This interference has plagued the company since its founding more than a decade ago, Leeshai Lemish, an emcee with the company, told The Epoch Times.
Shen Yun Performing Arts is a classical Chinese dance and music company founded in New York in 2006. Its mission, according to its website, is to revive 5,000 years of traditional Chinese culture through the arts.
Lemish, who has been an emcee with Shen Yun since its inception, said, “I started noticing that as we were going and performing around the world, there are all types of phenomena that were following us that you normally would not expect with a performing arts company.”
Theaters received letters from their local Chinese consulate or embassy demanding that they pull the performance, he said. Chinese individuals were seen loitering around the company's buses and accommodation, appearing to be monitoring the company's movements. Some attendees attempted to disrupt the company's performances using electronic devices, such as a universal remote control to interfere with the screen projector.
“We knew that ... there were forces behind the scenes trying to stop our performances,” he said.
Shen Yun Performances DeniedAttempts by the Chinese regime to thwart Shen Yun’s performances have largely failed—the company has expanded to seven touring contingents and is due to embark on its biggest touring season yet in 2020. But there have been some cases of theaters folding to the pressure.
Most recently, the Royal Theater in Madrid canceled the show a few weeks before the company was due to perform for the first time at the venue in January, citing “technical difficulties.”
In an audio recording of the phone conversation, Lu explained how he convinced the Royal Theater’s general manager to cancel Shen Yun by warning him that the theater “can’t afford to lose the Chinese market because of this.”
The New York-based company had sought to perform at the Royal Danish Theater for 10 years but had been repeatedly rejected on grounds that the company’s artistic level did not meet the venue’s demands.
According to emails obtained by the outlet, one of the theater’s employees told another staff member that they had met with the Chinese Embassy in August 2017.
“They [embassy] ended the meeting by asking if we had a dialogue with Shen Yun, and requested that we shouldn’t allow them to rent our facilities,” the email stated.
Thomas Foght, the journalist who investigated the story, said during a speech at the Danish Parliament in April this year that this case “puts light on why it was so difficult for Shen Yun to have access to the Royal Theater over 10 years.”
Following Foght’s report, then-theater director Morten Hesseldahl and Denmark’s then-Culture Minister Mette Bock denied accusations of Chinese influence, saying that they were not aware of any pressure from the embassy.
KBS Hall, a government-owned venue attached to the largest national broadcaster, Korean Broadcasting Service, had a working relationship with China’s state broadcaster, China Central Television. Ahead of the performance, the theater received multiple letters from the Chinese Embassy, also obtained by The Epoch Times, demanding that it not host Shen Yun.
“China places a high level of importance on cooperation with KBS and hopes that KBS will consider China–Korea relations when making decisions. Do not provide a venue for Shen Yun to perform,” a letter dated Jan. 22, 2016, stated.
Chinese Regime's Evolving TacticsPiling pressure on theaters is only one of the ways in which the Chinese regime has tried to interfere with Shen Yun.
It has also employed a range of tactics directed against advertisers, prospective audience members, and the company itself, Lemish said. These tactics have evolved over time.
Lemish said the company reported this and other sabotage attempts to local police and the FBI, but so far hasn't heard of any developments in these investigations.
Theaters have also received emails from people posing as fans of the show or as the local hosting organization. The emails, which the theaters subsequently shared with Shen Yun, contained content that made them “come across as zealous and crazy,” Lemish said.
The purpose was to “scare the theater from having anything to do with us,” he said.
Shen Yun’s website and servers also have repeatedly come under attack, Lemish said, adding that assaults on its ticketing platforms tend to be concentrated during the lead-up to the company’s performances in New York, where it typically has an extended run at the prestigious Lincoln Center.
Recently, the interference has increasingly moved online.
“There's a very strategic and concerted effort to defame us in any possible way, especially in the media and online,” Lemish said.
He said that Chinese internet trolls have been working to get negative publicity about Shen Yun ranked higher than the company’s website and media articles with favorable reviews of the performance. Known as the “50-Cent Army,” these internet trolls are paid by the Chinese regime to spout propaganda and silence dissenting views online, both inside and outside of China.
“There is an attempt now by these 50-cent people to basically bolster the ranking [of negative publicity] by commenting on ... [those articles], leaving nasty remarks and perhaps linking to them,” Lemish said. “They’ll do all these different things that can improve SEO ranking for these articles.”
The emcee said this move fits within the Chinese regime’s broader campaign to shift public opinion online internationally.
“It's making us work a lot harder because just the normal way that people discover things these days [is] by Googling them and by hearing about them ... on social media,” he said.
“They're really making a strong effort to not allow us to use those channels, and then create negative impressions on people to make it harder for us to sell tickets.”
However, the company is undeterred.
“We’re not going to be intimidated by it,” Lemish said. “We’ve faced this all along from the very beginning. It's never slowed us down.”