MEMPHIS, Tenn.—The bright costumes, gravity-defying flips, and thrilling music—these are what initially draws people to Shen Yun. But what makes them devout to the show, as many of the audiences are?
Beyond the artistry and aesthetic excellence displayed on stage is a sacred cause espoused by the performers: that of protecting freedom of belief, and advocating for those suffering religious persecution in China today. Many of the performers are refugees themselves, being practitioners of Falun Gong, the popular meditation tradition that has been brutally persecuted by the Chinese communist regime since 1999.
Former nursing teacher Gail Faust attended the Jan. 29 matinee in Memphis along with her family. She particularly appreciates the part of the performance that highlights this issue.
“I think there are a lot of people that see Chinese people as all OK with communism when that’s not really the reality … And I think it is brave … And it breaks my heart that they are having to live and not be free … It really meant a lot to me to see Chinese actors portraying their thoughts about their country.”
It inspired her to spread the word about the performance. Mrs. Faust indicated that she has about 1,000 Chinese-speaking followers on the social media app Gettr.
“I was thinking during the end of that show that I couldn’t wait to go home and link up this performance on Gettr and let more people know about this performance,” she said.
Mrs. Faust added that Shen Yun helps give context to her own freedoms.
“They (the performers) don’t just perform it to help us better understand their culture,” she said. “It was helping me appreciate my culture and I just feel really, really sad for them that their country is not free right now. And it just brought all that home to me,” she said.
“I teared up a few times thinking what they have to overcome to come here and do what they did, and care for us in the ways that they did today so well.”
Having been on tour since 2006, the classical Chinese dance company Shen Yun has become a family ritual for many.
That is the case of Mrs. Faust, her husband Rex, their daughter Kelli, and their granddaughter, Mila. The adults attended the performance four years ago and came back this year with young Mila, who is learning dance in the second grade.
Mr. Faust, a former Exxon accountant, was impressed by the Chinese erhu. The erhu solo is the only piece in a Shen Yun program where a single instrument speaks for itself, aided only by piano accompaniment. And the erhu, despite having only two strings, is amazingly eloquent.
“You could feel what they’ve been through and what they’re going through, and how they loved what they’re doing and the struggles they’ve had and all that. It’s great,” he said.
Kelli Bastidas, a veteran, business MBA, and stay-at-home mom, loved the costumes and movement of the Chinese dance.
“I personally really just love the folklore dances and it was just, everything was just so beautiful about it,” she said.
For retired nurse Janet Jensik, it was the second time she’s been to see Shen Yun. She attended the show with her husband, retired air force colonel Robert Jensik. For them, Shen Yun is an effort of cultural preservation.
“I went to China several years ago and learned a little bit about its ancient culture and how amazing it is, and I’m so glad the young people are starting to see it,” Mrs. Jensik said. “They didn’t know it and now they’re learning it all new again.”
During the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s, large swaths of China’s traditions were wiped out; temples demolished and books burned, sections of the population deemed undesirable and anti-revolutionary. Today, the majority of young Chinese are unaware of how deep their ancestors’ heritage was. Shen Yun highlights episodes from China’s 5,000 years before communism and interprets it for an international audience.
“It’s color, it’s music, it’s motion against a backdrop of history, and cultural revival, or making people who don’t know about it aware of the different kinds of culture that are out there that we would not normally see, especially since the current regime in that country would never let it be advertised,” said Mr. Jensik.
“I think it’s important to keep the lessons of the past alive,” he continued. “We are who we are today because of what was way back when. And to forget that is to forget your legacy in your roots, and I think that’s a mistake. And these folks are combatting that, and I think that’s great.”
Reporting by Sherry Dong and NTD.
The Epoch Times is a proud sponsor of Shen Yun Performing Arts. We have covered audience reactions since Shen Yun’s inception in 2006.