dance form is even older than ballet, and more diverse. You actually see all that diversity on stage. There are leaps, jumps, tumbling, and graceful movements; even hilarious, comedic, and bumbling movements are part of the artistic expression.
And imagine, Chinese dance was also a source for many of the martial arts forms still practiced today.
Shen Yun's artful choreography—a cascading array of dynamic movement that culminates in many, many moments of sublime beauty—makes you wish you had more time to admire your favorite scenes. However, the action has already moved on.
Speaking of action, a review published by the Society of Classical Poets goes into detail about the story-based element of Shen Yun's dance form. With classical Chinese dance, performers have an uncanny ability to reveal emotion and subtlety using tiny gestures and details.
Shen Yun's storytelling is aided by an animated, digitally painted backdrop that brings to life everything from ancient imperial palaces, to a heavenly archery training school. The dancers actually appear to fly up into the air and transform into heavenly deities on the screen.
There is an element of: you never know what is going to happen next. The transformation into other dimensions and worlds is rather stunning at first to see. I think the animation effect of the backdrop, which is patented, is far better than any 3-D or IMAX movie.
Shen Yun Audience Reviews Are Not 'the Usual'
As you might expect, the official audience feedback on Shen Yun is an impressive collection of superlatives. Some are ordinary, such as “I loved it,” but many are deeply moving.
Dr. Sean Nolan, a physician specializing in endocrinology, told a media outlet: “I was feeling advancement of my soul. It went to my soul. It went to heaven. It made me feel like this is the future, this is mankind healing and mankind developing back to the beginnings, and to the future and to heaven.”
Really? That is intense, isn’t it? How is it possible for someone to understand all that from a single performance? I think I know, and will try to answer this question later in my review, but first some more audience feedback.
Rebecca Laird, a performing arts company director, said, “It feels very cleansing.” “The goodness and beauty of it is not really what we’re used to seeing anymore,” she added. “There was a purity to it, a natural beauty.”
Cleansing and healing is something people say fairly often of Shen Yun.
Tamre Varallo, an owner of a winery and healthcare consultancy, said: “I saw halos behind the dancers—angelic and divine … Very peaceful.”
Watching Shen Yun makes you feel peaceful? I totally agree. I always feel uplifted after watching it.
Varallo also talked about the music. “Sometimes you cannot describe things that are so profound—it was bigger than life. … There aren’t words to describe the beauty. … It’s like heaven.”
I find it amazing that people see so much in a Shen Yun performance. Let us dig deeper.
The Sad Truth About Traditional Culture in Today’s China
Shen Yun’s mission is to revive traditional Chinese culture.
China is the oldest culture in the world, and its foundations include concepts and principles such as heaven, the Tao, God, Buddha, fate, predestination, benevolence, righteousness, propriety, wisdom, faithfulness, honesty, humility, loyalty, filial piety, dignity, and so on.
After the Communist Party took power in 1949, it launched campaign after campaign to forcibly destroy its traditional culture, and to twist the foundations of the culture in favor of the singular belief that the Communist Party is always “great, glorious, and correct.”
I don’t think most people understand the significance of Shen Yun's mission, and how before Shen Yun, this glorious heritage of mankind may have been lost forever. Try to imagine the impact of this kind of moral destruction on a people.
It is estimated that 80 million lives have been taken by the communist movement in the name of class struggle. This is more than the number of casualties in both World Wars combined.
The most well-known of the Party’s campaigns, and the most relevant to Shen Yun, was the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s and 70s. You've heard of it, but do you really know what it was?Shen Yun has grown by popular demand in just twelve years from one company, to five equally-large companies. Click To Tweet
The Cultural Revolution sought to destroy the “Four Olds,” defined as old customs, old culture, old habits, and old ideas. Countless historical books, sites, and treasures were destroyed, altered, or co-opted by the Party’s Red Guards in a reign of terror across China.
Despite today's appearances, temples and cultural sites in China are all operated under the Party’s leadership. They are basically tourist spots bringing in money, and fooling the rest of the world about the regime's so-called tolerance.
Why Some People Say Shen Yun Offers a Message of Hope
After all the suppression of culture that has happened in China over the last 70 years, suddenly the New York-based Shen Yun emerges with the mission of restoring China's cultural treasure. Finally, generations of Chinese people have hope again, as do all of us.
For people of faith, this could not be more significant, because China’s traditional culture is something that is believed to have been passed down by gods.
Chinese culture is filled with references to the gods intervening in people’s lives, teaching lessons, helping in times of need, bestowing knowledge, and so on. You will see these themes in Shen Yun, and it moves people of all cultures and beliefs who resonate with their universality. It also explains some of the incredible audience feedback described above.
Shen Yun has grown by popular demand in just twelve years from one company, to five equally-large companies. After training all year, the companies fan out across the globe where they perform for mostly sold-out audiences at many of the best theaters in the world.
Of course, Shen Yun cannot perform inside China, and the Chinese regime has done everything it can to stop the show. I understand it was especially difficult for Shen Yun at the beginning. The reason Shen Yun cannot perform in China also has to do with faith and hope.
I personally believe they have been able to accomplish it because part of their training involves meditation and the practice of Falun Gong. Meditation hasn’t become mainstream these days for no reason. It has power.
You can see it on Shen Yun’s website, and it says right in the Shen Yun program book that performers “draw their spiritual inspiration from the meditation discipline and self-improvement practice called Falun Dafa,” and that “the performers you see today incorporate study and meditation into their rigorous daily training.”
This part about Falun Gong is another reason why people say Shen Yun offers hope.
Shen Yun and the Falun Gong Connection
According to the group’s website, Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, is a self-cultivation and meditation practice strongly rooted in traditional Chinese culture. It promotes adherence to truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance in daily life, and letting go of hurtful mentalities such as anger and jealousy.
Teacher Li Hongzhi popularized the ancient practice beginning in 1992. It was free to learn (and still is), and it was taken up by an estimated 100 million Chinese in a fairly short period of time.
Eventually (and just like it had done to others in the past), the Communist Party demanded that Falun Gong submit to the Party, so the Party could control it.
When Falun Gong refused on the grounds that its purity would be lost, the regime went on the attack, drumming up lies and false propaganda to defame Falun Gong. Eventually, in 1999 the Party launched a systematic and brutal attack against practitioners.
All manner of mental, physical, financial, and spiritual pressure, and over 100 forms of torture, were used in an attempt to force practitioners to give up their practice. I have read too many stories, and they are heartbreaking.
According to Faluninfo.net, a voice for Falun Gong, over 4,000 deaths from persecution, and 63,000 accounts of torture, have been documented. They estimate the real death toll figure is likely in the tens of thousands.
In fact, many Shen Yun performers say they have personally experienced enormous suffering in China, or they have a family member who has experienced it, or they know someone who has experienced it.
It is my understanding that Shen Yun performers are motivated by their faith, by their hope for a brighter day, and by their unyielding belief in the power of truth to dispel evil.
What I Took Away from Shen Yun 2018 Performance
Every year that I see Shen Yun, it reveals new truths to me.
This year, what hit me after the curtain opened was an awareness about the unimaginable difficulty the performers have overcome, and their undaunted courage.
The dancers, musicians, choreographers, composers, engineers, teachers, and other support staff who comprise Shen Yun, have quietly persisted despite the ire of such a powerful regime.
They have faced opposition by those who did not understand them. They have overcome their own inner questions in order to become rock solid about their purpose.
For the dancers, this results in flawless performances. Shen Yun dancers are among the most skilled and well trained in the world. Everyone says this.
If I think about myself, I know that one moment of self doubt can result in a disaster or failure. But these people are flawless. They perform to perfection night after night, relentlessly bringing their compassion and joy to people around the world.
It is clear that the dancers and musicians of Shen Yun Performing Arts are 100 percent dedicated to their craft. This is not a job for them. It is their life’s calling. You can see it in the mastery with which they move, and in the compassion they exude on their faces.
This is why Shen Yun moves people so much! I this this is the most important truth about Shen Yun!
Do Not Miss the Chance to See Shen Yun at a Theatre Near You!
After everything I have shared here, I hope you have a better understanding of Shen Yun, and that you feel that this Shen Yun review was worth your time. Thank you for reading.
Obviously, this is not a short story, or a simple story. It is a massive and profound story, as I have only touched on a few points.
Speaking now from my humanities background, where I read many historical works that have been preserved for millennia, I have no doubt this story will be equally cherished in the future.
This means you still have an opportunity to be a part of history in the making.
Shen Yun is touring in cities big and small all over the world, so you should not have a problem finding a show near you.
Shen Yun tickets are not the cheapest out there, but as I have expressed in this review, the inspirational value is rather priceless.
Check Shen Yun’s website for the details, and feel free to share your comments below. I would be happy to answer any questions you might have that I didn’t already cover.