LINKOPING, Sweden—An unusual event occurred during the final moments of the Divine Performing Arts (DPA) Chinese Spectacular at the Linkoping Concert and Congress Center in Sweden on March 27.
As the audience was rising from their seats in a standing ovation, performance organizers read aloud a letter from regional governor Bjorn Eriksson alluding to how the Chinese embassy in Stockholm interfered in Swedish domestic affairs by trying to pressure local politicians not to attend or support the show.
In his greeting to DPA, Eriksson wrote that he and many Swedes "admire the old Chinese culture and the way you are able to present it. In an open and democratic society like Sweden it is natural and stimulating to take part in cultural activities of different sorts. It is something that characterizes a democracy."
Earlier that day, a more direct letter was published in a Swedish regional newspaper. It was written by local MP Andreas Norlen and co-signed by six other MPs, all of whom attended the opening show on Thursday night.
The letter was a protest against the embassy's attempts to stop the Linkoping show. In the letter, the MPs invited the Chinese Ambassador to see the Spectacular, believing openness is necessary in building a better society.
"When the communists in China try to export their censorship to Sweden, we feel that we need to mark clearly that this is not acceptable. We have to guard the freedom of speech. We are here to make a mark and hopefully make a pinprick in the Chinese dictatorship," said Norlen in an interview after the show.
Norlen said the Chinese regime was attempting to restrict the cultural space in Sweden by their interference.
"It is a pure insult when a foreign power tries to control what is shown on Swedish stages. It is completely unacceptable."
In many cities around the world there have been numerous instances in which pressure has been put on politicians, performers and venues by various Chinese embassies, urging them not to take part in the DPA shows or express support. There have been show cancellations in three cities this year as a result of the persistent interference.
The Beijing regime objects to the Spectacular because of its Falun Gong content. In addition to featuring dances from various ethnic cultures from within China as well as from Korea, Mongolia and Tibet, a couple of acts convey Falun Gong's peaceful struggle in the face of an illegal persecution orchestrated by the Chinese Communist Party.
Earlier this year in Sweden, the Chinese Embassy called Johan Lundmark, Chairman of the Culture Committee in the Linkoping Municipal government, and pressured him not to support the show — an occurrence that was well publicized in the Swedish national media.
Similar interference took place in Stockholm, when the embassy called Madeleine Sjostedt, the Culture Council of Stockholm City. She also stood firm, and the Spectacular played four successful shows in Stockholm with a fifth encore performance added on April 3 due to the positive audience response.
Johann Lundmark's friend, Bengt Walla, also in the Linkoping city government, said the interference was "good publicity" for the show. Norlen said he was told by the show's organizers that the embassy interference only served to boost ticket sales.
"I think it is very gratifying that those attempts were struck back in a boomerang effect. The best way to face that kind of pressure is to come here and take part in this lovely performance."
Through the Spectacular, DPA has been reviving the ancient traditional culture which was virtually destroyed with the rise of European communism in China and Mao's Cultural Revolution.
Norlen noted the contrast between the "artificial culture" devised by the communist regime since then and the Spectacular, which is devoid of any communist elements.
"That is really a contrasting picture when compared to the Maoist so-called culture," he said, adding that a typical tactic of communism is to destroy nations' cultures.
"That was, as I see it, part of the strategy to take control over the society. It's not enough to just control the political system, but one must also control people's souls and hearts, and that is done through the culture.
"It is a relief to see that there are those who wish to keep the traditional culture alive."
Linkoping, which celebrated its 720th anniversary last year, has long been a centre for culture and religion. An 800-year-old cathedral defines the skyline. Sweden's fifth largest city at 600,000 people, today Linkoping is known for its university and booming high-technology industry.
Additional reporting by Cindy Drukier.