All but lost in the East, the essence of an age-old culture rises in the West. This is Part 8 of a nine-part series that explores traditional Chinese culture to reveal a deeper understanding of the genius of New York-based classical Chinese dance company Shen Yun Performing Arts.
Sophisticated dance techniques, an orchestra joining instruments of the East and West, beautiful costumes, and a stunning backdrop—this is Shen Yun Performing Arts at first glance. It’s easy for audiences to see the beauty and whimsy that the performances exude.
To the novice, it is a beautiful and charming theatrical experience. Yet for many Chinese around the world, Shen Yun has come to represent nothing short of a savior and torch bearer of their precious authentic culture.
Such values as propriety and wisdom, respect for the heavens, and belief in divine retribution originate from China’s three religions of Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism and have been the essence of traditional Chinese culture. However, the foundations of traditional culture have been largely lost due to systematic attack by the Chinese communist regime.
5,000 Years of Culture
Since ancient times, China has been known as the “Celestial Empire,” referring to the belief that the divine, through various dynasties, transmitted a rich and abundant culture to the Chinese. Chinese culture is thus known as “divinely inspired,” and over a continuous recorded history of 5,000 years, ancient Chinese ascribed many of their greatest achievements in science and the humanities to deities. For example, the god Cangjie created Chinese characters, Shennong imparted agriculture, and Suiren revealed the uses of fire.
Chinese culture is thus known as “divinely inspired,” and over a continuous recorded history of 5,000 years.
China’s three religions have been the bedrock of Chinese civilization. Taoist thought was systemized by the sage Lao Zi over 2,500 years ago in his book Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching). The book expounds on the mysterious Way of the universe, which he calls the Tao.
Confucianism emphasizes a moral code for governance, family, and individual conduct. The teachings of Confucius (551 B.C.–479 B.C.) were the guiding principles for nearly every Chinese dynasty beginning with the Han. All who wished to become an official had to pass civil-service examinations that comprehensively tested their grasp of the Confucian classics and their moral code.
In A.D. 67, Buddhism reached China from ancient India. Its focus on personal salvation and meditation had a profound effect on Chinese culture, lasting until today.
Under the influence of these faiths, Chinese culture has spawned a rich and profound system of values. The concepts of “man and nature must be in balance,” “respect the heavens to know one’s destiny,” and the five cardinal virtues of benevolence, righteousness, propriety, wisdom, and faithfulness are all products of these three religions’ teachings, and traditional Chinese way of life was tied inextricably with these ideas.
It was also under the guidance of these tenets that trade, diplomacy, law, the arts, medicine, and engineering flourished in a uniquely Chinese fashion. Innovations such as paper, printing, the compass, and gunpowder were first invented in China, long before their discovery in Europe.
In the last 60 years under communist rule, the foundations of traditional Chinese culture have been largely lost. Atheism was forced upon society, and socialism ascribed as the people’s new religion.
To send the message that the old world was ending, the communist regime not only destroyed cultural sites, temples, and relics, beginning with the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s, but also has created its own culture of violence and tries to legitimize it though art. Propagandistic plays, films, and songs praise the power of the regime, instead of the traditional respect for the divine inherent in Chinese culture.
Today, the Chinese regime claims to be reviving traditional Chinese culture through Chinese language learning centers and cultural exchange programs overseas, but all of these only serve to promote its own Party culture, not that of Chinese people’s ancestors, from which it has severed modern Chinese.
Cultural Revival: One Show at a Time
With the passage of time and several generations, the true divinely inspired Chinese culture was on the brink of extinction. It was with great urgency that in 2006, New York-based Shen Yun Performing Arts was formed by overseas Chinese artists with the mission of reviving 5,000 years of divinely inspired Chinese culture.
By presenting Chinese culture in the context of Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism’s influence in daily life, Shen Yun is able to capture the unadulterated essence of Chinese culture as it organically developed over the centuries.
“Shen Yun has manifested the spirit of Chinese culture authentically and thoroughly. I am moved deeply [by the performance]” said Dr. Liang Huaimao to The Epoch Times in Taipei following a Shen Yun performance in March 2010.
Dr. Liang is the president of the Chinese Nation Cultural Development Association in Taipei. He went on to say, “There is a vast expanse of national [Chinese] culture. Since culture is life, watching a Shen Yun performance is really touching.”
Dr. Liang described the spiritual impact that Shen Yun had brought to him as “heart-shaking.”
Ninety-two-year-old Huang Qunying, a prodigy artist, poet, painter, and calligrapher, first saw Shen Yun in 2009 and was very moved by the performance. He returned in March 2011 to a performance in the city of Taoyuan, Taiwan, with eight guests including his wife, daughter, and students.
Mr. Huang cheerfully told The Epoch Times, “Shen Yun is an ideal form of education through entertainment, which is a fountain that can inspire the wisdom of life, the source of cultural arts, and the zenith of truthfulness, gracefulness, and beauty.”
Talking about Shen Yun’s impact on society, Mr. Huang said, “Shen Yun has blended the essences of tradition, history, culture, ethics, morality, and modern technology into an exquisite form of performing arts, which can purify people’s hearts and make society more peaceful.”
He went on to say that seeing Shen Yun perform “makes people feel touched and exhilarated.”
Mr. Li Chiao, former national policy adviser to the president of the Republic of China (Taiwan) and winner of the National Award for the Arts in 2006, told The Epoch Times after a performance in Taipei that “Shen Yen has sufficiently and perfectly displayed the quintessence and the wonderfulness of Chinese culture.”
Mr. Li added that the Shen Yun performance “rehabilitates the truth about Chinese culture.”
For more information about Shen Yun Performing Arts and Chinese culture, please visit: Shenyunpreformingarts.com/learn.
The Epoch Times is a proud sponsor of Shen Yun Performing Arts, which will perform an all-new 2012 program at Lincoln Center’s David H. Koch Theater January 11–15. To learn more about Shen Yun Performing Arts and Chinese culture, view a calendar of Shen Yun’s 2012 world tour, and for ticket information, please visit www.shenyunperformingarts.org.