Korean Court Says Shen Yun Show Must Go On in Seoul

April 21, 2016 Updated: April 27, 2016

Local promoters for Shen Yun Performing Arts, a premier classical Chinese performing arts company, were preparing to bring the event to one of Seoul’s major theaters in May—until the host, the Korean Broadcasting Service, unexpectedly canceled the contract.

Now the Seoul Southern District Court has ruled that KBS had no legal justification for doing so. The performance is again scheduled to be at KBS Hall from May 6 to 8.

Shen Yun has performed around Korea, including in the capital Seoul, a city of 10 million, for many years now. But nearly every year it has had difficulty securing top-flight venues for the same reason: diplomatic pressure and direct action by Chinese diplomatic missions. These include angry and threatening letters to hosts and phone calls to politicians, where veiled or direct threats are made that trade with China will be impacted if Shen Yun is allowed to perform.

Shen Yun is composed of four dance companies and hundreds of performers, including a live orchestra, that travel the world simultaneously. Its productions—including choreography, music, lyrics, costumes, and staging—are entirely original and are aimed at reviving China’s ancient cultural traditions.

The Chinese Communist Party’s obsession with Shen Yun can be attributed, in large part, to the fact that many of its performers are practitioners of Falun Gong, a traditional Chinese discipline of self-improvement and spiritual cultivation, according to Shen Yun’s website. The practice has been targeted for violent elimination by the authorities in China for the last 16 years, after the number of Chinese practicing came to exceed that of the Chinese Communist Party’s own membership.

KBS Hall, the theater venue run by Korean state broadcaster KBS in Seoul, the capital. (Gwanhae Seong)
KBS Hall, the theater venue run by Korean state broadcaster KBS in Seoul. (Gwanhae Seong)

The Party’s campaign against Falun Gong extends overseas, to any of the activities that practitioners of the discipline engage in. While Shen Yun includes depictions of the Party’s campaign against Falun Gong, the focus of its energies is the transmission of China’s traditional cultural legacy, which is at odds with the Party’s efforts to monopolize how China is represented.

“Shen Yun cannot be seen in China today, where traditional culture has been nearly lost,” its website says. “Yet Shen Yun—a nonprofit organization—has become an international phenomenon, bringing the wonders of ancient Chinese culture to millions across the globe.”

In the current case, KBS had in January signed a contract with New Cosmos Media, the promotion company that books Shen Yun in Korea, to rent its major venue in the capital. Changsik Lee, the president of New Cosmos Media, said that interactions with KBS staff were cordial, and that a rental committee reviewed and approved of the contract. Shen Yun had previously been approved by the South Korean government to perform.

We are very pleased that the court made the right decision on this case.
— Changsik Lee, promoter of Shen Yun in Korea

A few weeks later, Lee was informed that KBS Hall had hastily called together its examination panel and reversed the decision to host the show.

The court’s decision, rejecting KBS Hall’s reversal, was given by chief justice Woo Yong Shim on April 19. According to the decision, obtained by Epoch Times, the judge rejected all of KBS Hall’s arguments for cancellation.

There were two primary reasons KBS provided for reneging on the contract. The first said that because Shen Yun included content relating to Falun Gong, and because Falun Gong is slandered by the Chinese government, Shen Yun’s purpose was to “spread a specific religion.” Renting the venue would have thus been inappropriate, it said. The second reason said that KBS Hall was not properly notified of Shen Yun’s association with Falun Gong, and thus it had a right to cancel the show.

The judge rejected both of these arguments as inapplicable and noted that the the Falun Dafa Association, which represents Falun Gong, was indeed present on the rental contract.

“There is no justification that the obligor [KBS Hall] will face significant loss in carrying out the contract,” the decision said. “On the contrary, if the contract is not carried out, the obligee [New Cosmos Media] will lose significantly financially, and suffer reputational damage.”

Changsik Lee, the president of New Cosmos Media, said in a statement: “We are very pleased that the court made the right decision on this case. We are tremendously happy that the people of Seoul can now watch the world premier Shen Yun right here in the capital.”