Many people want to be better than they are, to improve themselves, be more efficient, more capable, better able to resist temptations, and more determined to achieve their dreams.
When this drive to improve is tempered by moral principles such as kindness and propriety, it becomes something both ancient and timeless—an approach to life that once guided entire civilizations.
It is also the foundation of Shen Yun Performing Arts, a New York-based group composed of overseas Chinese artists that has skyrocketed from its inception in 2006 to become one of the most acclaimed performing arts companies in the world.
In traditional Chinese culture there is a belief that this idea—the aspiration to rise above who we are today to become who we want to be tomorrow—can lead people toward divinity if they follow virtuous principles like compassion and honesty.
This idea permeates China’s true, traditional culture and its three main philosophical and spiritual roots: Confucianism, Buddhism, and Daoism.
There are different ways individuals can develop themselves and different principles that each way emphasizes, but goodness and virtue permeate all of them. For this reason, traditional Chinese culture emphasized morality and righteousness as the basis for society.
In Chinese, this idea has a word: cultivation. A person cultivates him or herself toward higher understandings of life and the universe, refining their character and expressing this through their daily conduct.
For Shen Yun Performing Arts, this ancient practice is a foundation to achieving artistic excellence and bringing an authentic Chinese performing tradition back to life. Shen Yun presents Chinese ethnic and folk dances, but classical Chinese dance is at the heart of the performance.
“Chinese classical dance not only requires posture, movement, but also it requires an inner beauty and moral values and how to conduct yourself as a person.” explains Miranda Zhou-Galati, one of Shen Yun’s principal dancers, in a video on the group’s website.
Zhou-Galati said that before she learned dance, she had a bad temper and could not tolerate being criticized. Later, she realized criticism could help her improve as a performer and her attitude changed.
“I can take in what people are trying to tell me and their opinion,” she said.
In another video, dancer Madeline Lobjois says that following traditional Chinese beliefs makes Shen Yun a very rare kind of arts group.
“Traditional Chinese culture puts emphasis on people’s moral character,” she said.
The non-profit group has become an international phenomenon, and credits the idea of cultivation for its success.
The Chinese Communist Party that came to power in China in 1949 has systematically suppressed and destroyed such beliefs as a way to force atheist communist ideology on the Chinese people.
Shen Yun was founded on a mission to revive China’s 5,000-year-old divinely inspired traditional culture and save those traditions from disappearing, the website explains.
“Throughout history almost every culture looked toward the divine for inspiration. Art was meant to uplift, bringing joy to the people who both created it and experienced it. It is this principle that drives Shen Yun performers and their art.”
Shen Yun has four companies that tour internationally each year. During the Canadian leg of the tour, Shen Yun will play in Hamilton Dec. 27–28, Kitchener Dec. 29–30, Ottawa Jan. 2–4, Montreal Jan. 7–11, Quebec City Jan. 13–14, Mississauga Jan. 16–18, Vancouver Jan. 16–18, and Toronto Jan. 21-25.