Shen Yun Helps Theatergoers Understand the Chinese Inner Spirit

May 4, 2013 Updated: December 22, 2013

PHILDELPHIA—For Mary Lou Wilkinson, seeing Shen Yun Performing Arts at Philadelphia’s Merriam Theater on Saturday for the first time did nothing short of changing the way she looks at China and traditional Chinese culture.

“I just thought it was enormously, not only entertaining, but classical. And representing 5,000 years of classical dance,” said Ms. Wilkinson, a public relations professional who has done work for the office of Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter.

Ms. Wilkinson explained her perception of Chinese culture shifted dramatically with her realization of the depth and history underpinning China’s artistic development. “I didn’t realize that they could dance so well,” she said. “I think it underscores that tremendous discipline that they’ve had for 5,000 years.”

Like many Americans, her contact with Chinese culture had been limited to Chinese food and Chinatown.

“Our way of looking at [Chinese culture] is so pedestrian and when you see the Chinese philosophy, that’s very encouraging, because it’s not just day-by-day pedestrian knowledge, but it’s also the spirituality of the Chinese.”

According to its website, Shen Yun “weaves a wondrous tapestry of heavenly realms, ancient legends, and modern heroic tales,” and is bringing back Chinese culture, which is believed to be divinely inspired and was very nearly destroyed in systematic campaigns like the Cultural Revolution.

Understanding the depth of culture and spirituality of China is helping Ms. Wilkinson understand Chinese people. “We have many Chinese here, especially on the northeast coast, and so now I will look at them differently … You see Chinese people everywhere, but you don’t understand in your heart what they really are.”

“The spirituality is not to dwell, it seems to me, on material things, at least in this performance,” she said. “They don’t dwell on material things, but they dwell on things of the spirit, and their culture, much more than as Americans, we would get into.”

Seeing Chinese culture and history through the medium of arts gave her a better understanding of China today, too. “It has changed my attitude towards China. I just read what’s in the American press, and you don’t always get the full story, but through dance and through song, you’d be able to understand.”

She added, “It was beautiful and I can understand why it wouldn’t be shown in China today, but it would be shown in the United States. They really need more freedom and more human rights, so I was thrilled that they brought that up in some of their dances.”

Ms. Wilkinson says she has never been to China. “I hope someday to go, and this makes me think more about that.”

Reporting by Pamela Tsai and Channaly Philipp

Shen Yun Performing Arts has three touring companies that perform simultaneously around the world. For more information, visit

Shen Yun Performing Arts is performing at the Merriam Theater in Philadelphia through May 5.

The Epoch Times considers Shen Yun Performing Arts the significant cultural event of our time. We have proudly covered audience reactions since Shen Yun’s inception in 2006.