Red Ballet at Kennedy Center Becomes Focus of Controversy

September 25, 2011 7:16 pm Last Updated: October 1, 2015 3:33 pm

The Kennedy Center at night. (Lisa Fan/Epoch Times)
The Kennedy Center at night. (Lisa Fan/Epoch Times)
WASHINGTON—Chinese-Americans who fled the all-encroaching hand of communism in their home country are shocked, incredulous, and sounding the alarm over the fact that it has popped up again here in the United States—and at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts of all places.

A loose coalition of these individuals gathered outside the Foggy Bottom Metro station, where Kennedy’s shuttle buses pick up patrons, on Saturday afternoon, giving speeches in Chinese and English and brandishing hand-scrawled signs that read "Communist ballet promotes hatred & violence" and "Communist ballet is not Chinese culture."

The signs referred to the performance of The Red Detachment of Women, an infamous revolutionary ballet, which sings the praises of the Communist Party and spits venom at class enemies. During the "land reform" campaigns associated with this period hundreds of thousands of innocent people were tortured, beaten to death, buried alive or otherwise persecuted because they were land owners, i.e., "class enemies."

The "Red Detachment," which glorifies that history and portrays the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) as the savior of the nation, therefore shouldn’t have been welcomed into the hallowed halls of the Kennedy Center, half of whose budget comes from the U.S. government, these activists say. Acts I and II from the play were performed there by the National Ballet of China from Sept. 22-24 as part of a month-long China program supported by the regime.

"Americans used to oppose communist propaganda, but now they’ve relaxed and the CCP is infiltrating the society. This is very dangerous," said Wei Jingsheng, often referred to as the godfather of the Chinese democracy movement, at the rally.

"They’re bringing over this stuff, that even Chinese people have already rejected, and performing it on stage for Americans. It reminds me of the horrible violence and hatred of the Cultural Revolution era. I am shocked that they would perform this. It’s just so brazen."

He added: "They’re trying to poison people’s thoughts, and this is only the first step.

"If you think this is simply art, that’s already dangerous," Wei said. "The CCP itself says that the purpose of art is to serve politics … If you simply try to appreciate the artistry then you’re already going along the CCP," he said.

He added: "This is their attempt at responding to Shen Yun, pushing out their most virulent communist propaganda."

Shen Yun, a premier classical Chinese dance performing arts company of which The Epoch Times is a media sponsor, travels the globe exhibiting traditional Chinese culture. It has met with the CCP’s meddling for several years.

In a few instances where the Chinese regime could bring strong pressure—such as Moldova or the Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong—the shows were cancelled. On other occasions the Party has responded with its own performances—but apparatchiks in the cultural department may have taken things a little too far with the current attempt, according to one scholar.

Wei Jingsheng at the rally on Sept. 24, opposing the communist ballet 'The Red Detachment of Women' performing at the Kennedy Center.  (The Epoch Times)
Wei Jingsheng at the rally on Sept. 24, opposing the communist ballet 'The Red Detachment of Women' performing at the Kennedy Center. (The Epoch Times)
Lu Xing, a professor at DePaul University in Chicago who has written a book about Cultural Revolution-era indoctrination and propaganda, and who even sees some artistic merit in "Red Detachment," said in a telephone conversation that the idea of this ballet being performed for Americans seemed a little strange.

"This story is about eulogizing the Communist Party," she said. "To Americans, the story will seem absurd. Americans might normally watch love stories or stories of human compassion, or something that is at the level of human nature, but this is very political," she said. "It’s full of hatred."

It’s not even properly Chinese, in the traditional sense, Lu Xing explained. "Red Detachment does not represent anything of Chinese culture or tradition. The story is relatively contemporary … not like an ancient story. It’s communist propaganda."

Lindsay Capen, 48, holidaying in DC from San Diego, got that message as she meandered past Foggy Bottom Metro station on Saturday.

The night before she and her husband had been discussing what performance they would see: the ballet, or the opera? They chose the latter.

"I’m glad I didn’t go now!" she exclaimed after hearing the speeches and understanding the idea behind the performance.

And the opera? "Oh, it was Tosca, it was wonderful!"