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In return to Buffalo, ‘Shen Yun’ raises red flags

The slick, pink fold-out brochures started appearing on front doorknobs across Western New York in late March.

The promotional army behind “Shen Yun,” which has shown itself to be a propaganda and fundraising vehicle for the Falun Gong religious movement masquerading as a Chinese dance spectacular, has spent untold amounts of money advertising its Wednesday stop at Shea’s Performing Arts Center.

In addition to traditional advertising techniques like billboards and full-page newspaper ads, the promoters of the show have staffed eye-catching kiosks at local malls and papered neighborhoods with brochures hung from front doorknobs in order to stand out from mailed advertisements.

But in order to ensure their message gets out with little to no interference, the master propagandists behind “Shen Yun” have resorted to some ethically questionable approaches. Search for the dance company’s name in Google News, for instance, and you’ll get hundreds, if not thousands, of articles from a newspaper called The Epoch Times and an outfit called New Tang Dynasty Television.

Both organizations were founded by the Falun Gong movement (also known as Falun Dafa) more than a decade ago to promote its agenda. These nominal media organizations contain a seemingly endless supply of positive “reviews” of “Shen Yun,” calling the show, among other things, “the profound, quintessential end of perfection of the human spirit” and “nothing short of a miracle.”


You have to dig deep to find any skeptical coverage of the show or the movement, or even any positive coverage from independent media outlets. It’s clear that the promoters of the show have engineered it this way. (An email to the local Falun Dafa group responsible for promoting the show seeking comment about its religious content went unanswered.)

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

When I saw the show at Shea’s in 2009, it struck me as a thinly veiled advertisement for the Falun Dafa sect and a political response to the brutal treatment of its followers at the hands of an oppressive Chinese government. It did contain many bright costumes and some classical Chinese dance, but these elements were clearly secondary to the religious and political message the show was designed to promote.

My heart genuinely goes out to the members of the Falun Gong movement, thousands of whom have been forced out of their native country.

To be sure, the persecuted Falun Gong movement is within its rights to promote its agenda. Through The Epoch Times and other means, it has worked hard to expose human rights abuses at the hands of the Chinese government that has mercilessly suppressed the movement’s spread. Many of the goals of Falun Gong followers are laudable, and its religious tenets – while perhaps striking Westerners as odd – seem to be generally focused on meditation and moral teachings.

But none of that excuses its creation of one of the most brazen and deceptive theatrical infomercials ever conceived.

An argument could be made that this critique of “Shen Yun” could just as easily be applied to Christian art and music – say, the spiritually inflected work of Bach, Mozart or Handel. But those works make no bones about what they are by pretending, for instance, to be about baseball or science. “Shen Yun” sets out from the very first to deceive those who would spend up to $120 to see it, and anyone headed to Shea’s this week should be aware of that.