PROVIDENCE, R.I.—At the Providence Performing Arts Center on Feb. 6, 2016, philanthropist Norman McCulloch and his wife, Dorothy, attended a Shen Yun performance of classical Chinese dance. They found themselves inspired by the traditional cultural heritage depicted onstage.
It painted quite a contrast to what the older couple know of contemporary mainland China.
The McCullochs, long interested in international cultural exchanges, traveled to China in 1979. Communist dictator Mao Zedong had died just three years earlier, and the country had just been through the ravages of the ten-year-long Cultural Revolution.
“We went to the University of Wuhan and all the teachers had been sent out into the fields to work as farmers,” 90-year-old Norman said. “There were no books in the library.”
Communist rule, and the Cultural Revolution in particular, have severely damaged Chinese traditions and beliefs held for thousands of years. Ancient philosophy, religion, and ethics were denigrated as the “Four Olds.”
Shen Yun Performing Arts, which operates out of a campus in upstate New York, is in its 10th year of global touring. Its mission is to revive the essence of authentic Chinese culture through the medium of classical dance, a highly expressive and technically demanding art form with a history of millenia.
Norman and his wife, heading up the McAdams Charitable Foundation, donated crates of books to the Chinese university they visited. And they praised Shen Yun’s work in resurrecting China’s traditions.
“I think this is a definite learning experience,” Dorothy said. “Rarely do you get a chance to share in this kind of culture. To revive these kinds of dances and traditions is wonderful.”
Shen Yun performances depict a variety of dances, including folk dances, imperial styles, as well as story-based pieces from China’s ancient past or from contemporary history. This year, one piece depicts a scene from the Cultural Revolution, in which Buddhist monks defend their monastery from a marauding detachment of Red Guards, set to destroy the monastery.
“Our sense of value and our hopes,” Norman said, “are based on the culture we’ve absorbed growing up, which is heavily based on tradition.” He said he could relate to the theme of anti-tyranny shown in the performance.
“The trials of the people who are trying to express their own feelings and be human beings instead of parts of a rubber-stamp culture,” Norman continued. “That’s very artificial and can’t, I don’t think for very long, suppress the freedom of the individual.”
Shen Yun has met with overwhelming acclaim from audiences from North America to Europe to East Asia, yet it is barred from entering mainland China.
“I’m just overjoyed to watch the dancing and the beauty of the rhythm and the young Chinese women are gorgeous,” Dorothy said. “You can see how much they were enjoying it, so they make me enjoy it.”
Reporting by Catherine Yang and Leo Timm
New York-based Shen Yun Performing Arts has four touring companies that perform simultaneously around the world. For more information, visit Shen Yun Performing Arts.
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.