Shen Yun Opens Window to Ethnic Diversity of China

January 11, 2015

NEW YORK—Chinese civilization spans 5,000 years, with several distinct dynasties, over 50 ethnic minority groups, and a culture said to be divinely inspired.

On the afternoon of Sunday Jan. 11, at Lincoln Center, many audience members discovered it all through Shen Yun Performing Arts.

For Nancy and Richard Olsen-Harbich it was their first encounter with traditional Chinese culture.

“I thought it was beautiful and it also had a powerful message behind it,” said Mr. Olsen-Harbich, a wine maker. He said he saw themes of humanity and spirituality in the culture presented, and was dismayed to learn that Shen Yun could not perform in China.

Shen Yun is based in New York. It was formed in 2006, by a group of artists from around the world, to revive traditional Chinese culture. It has since grown to four companies that tour about 100 cities internationally every season, but all outside of China.

Under 60-some years of communist rule, the culture was once nearly destroyed. Although the regime has tried to replicate some of the arts in form, it is ineffective because the cultural essence has been removed, Shen Yun’s website explains.

At the heart of traditional Chinese culture is respect for the divine, according to Shen Yun’s website.

For Mr. and Mrs. Olsen-Harbich, that underlying spirituality was evident through the artistry of the production.

I think dance is just an incredible expression of creativity and the soul, and you saw it on stage there.
— Nancy Olsen-Harbich
“I think dance is just an incredible expression of creativity and the soul, and you saw it on stage there,” said Mrs. Olsen-Harbich, a program director at Cornell Cooperative Extension.

Classical Chinese dance has been passed on and refined through thousands of years. It has three main parts, according to Shen Yun’s website: form, technique, and bearing. The form includes very specific postures and movements. Technique includes highly difficult jumping and tumbling techniques that serve as the predecessor of sports like gymnastics and acrobatics.

Bearing is best summed up as inner spirit. It emphasize aspects like breath, intent, personal aura, making classical Chinese dance richly expressive.

“The dancing is just beautiful,” Mrs. Olsen-Harbich said, noting the movement of the fabric, the choreography and steps, and sheer scale of the production.

Through classical Chinese dance, Shen Yun told stories ranging from the divine culture being imparted to China in a creation myth to tales based on current events.

“It was told in little sort of vignettes and stories,” Mrs. Olsen-Harbich said. “It was just really beautiful.”

For Mr. Olsen-Harbich, it was the ethnic and folk dances showcasing many of the different minority groups of China that was most fascinating.

It was educational, he said, to see the ethnic groups’ dances, showcased against a scenery depicting that region.

China has over 50 ethnic minority groups, and every year Shen Yun presents several of those ethnic or folk dances.

Also in the audience was Claudia and Richard Pappas, who felt connected to the varied cultures through the universal language of dance.

Movement of Color

Mrs. Pappas, a speech pathologist originally from Colombia, was entranced by the movement of color.

Mrs. Pappas noted it in several dances, like when the female dancers threw gem-studded pink handkerchiefs through the air, representing plum blossoms.

“They actually showed a lot of the ethnicities,” Mr. Pappas said. “[I} didn’t know there were so many different places from over there, different cultures, different costumes, dresses, the music. Incredible.”

In a Miao ethnic dance, female dancers wore ample silver jewelry that jingled with their steps. In another, they demonstrate Mongolian hospitality with a dance, making percussive use of bundles of chopsticks.

Mr. Pappas said he also liked the stories Shen Yun performed through classical Chinese dance, like pieces from the classic Romance of the Three Kingdoms. The stories showed complex situations, but also “the truth behind it all,” he said.

“I think that they went back to the underlying message of spiritual awareness,” said Mr. Pappas.

“Also harmony, knowing that we are not alone through hard times.”

Reporting by NTD Television and Catherine Yang

New York-based Shen Yun Performing Arts has four touring companies that perform around the world. For more information, visit

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