On Jan. 30, 2008, the New York Times sent a reporter to the opening-night performance of NTDTV's "Chinese New Year Splendor" at Radio City Music Hall. On Feb. 6, the Times published a highly unusual and critical article that was neither written by a theater critic nor was a review of opening night.
As it turns out, the Times sent more than one reporter. While the author sat watching the show, apparently another reporter (perhaps more than one) was stationed in either the lobby or outside the theater, ready to chase down and question any patrons who might happen to leave the show early. As a professional actor who has worked in theater for the past 19 years, this is an unheard-of undertaking.
The almost 1,500 word article began as a seeming review of the show, then immediately homed in on several acts out of over 20 programs that had any mention of China's Falun Gong spiritual practice, which is under intense persecution by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) regime. It also presented an extremely inaccurate picture of the audience response to the show itself, focusing on the specific group chased down for interviews.
The article periodically dropped in negative comments the reporters had collected, including one from a Chinese man simply named "Steven" and another from a Chinese immigrant from Dallas who was unnamed.
The article stated that early in the show, a song was sung with the words "persecution" and "oppression" and "almost at the moment a vocalist hit these words, a few audience members collected their belongings and trudged up an aisle toward the exit."
When judging a performance, one of course needs time to judge and weigh perceptions. For a paying audience member to stand up and leave in front of others in the midst of an onstage performance the moment the first seemingly offensive word appears, and so early on in an opening-night show, is extremely unusual. It would certainly make an impression on other audience members and potential critics and reporters.
The Times article went on to claim, "At intermission, dozens of people, perhaps a few hundred, were leaving." In response to this wild discrepancy in numbers, numerous Epoch Times reporters who were in attendance to record audience reactions commented that "a few hundred" was a gross exaggeration.
At least some of those who left included a number of attendees from the opening night VIP reception who had previously stated they could not attend the full performance due to other engagements.
Attempts to Discourage
For several years, Chinese consulates and embassies have been utilizing numerous methods to shut down or discourage interest in productions by Divine Performing Arts (DPA), the group of artists who perform the Splendor. This is not surprising, considering that DPA is reviving traditional Chinese culture as well as including elements that reveal the CCP's numerous human rights abuses.
The Chinese regime has been systematically eradicating China's traditional culture since taking control in 1949. Traditional Chinese culture is fundamentally the antithesis of the Communist Party culture of atheism, violence and deception, which has been forcibly shaping the minds and perceptions of Chinese citizens for over half a century.
This revival of the morals, values and principles of China's traditional culture is returning to the Chinese people a perception of the world and themselves, which is vastly different from the CCP indoctrination. This, along with the revelation of rights abuses has resulted in the regime's many and varied attempts to discredit or silence the shows.
Tactics include writing to politicians and "warning" them, as some recipients termed it, to not support or attend performances. New York State Assemblyman Michael Benjamin, Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jim Naugle and San Diego City Councilmember Donna Frye were just several of the recipients of such unwanted letters, as reported in The Epoch Times.
Other tactics have included contacting sponsors to pull support and pressuring theatres to refuse or terminate contracts. None of these tactics have proven successful in the long term.
Homing In on Falun Gong
Several years ago, Falun Gong practitioners from different countries traveled to New York City, the world's news and economic center, to raise awareness and appeal for an end to the brutal persecution of Falun Gong in China. Some of the people had personally been tortured and persecuted in China and many have relatives who are still undergoing torture and persecution in China today. People of all ages and walks of life stood on street corners over a number of months, often for an entire day, passing out fliers through heat, rain, and cold to raise awareness of the persecution by the Chinese regime.
After years of appeals being ignored by mainstream media while millions continue to suffer, practitioners took additional steps to include displays involving live people in tableaus reenacting various methods of documented abuse.
In another bizarre twist, the Times article attempted to draw a myopic comparison between this simple grassroots appeal by individuals gathered on the streets and the world-class artists in the grand, lush Splendor, which presented a wide array of acts drawn from China's vast and profound culture.
The article went on to question why Falun Gong was not mentioned in the advertising for the show. To this, NTDTV spokesperson, Carrie Hung said, "There's such a wide variety of China's cultures presented on stage. The Falun Gong related content is a small portion of the show, so why would we single that out?
"The Times reporter seems to suggest the need to single out Falun Gong in the advertising as some kind of warning label. Many of our audience responses singled out the Falun Gong portions as their favorites. This unwarranted stigmatizing of a group is something we would view as prejudiced, discriminatory, and unethical."
The article also raised questions about one quote in an advertising flier for the show by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, stating that a spokesman for the mayor said it may have been taken from a generic greeting card sent to Chinese-American associations. This would have indeed been somewhat dubious.
But one call by the reporter to NTDTV would have clarified that the unremarkable quote, "Brings to life the rich traditions of ancient China right here in the Big Apple" was from a greeting for the prior year's show and fully applicable to the content of the current show as well.
On yet another disturbing tangent, the article goes on to publish language from the CCP that attacks and vilifies Falun Gong, which has been under vicious persecution by the regime for more than eight years.
This is followed by a partial quote from a telephone interview with a professor in Nevada stating that the Splendor "is kind of a P.R. front to try to normalize Falun Gong's image" and goes on to repeat yet another demeaning label applied to Falun Gong.
Interestingly, when contacted via e-mail, the professor reported not having seen the show, stating "I was interviewed on phone by the NYT reporter. I haven't even read his article, so I do not know if he misquoted me or quoted me out of context. FYI, I am sympathetic to Falun Gong's plight."
Interest Piqued in Show
The article itself did not prove to negatively effect attendance for the remaining few shows, but some audience members attending the final performances had a few comments on the New York Times piece.
Ronald A. Sablosky, trained in law and currently a banker and executive VP of Business Outsourcing Solutions, commented, "It certainly did not dissuade us from coming, and I don't think it should dissuade anyone, because it really is highly unfair. And it might even be construed as unethical."
Rather than be deterred by the critical article, account executive and building manager Penny Cohn said it made her want to learn more.
"In fact, it piqued my curiosity," said Ms. Cohn, agreeing that it was "overly critical." "And not only that," she said, "it had a lot of space, too. I was quite intrigued with the amount of space it was given; I have to confess that."
Ms. Cohn and Mr. Sablosky both had highly positive remarks on the show, as did audience members in over 700 interviews conducted by the The Epoch Times, along with a 95 percent positive response in surveys filled out by audience members.
The Times article neglected to mention that opening night concluded with a standing ovation. So did closing night, and to a packed house. Not a small feat in the Big Apple.
Michael Mahonen is a winner of the Gemini Award (Canada's Emmy) for acting. His first feature film as writer/director, Sandstorm, has won 29 awards at international film festivals. He is currently writing a script about the persecution of Falun Gong along with another script for an independent feature film.
The Epoch Times is a proud sponsor of the Divine Performing Arts shows that will perform in over 60 cities worldwide in 2008. To find a show near you, please visit www.bestchineseshows.com