Shen Yun dancers

The Shen Yun Cult: A Dance Show’s Hidden Eerie Agenda 💃🏻

I was introduced to the Falun Gong / Falun Dafa cult by attending their Shen Yun traditional Chinese dance show without any knowledge of what I was in for. It brought back echoes of my own cult upbringing.

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

It 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 their heavy and elaborate advertising for years where I’d been living in California and Washington DC, as well as 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 chain. 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. …Excuse me, 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 gay 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.

Scene from Shen Yun performance
A scene depicting Chinese police beating up Falun Gong protesters. Screenshot from Shen Yun’s 2018 trailer

I don’t mind that the show has political and religious views. Although that was unexpected, at least it 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?
Eric Cartman. Comedy Central

I think the show had the opposite of its intended effect on me. I now think that, although 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 their 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. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Edit (Nov 2021): See the comments section below for more details about some of Falun Gong’s beliefs.

For more on my personal experience with cults, check out Karen Zerby Leak: Unmasking a Cult Leader Who’d Remained Faceless for Nearly 30 Years.

13 thoughts on “The Shen Yun Cult: A Dance Show’s Hidden Eerie Agenda 💃🏻”

  1. I read your article, and you give no substance to your claim that Falun Gong is a cult; it’s an irrational claim. You should consider the fact that this group is undergoing genocide in communist China as we speak, and the Chinese Communist Party has tried to justify it by labeling Falun Gong that way. It’s not a cult because it doesn’t fit the characteristics of one.

    In a cult, people are coerced to join, and they can’t leave; they are isolated from society; they are required to pay money to someone; they resort to violence; and they do immoral things. That doesn’t exist with Falun Gong. It can’t exist because there’s no membership. Even if you talk to people who formerly practiced Falun Gong, they don’t say that they were forced to practice. Furthermore, those who practice live and work and play within society. They have typical family relationships.

    The only difference is that Falun Gong practitioners do meditation and Qigong exercises, read their own teachings, and try hard to live moral lives. You can’t fault them for that, and by calling them a cult, your’e faulting them. Your’e essentially creating apathy towards this group of people, and that’s exactly what the Chinese Communist Party wants people to do so they can buy time to physically destroy Falun Gong practitioners.

    1. It’s important to know that Li Hungzui runs 3 organization all under the overall “China Before Communism” umbrella: Shen Yun, Falun Gong and Epoch Times. Epoch Times is a very very conservative newspaper that support Trump and Qanon, denies climate change, promotes anti-vaxer stuff, is homophobic and misogynistic, the list goes on. Shen Yun is the cash cow for the whole thing and money from ticket sales goes to support anything Li supports, including sizeable donations to Trump’s campaign. So when anyone buys tickets to Shen Yun, they are likely supporting Trump.

  2. Albert, I’m not a fan of religion generally, so you can read my post in that light if it helps. I absolutely condemn the Chinese government’s human rights abuses against Falun Gong members in China. But the group is international, and they’re not being persecuted in Japan (where I saw their show) or any other country outside of China. I support freedom of religion for cults, so long as people follow reasonable societal norms and laws, particularly as it relates to their children. However, I don’t accept your arbitrarily restrictive definition of what makes a cult. For example, many cults don’t isolate themselves from society. Many have typical family relationships. See Scientology among many others. At times, the Children of God cult (that I grew up in) tried to pull this same bullshit that there was no formal membership, and in the case of Falun Gong, it especially makes sense that they adopted this approach more heavily after the Chinese crackdown. The Children of God also didn’t prevent anyone from leaving, and they were nonviolent (although at times they were violent toward their children). None of that stopped them from being one of the more notorious cults of recent decades.

    Since writing this, I’ve learned more about Falun Gong / Falun Dafa, and it has only reinforced my initial impressions. I’m used to Children of God cult members being secretive and dishonest about their actual beliefs. Falun Gong’s secrecy and dishonesty have the same bad smell. Hell, both the Children of God and Falun Gong have been instructed by their leaders to lie about their beliefs.

    From “Falun Gong in the media: What can we believe?” by Heather Kavan:

    However, Li forbids practitioners from talking about what he calls “high level things” to ordinary people, and instructs them to lie to those uninterested in spiritual matters (“tell them that we’re just doing exercises” [Li, 2002, p. 21]). Therefore spokespeople tend to be evasive about their beliefs, and resort to formulaic principles and repetitions of their slogan ‘truthfulness, compassion, forbearance’. Moreover, Li sets the terms of the debate by directing members to get sympathy by telling listeners about the persecution, with the hidden intention of later turning them into converts (Li cited in Rahn, 2005; see also Li, 2002, 2003a). Members do not see this strategy as deceptive: a Falun Gong spokesperson told me that by focusing on the persecution and not pushing their religion or leader, members were being inoffensive.

    Members of the Children of God often claimed to outsiders they focused only on the Bible and were nondenominational. This was of course nonsense, and I see strong echoes in Falun Gong’s desire for outsiders to focus only on their meditation practices and their tenets of compassion, etc. To me, this feels like a clear tactic for avoiding looking deeper.

    So what are some of the negative or out-there religious beliefs Falun Gong members commonly hold? Things like the ability to develop precognition, telepathy, and divine sight. That aliens started invading human minds in the early 20th century, and that modern science and race-mixing are parts of their strategy for taking over. That gay people are disgusting, feminism is immoral, and evolution is false. That leader Li Hongzhi is an omniscient god and can walk through walls, make himself invisible, levitate, read minds, and delay the Earth’s destruction. That modern medical treatments should be avoided. That different ethnicities have their own heavens, and that mixed-race kids have no heaven to go to. That people who join and then leave the faith enter the “gate of no-life” that’s like being boiled in human sputum. That Donald Trump is an angel from heaven.

    Nothing is black and white, of course. Falun Gong’s focus on maintaining regular jobs and family lives, on observing local laws, and on religious tolerance are positive things, and perhaps are part of what has helped them avoid greater extremism and corruptions of power. I’m not claiming that members (or “practitioners”) are bad people. But I take back no part of this article. I don’t want to overdo it in this reply, but I also don’t take kindly to propaganda and intellectual dishonesty.

  3. I saw Shen Yun today while I was a volunteer usher at a performing arts theater in town. After the show, guests were talking about the “pretty colors” and I kept wondering, “why is no one talking about this??” Thanks for sharing your story – I wish more people were talking about Falun Gong and this political/religious propaganda.

  4. Interesting. One observation I’ve had about this event is they have used right-wing billionaire David Koch’s brief testimonial on TV ads they have run. That just seemed out of place to me.

  5. OMFG, I used to get this ads on YouTube. And I agree with what Robert Evans had said on the podcasts Behind the Bastards. The site has been perpetrating a lot of far right stuff in recent years.

  6. I’m not sure about past Shen Yun ads, but the current Shen Yun ads are not hiding the emphasis of religion from a Chinese perspective. The ads say “life before communism” and talk about spirituality and a desire for China to return to its religious roots. For many dynasties the Chinese held religious beliefs, so it makes perfect sense that advocates would use traditional Chinese dance (which is very beautiful) to try to convince the world to oppose the Chinese Communist Party and see their visionary idea of mainland China gaining freedom of religion. It is often oppressed religions (or cults, if you like) that insist on freedom of speech and assembly, and are some of the few willing to fight and/or die for freedom of speech and assembly. Even if you don’t like their beliefs or practices, you have to admit, they’ve got guts to oppose the Chinese Communist Party so dramatically and visually. They make themselves enemies of the CCP, which means they will likely never see again (and live to tell the tale) the land they depict in their performances. The truth is that so much of the world enjoys freedoms of speech and freedom to travel and gather and live where we wish, because of religious zealots that are willing to fight the battle (at least sometimes), resulting in us all having freedoms. We have to appreciate the religious for their efforts. Those who recognize wrongs in the CCP would do well to support Shen Yun just for that alone.

    At least in the USA we don’t have our organs harvested for disagreeing with the government, so we have that going for us!

  7. @Scott Washburn, you lost me when you claimed that most of the world enjoys the freedom of speech, travel, etc. because of religious zealots. Those freedoms have come largely from enlightenment values that have reduced the influence of religion on laws and governance.

  8. I found the “Islamic death cult” line both offensive and unnecessary. I am not Muslim, but I grew up around a lot of Muslim people and they face enough persecution in the world as is. Every major religion in the world has spawned cults and extremists, why choose Islam as your example for a “death cult”? Why not just say “religious death cult”? Just seems in poor taste.

  9. @Missy, what is an abstract “religious death cult”? ISIS is an example of the Islamic death cults I’m talking about, along with other jihadis. “We love death more than you love life” is not just fringe rhetoric from these groups, and no, there are not equivalents (in prevalence, barbarity, or geopolitical impact) of Islam’s death cults in “every major religion” in the modern world.

    Muslims who disagree with my language can speak for themselves if they want to. Would you have been equally offended if I’d mentioned “Christian death cults”, or is this selective outrage? Given that you didn’t voice offense on behalf of the significantly more persecuted Falun Gong cult and the Christian cult of my youth that I was much more aggressive toward here, that feels like a rhetorical question.

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