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.
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.
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.
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?
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.