Under the covers of Shen Yun

After seeing posters and promotions for Shen Yun, Maggie and I finally went to a performance this past Sunday at the Orpheum Theatre in downtown Phoenix.  Going in I had little idea of what it was other than the acrobatic dances in the previews.  The dancing and music looked pretty cool.  But we left at the intermission, giving our seats to a couple who’d been seated separately. The place was packed with no vacant seats in sight.

While the dancing and choreography showed skill, effort, and expertise, it began to get repetitive and a bit schlocky.  Although no expert on China, I have Chinese friends, family, and associates who’ve lived there. It wasn’t far into the performance before the China I saw being depicted was decidedly one-sided and not at all consistent with what I’d come to believe. Before long, it became clear what we were seeing was complete one-sided propaganda – I just couldn’t tell who it was from or why.  When we got home and did a bit of research things began to fall into place.

This show is organized by a sect of a Chinese religious minority called Falun Gong.  They are opposed to the Chinese government (nothing wrong with that) and have a set of unique religious beliefs full of conspiracy theories and a strong anti-vaccine stance (a bit more problematic). They see homosexuality, evolution, and atheism as the destroyers of all that is good in the world (not a view I share). It is a relatively new religion, an off-shoot of Buddhism, founded in the early 1990s and has US headquarters in a 427-acre compound in Orange County, New York, north of Peekskill on the west side of the Hudson River. Unlike many religions, they’re not shy about their political activism, producing advertisements for U.S. President Donald Trump and promoting far-right politicians in France and Germany as well as support for QAnon conspiracy theories, including that UFOs with extra-terrestrial aliens roam the planet preparing for an invasion.

The performance is a long and elaborate commercial for Falun Dafa’s (Falun Gong founder) teachings and boy, is it ever profitable.  It is playing in 94 American cities this year and has dozens of other shows in Canada, Mexico, Asia, Australia, and New Zealand.  Not, of course, in China.  It lists over $75 million in assets as of a few years back and reported $22.5 million in revenue in 2016 while declaring only $7.3 million in expenses.  Some estimate they’ve earned ten times that in the past five years.  They have a number of different troupes touring the world with dancers and musicians trained at their New York headquarters.  Many of the performers are unpaid, increasing the level of profits for the organization.

In retrospect, this is not the sort of performance I like to support and I wish I’d not gone. Live and learn.

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8 Responses to Under the covers of Shen Yun


    Went to the show a few years ago and had the same reaction. Left at intermission. Their advertising is sure good though.

  2. Kevin C. Brown says:

    At my church in Seattle, I was approached by visitors hawking this show. It was clear that this was propaganda and they simply wanted to use the church as a marketplace. They would go from liberal church to liberal church, pointing out how they were oppressed in China and use that as a tool for manipulation. To my mind they are just a far more sophisticated version of the Hari Krishna.

    • Steve Larsen says:

      That’s interesting. Did not know they approached churches, but could certainly see that. I think mostly this is about making tons of money. The similarity I saw was with Mormons, although they are much further along. In today’s (Feb 23, 2023) AZ Republic business section I saw where the Mormon church tried for years to hide their $100 Billion portfolio of stocks, bonds, timberland, hedge and other investments.

  3. Anya says:

    Wow. That’s a twist I didn’t expect. Thank you for the truthful review and research

  4. Harley Manning says:

    Ah, China! It’s complicated — to say the least. Basically with Falun Gong you’re getting a manifestation of Folk Religion China, which is very different from the Rational China that we as business people experience.

    Decades ago when my study and practice of martial arts eventually led me to tai chi, I became fascinated by taoism. After some initial confusion I realized that there is taoism the philosophy AND taoism the folk religion. They could hardly be more different. If you want to get a sense of the folk religion version read The Wandering Taoist (https://www.amazon.com/Wandering-Taoist-Deng-Ming-Dao/dp/0062502263). Compare what you read there to what you’ve probably already read about the philosophy version in the Tao Te Ching.

    My point here is that Falun Gong is a somewhat extreme example of something that is very common in much of China…something that you’re not going to see in an executive office in Shenzhen. The faux Chinese opera of Shen Yun is just their clever way of raising money.

  5. Robert Kost says:

    You made it to the top of my “I’ll be darned” list.

  6. Keith Stoneback says:


    If you dive deeper……it gets pretty nefarious in my humble opinion. I have a friend who reads the Epoch Times. Sadly …again, IMHO. I looked into it a few years ago. Here is the connection:

    The Epoch Times

    I decided then I would never see the Shen Run dance program, after being bombarded with TV commercials advocating same.



  7. Ginger says:

    I’ve seen these posters around for years and wondered what it was about. Something felt off to me (even without seeing it), but I had never looked into it. Thanks for doing the research and sharing!

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