Is SHEN YUN As Communism-Free As The Subway Ads Say?

Shen Yun hovered in my life in the form of pretty flyers plastered over my city, bearing a smiling Asian woman in a billowing satin outfit in the heavenly mid-air. Shen Yun, as the website say, “the beauty of diving beings dancing.”

Pretty, ain’t it?

I used to think, “If I had my pockets full, I would like to snag a ticket someday.” Going off those crisp ads, I likened Shen Yun, a touring dance troupe, to Cirque du Soleil, that unattainable entertainment you gotta see if you even got the cash to burn. Their ads shined with innocuous beaming beauty. Sometimes I would refrain from clicking “Skip Ad” when commercials of hypnotic twirling Shen Yun women on Youtube interrupted my video. Billboards of the Smiling Midair Asian Dancer lined my Houston streets. I would discover their flyers in my mailboxes, from Houston, Texas to New York, New York, bearing the Smiling Midair Asian Dancer.

This was before I read Jia Tolentino’s “Stepping into the Uncanny Unsettling World of Shen Yun.” Then I tumbled down the rabbit hole of information overload about the stage contents: the religious-political propaganda, the evil Karl Marx wave in the backdrop, and Communists assailing people praying in the park. Shen Yun has one purpose: to promote Falun Gong, a spiritual movement that has claimed massive persecution from the Chinese government.

On the subway, I looked up and saw the familiar woman in mid-air, ribbony streamed out, floating in the blue-dappled heavens. Nothing unusual.

But then

I noticed this

I saw it

COMMUNISM-FREE.

Never mind the organ-harvesting dance, religious-political propaganda for the Falun Dafa, complete with a Chairman Mao tsunami in the backdrop, and lyrics that decry “atheism and evolution.” This show is communism-free, baby!

Knowing from audience testimonies, communism is literally present in the show. Communism-free doesn’t mean “hey, no communism to see here,” it just means it doesn’t endorse it. Quite the opposite, more like, “communism is here and they are the baddies.” Hey, Westerner audience with an absent (or charitably, a working) understanding of orientalism, no communism to see here in this Chinese art!

Let’s just tack communism-free on any orientalist art!

Avatar: The Last Airbender, one of the great children’s animation out there, helmed by white guy creators. Communism-free! Except some of its conflicts were influenced by communism.

The Last Airbender movie that doesn’t exist, directed by an Asian man, M. Night Shyamalan, who had no understanding of how to handle the material. Communism-free!

Disney’s Mulan! Communism-free.

The live-action Mulan! Is it gonna be communism-free?

Just your average ADHD film and theatre writer who loves pasta.

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