A top-level official from the Chinese Embassy in Spain admitted in a recent phone call that he made a personal visit to the general manager of the Royal Theater in Madrid to pressure him into canceling performances of a popular traditional Chinese dance and music company slated to run there, according to a recent investigation.
The New York-based Shen Yun Performing Arts—whose mission is to revive 5,000 years of Chinese civilization through music and dance, according to its website—had booked the Royal Theater in Madrid to perform on Jan. 31 and Feb. 2.
Shen Yun performances include pieces that portray contemporary China, including the ongoing persecution of the banned spiritual practice Falun Gong—a topic considered taboo by the Chinese regime.
Just weeks before the scheduled performances, the theater canceled the shows due to “technical difficulties.” The Royal Theater confirmed this reasoning in an emailed statement to The Epoch Times.
The U.S. branch of the World Organization to Investigate the Persecution of Falun Gong (WOIPFG), a non-profit organization that investigates human-rights abuses perpetrated against Falun Gong adherents, said it decided to conduct an investigation into the cancellation after seeing media reports about possible Chinese embassy interference to pressure the theater into canceling the show.
As part of its undercover investigation, on Jan. 22, WOIPFG made a phone call to the Chinese embassy, posing as a high-level Chinese government official. The person who took the call identified himself as the Chinese Ambassador to Spain, Lü Fan, according to a press release issued by WOIPFG. The organization released an audio recording of the phone call on its website on Jan. 28.
“The investigation confirmed that the cancellation of the theater’s contract with the Shen Yun organizers was entirely the result of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) interferences,” WOIPFG said in its statement.
“Lü Fan personally put pressure on the theater to cancel the contract with Shen Yun Performing Arts. By using the CCP’s control of the large Chinese market as an enticement, Lü Fan and the theater’s director jointly planned to cancel the Shen Yun performances under the pretext of technical difficulties.”
During the call, Lü explained how he convinced the Royal Theater’s general manager to cancel Shen Yun by warning the general manager that the theater “can’t afford to lose the Chinese market because of this.”
Lü added that the theater’s general manager, whose name was not identified in the call, was initially reluctant to carry out the embassy’s request, as he was concerned that it would “result in a loss of revenue” and was afraid the theater’s reputation would be affected. At the time when Shen Yun was canceled, nearly 900 tickets were sold online and the theater had already made a number of preparations for the performances, according to Lü’s account.
But after a meeting with himself, the general manager eventually relented to the embassy’s request.
“I told him not to think only about the economic income but also politics. When you work with China by signing the ‘International League of Theaters of the Silk Road,’ you have a great potential in the Chinese market,” Lü said, referring to an agreement the Madrid theater had signed with the Chinese regime in 2016.
The “International League of Theaters of the Silk Road” agreement is a project to promote “artistic exchange in the field of performing arts,” according to a report by the state-run China Daily newspaper. The league is in turn part of China’s flagship project for increasing geopolitical influence around the world, the One Belt, One Road initiative.
Lü also stated in the call that he worked closely with the general manager to come up with a reason to cancel the show—which was subsequently used by the theater.
“We told them to use technical reasons [as their cover], to say that since the show was booked in a hurry, they didn’t think through about the technical issues,” Lü said in the call, specifically instructing the general manager to inform Shen Yun’s presenters that the theater was unable to clear the stage in time for the performing arts company.
When the Royal Theater informed the presenters about the cancellation on Jan. 7, they had reasoned that the Das Rheingold opera, which was performing the day before and after Shen Yun, would have difficulties dismantling their sets to accommodate Shen Yun’s performances. But the theater did not seem to have the same problem with other shows performing around the Das Rheingold opera show dates.
After Shen Yun’s performances were canceled in Madrid, a European politician raised concerns about possible Chinese regime pressure.
Chinese entities also recently tried to forge deeper ties with the Royal Theater.
The theater signed a contract in May 2018 with the National Center for the Performing Arts in Beijing—a venue presided by Party officials—to engage in the exchange of productions and co-productions of both theaters, according to a press release.
Moreover, Chinese ambassador Lü is currently a member of the Royal Theater’s “Diplomatic Circle,” a group of diplomats that promote the theater’s international appeal, according to the theater’s website.
The Epoch Times also recently reported that the theater’s general manager was on a trip to China on Jan. 14 and 15 this year, according to sources.
CCP’s Many Attempts to Thwart Shen Yun Shows
This is not the first time the CCP has tried to undermine Shen Yun’s performances in Spain using similar tactics.
According to reports by El Mundo, the second most widely distributed newspaper in Spain, Chinese diplomats assailed officials at the National Theatre of Catalonia and Spanish Foreign Ministry officials in order to pressure them into canceling Shen Yun’s performances in Barcelona in 2014.
The regime’s representatives went in person to the theater and demanded that the show be canceled because it “went against the interests of the Chinese Communist Party.” While visiting senior officials at the Foreign Ministry, the Chinese representatives warned that failure to shut down the cultural performance “may compromise” relations between Spain and China. They also “subliminally pointed to China’s investments in our country and exports of Spanish products,” El Mundo reported.
More recently in 2017, CCP front groups staged a protest in front of the Liceu Theater in Barcelona while Shen Yun was performing inside. Around 25 to 30 Chinese nationals carried banners and shouted slogans that defamed Shen Yun and Falun Gong, a Chinese spiritual discipline practiced by Shen Yun performers. Falun Gong adherents in Spain have launched a defamation lawsuit against the CCP front group.
Lawyer Carlos Iglesias, who is representing the plaintiffs, said the front group’s conduct constituted hate speech.
Shen Yun has faced challenges due to Chinese interference in other cities around the world, including Holland, Denmark, South Korea, Australia, and the United States. In some instances, the communist regime has even sought to coerce government officials not to attend the performances or voice public support for the company.
Examples of such incidents have occurred in the Czech Republic. Daniel Herman, the former Czech Republic Minister of Culture, said in a recent interview that he had experienced the CCP’s pressure a number of times, including when the Tibetan religious leader the Dalai Lama was invited to the Czech Republic in 2016 and when Shen Yun performed in Prague in 2014. He said the Chinese embassy contacted the chief of the National Theater in Prague in an attempt to stop the Shen Yun performances but were ultimately unsuccessful.
Why Is the Chinese Regime Targeting Shen Yun?
The New York-based company was founded by adherents of the spiritual practice Falun Gong, who have been severely persecuted in mainland China. Then-CCP leader Jiang Zemin believed Falun Gong’s immense popularity—up to 100 million adherents, according to estimates cited in Western media outlets—would threaten the Party’s authority. He thus initiated a nationwide campaign in July 1999 to harass, arrest, detain, and torture Falun Gong practitioners.
The CCP has also strategically spread anti-Falun Gong propaganda domestically and beyond its borders—through pro-Beijing or Party-affiliated Chinese media, and front groups embedded in overseas Chinese communities.
Shen Yun has performed in more than 100 cities around the world, selling out shows in New York, Barcelona, and other major cities.