Shen Yun dancers

The Cult of Shen Yun 💃🏻

What I learned by attending the Shen Yun traditional Chinese dance performance / cult recruiting event.

My mom and me
My mom and me outside the Shen Yun performance hall.

Today was a holiday for my mom and her partner Mike, and we had plans for the evening. A big production traditional Chinese dance performance, Shen Yun, in town for two days only at the Fuchu Forest Art Theater. Mike had bought the tickets before I arrived in Japan, and I was eager to check it out. I’d been seeing heavy and elaborate advertising for them over the last few years in California, Washington DC, and on Facebook.

We got to the theater with time for dinner so we headed to MOS Burger, a Japanese fast food chain I really wanted to try again. Along the way, we walked past the typical sights of a Tokyo street, including a statue that looked like a gaping butthole with ass wings, and a karaoke bar named Girls Snack You. But I can’t deal with that right now. Can I get back to MOS Burger?

So dude. These burgers, hot dogs, and milkshakes just taste fuckin’ different than what you get at any American chains. Different, plus delicious.

From the MOS website, I learned:

MOS is stand for Mountain, Ocean, Sun. It means standing tall and firm like a Mountain, having a heart that is broad and deep as the Ocean, and having passion like the Sun that never burns out. That is our founder’s limitless love for human beings and nature.

Okay, Japan.

Now back to Shen Yun.

What none of us were expecting and their ads never mentioned, was that in addition to the show’s fairytale-like displays of Chinese dance, theater, music, and costumes, Shen Yun is a relentless propaganda program for the Falun Gong cult. …What the what?

One moment I’m being charmed by a classical Chinese sleeve dance, and the next I’m falling down a rabbit hole watching communist thugs and corrupted homosexual youth persecuting pure and innocent Falun Gong members. One guy’s eyes are harvested in a Chinese prison, to the backdrop of dramatic dance flips. It’s interesting that what might currently be the most internationally well known piece of Chinese performing art—with seven troupes (and growing) touring the world simultaneously—is so outspokenly attacking the Chinese government.

I don’t mind that the show has political and religious views. Although that was unexpected, it at least made the night more memorable. But I wasn’t exactly won over by the cult’s message through song about how atheism, evolutionary theory, and “modern values” are grave threats to society, that the purpose of life is to return to heaven (some Islamic death cult sounding shit—they even ended one number with a religious master and disciple happily jumping to their deaths together), and that everyone should join their fruity little club. In the words and voice of Eric Cartman: Seriously, you guys?

Eric Cartman: Seriously, you guys?
Cartman asks what we’re all thinking

I think the show had the opposite of its intended effect on me. I now think that, though Falun Gong has been harshly persecuted within China, they are likely a dangerous cult rather than the mere meditation movement I’d heard about. I saw endless similarities between what was on stage and the cult I was born into. Stories of faith healing, religious persecution stemming only from their pure love for mankind, scenes of spreading the leader’s writings on city streets (how I spent much of my childhood), an apocalypse that the leader uses his magical powers to save believers from, fantasies about violent police undergoing dramatic conversions to their cause… Hell, even the approach of spreading their message through music and dance was a core strategy in my own cult.

Reading online afterward, I learned that Shen Yun’s founder and artistic director (listed only as “D.F.” in the program guide I was given at the event) is none other than Falun Gong leader Li Hongzhi. We literally paid to attend a cult recruiting event.

But that’s enough being serious. It had its moments, too. Did I mention the Gangnam Style-esque horsey dance moves?

Highly recommended. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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