Over the past four years, Chinese culture has experienced a remarkable renaissance in the form of an international theatrical phenomenon known as the "Chinese New Year Spectacular." The production has grown from seven performances in five cities in 2004 to 76 performances in 30 cities for 2007.
The distinguishing feature of this production is that its artists and creators have immersed themselves deeply in China's ancient traditions, which have been systematically suppressed for over half a century. Never before have China's traditions and culture been expressed on such a grand scale internationally. The shimmering reemergence of this beautiful culture is the secret to the phenomenal success of the Spectacular, which is constantly evolving with the creation of new programs.
Traditional Chinese culture inspired many of the greatest achievements of humankind. Nurtured in Taoism, Buddhism, Confucian thought, and a deep sense of spiritual reverence and moral obligation, it infused the thoughts, actions, art, poetry, music, dance, and architecture during the 5,000-year parade of China's dynasties. Artists from all over the world, including many who were initially from mainland China, have come together to journey into this vast and profound history to bring forth the theatrical creations that make up the Spectacular.
Many of China's cultural artifacts and records still exist, having survived the openly stated intent of China's communist regime to completely eradicate all traditional Chinese culture during the Cultural Revolution, which lasted from the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s. During this cultural catastrophe, thousands of temples, countless paintings, sculptures, scrolls, poems, and other precious artifacts were destroyed. It was a period of extreme violence and spiritual devastation. But 5,000 years are not easily eradicated. The deeply rooted beliefs and traditions survived, if silently, in the hearts of many Chinese.
In recent years there has been an increasing international interest in things Chinese. China's communist regime has taken up this cue and has exported numerous Chinese "cultural" performances. But on close examination, one is presented with a fundamental contradiction. The Communist regime's atheist ideology and culture directly oppose the entirety of China's 5,000-year culture before the communists overtook the country in 1949. Spirituality, religion, and the moral observances of China's history have been openly disdained by the regime and considered superstitious and ridiculous, believed only by those who are deceived and ignorant. Communist culture is, in fact, the antithesis of China's traditional culture.
What is it, then, that has been presented as Chinese culture in recent years? There are certainly some skilled performers, designers, and significant financial resources put into the production and marketing of these presentations. However, without genuine understanding and respect for the beliefs and traditions, can this be Chinese culture? When the guiding ideology disdains these traditions and beliefs, can there be anything genuine beyond the copies of costumes, utilization of traditional instruments, and surface representation of architecture through sets?
Gymnasts tumbling in traditional clothing cannot convey the profound inner meaning of traditional Chinese culture. A stage full of aggressive drummers brashly pounding away also ends up empty. What is vital is the intent behind it all, the inner purpose that motivates every move, every drumbeat, every musical note, and every stitch of clothing.
So if not traditional Chinese culture, then, what is it that China has been exporting in recent years? This is precisely communist culture. And it is in perpetual change of disguise. While either wearing traditional Chinese costumes or in the curious and ill-fitting attempts to emulate Western culture, these communist disguises have nothing inside.
Communist culture amounts to atheism, a disdain for spirituality, the belief that there is nothing beyond this one life, and that humans must strive to continually struggle and contend with one another. That spiritual void, mixed with the now fervent capitalist aspirations, results in short-sighted pursuit of material gain without moral parameters so as to indulge to the fullest in the journey of this singular life: a cocktail for chaos. This is China's communist culture. Its very survival demands a disguise. To imagine its true representation on stage brings nothing to mind.
The artists of the Spectacular have completely devoted themselves to understanding and conveying the ancient traditions. They have made an artist's sacrifice. Much like painters who have endured years of harsh conditions to understand and recreate the essence of beautiful landscapes, the artists of the Spectacular have likewise embarked on a noble, some would say, sacred journey. This is the tangible experience of audience members who have been enthralled and deeply moved by this cultural phenomenon that has resulted in the soaring growth of the Spectacular in four short years.
Michael Mahonen is an award-winning actor, writer, and director. He is a winner of the Gemini Award (Canada's Emmy) and his first feature film as writer/director, Sandstorm, has won 29 awards at international film festivals ( www.SandstormMovie.com. ) The Epoch Times is proud to join with New Tang Dynasty TV and Sound of Hope Radio in co-sponsoring NTDTV's Chinese New Year Spectacular ( http://shows.ntdtv.com. )