At the annual meeting of Chinese Communist Party’s V.I.P. advisory body, a well known composer lamented the failure of regime-sponsored performing arts troupes abroad, comparing their lackluster reception with that accorded to Shen Yun Performing Arts, an independent classical Chinese dance company based in New York.
“A lot of friends tell me that they really feel Shen Yun’s performance is excellent,” said Xu Peidong. He said that “foreigners” (i.e., non-Chinese people) find the show “highly artistic,” “exquisite,” and “moving.”
Xu Peidong is a state-affiliated composer, lyricist, and singer, and the recipient of a number of officially-sponsored awards. He made his remarks at a meeting of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, the official advisory body to which he is a member, on March 7 in Beijing.
Xu was reportedly “alarmed” by Shen Yun, according to the South China Morning Post, “as it was based on traditional Chinese folk stories and legends similar to those that state-sponsored shows stage.”
Shen Yun Performing Arts is a company run by overseas Chinese and is independent of Beijing. The company’s mission is to revive Chinese traditional culture, which was almost lost under communism, according to its website.
The South China Morning Post reported that “Xu also accused the central government of ruining Chinese culture.”
Xu compared Shen Yun’s success outside China to the official dance troupes, dispatched to build up the PRC’s “soft power.”
“Shen Yun’s performance goes to so many places in North America, and it’s extremely popular. They are profitable simply on ticket sales,” Hong Kong’s Ming Pao newspaper paraphrased Xu as saying.
He continued: “We spend so much money on these exchanges, but what cultural exchange are we giving foreigners? This should make us reflect.”
He had even informed Chinese embassies abroad of Shen Yun, “but they weren’t willing to report back to me about it” because of the political sensitivities.
The Chinese Communist Party’s overseas cultural propaganda is in a state of disarray, said Xu. The regime’s overseas cultural troupes operate without a unified structure—each province, and a variety of government departments field their own troupes—and generally give mediocre performances, he indicated. “It’s rather chaotic,” he said in remarks paraphrased by Ming Pao.
Another speaker at the same event, Chinese tenor Yu Junjian, said artists regularly performed in poorly produced shows because of the limited state budget for the overseas art troupes.
“Such productions would do no good to the image of the country because they’re so small and poorly staged, without any stage design,” Yu said, according to South China Morning Post.
While Xu and Yu’s remarks were reported in the Hong Kong press, including Ming Pao and South China Morning Post, no official transcript was available from the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.
Among his many titles, Xu Peidong is the secretary of the Party group in the China Music Association; his colleague, Yu Junjian, also holds a handful of state-affiliated cultural and Party posts, including Standing Committee member of the All-China Youth Federation, one of the Party’s mass organizations.
For years Shen Yun has been a target of interference by the Communist Party’s diplomatic missions abroad, who try to intimidate theaters into canceling the show, and write letters to politicians demanding they not attend.
Shen Yun appears to have roused the ire of the Party because of its independent presentation of Chinese culture, which the regime has sought to maintain strict control over in China, and because it is often hosted by Falun Dafa Associations as it travels around the world to perform. Falun Dafa is a spiritual practice that has been actively persecuted by the Party for over 13 years.
Xu Peidong was paraphrased to have said that Shen Yun has “quite a modern management model, putting second and third generation Chinese through a strict training regimen from childhood.” He added: “The message they have is that the mainland has destroyed traditional Chinese culture, and that we’re the real thing.”
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