7 Ways Shen Yun Revives Authentic Chinese Culture
China was once known as Shen Zhou—The Divine Land. This profound name describes a land where deities and mortals coexisted, and a belief that the divine transmitted a rich culture to the people of the Earth. The ancients sought harmony between Heaven, Earth, and humankind, and followed the course of nature.
But in 1949 the Chinese Communist Party seized power. It saw this spiritual heritage as a threat and for decades tried to destroy these traditions. It nearly succeeded.
Then, in 2006, a group of Chinese artists came together in New York united by a mission: to revive authentic Chinese culture.
Today, we take a look at seven ways Shen Yun is renewing China’s divinely inspired civilization.
At the heart of the Shen Yun performance is an incredible art form known as classical Chinese dance. With its inspiring flips and gentle elegance, it is one of the most athletic and expressive art forms in the world.
Built on traditional aesthetics, it was once passed down among the people, in imperial courts, and through ancient plays. Over thousands of years, it was constantly refined, eventually developing into the vast and distinctly Chinese dance form we know today.
China’s deep cultural traditions are contained in classical Chinese dance, allowing its movements to be richly expressive, such that the personalities and feelings of characters can be portrayed with unparalleled clarity. It is therefore capable of depicting scenes from any time period in a strikingly vivid way.
In China today, this dance form is regularly mixed with military or modern dance styles to the point that people don’t know what exactly they’re watching. Only Shen Yun performs classical Chinese dance in its purest form, preserving its traditional aesthetic the way it was originally passed down.
To learn more about the history and characteristics of classical Chinese dance, we recommend this article: “What is Classical Chinese Dance.”
With its all-original orchestral compositions featuring Eastern and Western classical instruments, Shen Yun has opened up new horizons in the world of classical music, earning praise from award-winning musicians and critics alike.
Ancient Chinese instruments such as the plucked pipa and the soul-stirring erhu revive the melodies of China’s different dynasties, regions, and ethnic groups, while a full Western orchestra provides a foundation in harmony.
In ancient China, people believed that virtuous, elegant music had the power to heal. It could align one’s body and bring peace to the mind. Today, Shen Yun just uses classical composing methods and melodies.
Shen Yun also features traditional bel canto vocal performances. Ancient Chinese theater and early European opera shared the same singing technique. But the true technique for singing in the upper register has since been lost in both the East and West.
Shen Yun’s singers are uniquely trained to utilize this most traditional and classical technique on the modern stage.
China is one of the most diverse countries on the planet having over 50 distinct ethnic groups, each with its own rich culture, characteristics, arts, attire, and traditional beliefs. Many of these groups have a proud history spanning thousands of years.
Shen Yun celebrates the vibrant spirit of China’s folk and ethnic culture on stage. With their vivid costumes, distinct rhythms, and unique dance styles, these folk and ethnic traditions provide a wonderful array of material from which to choreograph and compose. These dances whisk you away from snowcapped Himalayan peaks to the terraced hills of Yunnan province all the way to vast Mongolian plains.
Stories give life to virtues that otherwise remain intangible, while history guides us by giving examples from the past. Much of China’s culture is carried in the colorful and rich stories that have been passed down through the ages.
Through story-based dances, Shen Yun dramatically portrays the most cherished stories of past and present. Their heroes embody the most exalted virtues of Chinese civilization, and convey morals still relevant in our day. Many have served as inspiration for generations, such as the tales of the heroine Mulan or the loyal general Yue Fei.
Stories, though, can also be altered and their meaning lost. This is unfortunately the case in China today, where China’s splendid past is often hidden, not taught in schools, and distorted to serve the needs of the ruling powers.
Based in New York, Shen Yun is free to create art that is true to China’s 5,000 years of civilization. As a result, it is bringing this culture back from the brink of extinction.
Shen Yun’s dance costumes and colors are true to classical aesthetics and styles. Their vibrant hues and exquisite detail breathe fresh life into every dance piece and story, painting the present with the splendor of the past.
Legend has it that ancient Chinese clothing was inspired by the attire worn in the heavens. Shen Yun’s costumes bring back the styles of China’s different dynasties, regions, and ethnic groups.
Shen Yun performances also feature dynamic animated projection that instantly puts you on the scene. You can experience the grandeur of Tang Dynasty palace halls, magical kingdoms from Journey to the West, and even fly high up to the heavens. By extending the stage to infinite realms, the projection allows storytelling without limits.
From the beginning of Chinese civilization, spiritual principles have permeated every aspect of society and culture. For thousands of years, Buddhist, Taoist, and other disciplines were at the heart of society. Calligraphy, music, dance, medicine, attire, and much more were said to have been passed down from the heavens.
Today, Shen Yun is reviving this spiritual heritage, displaying the ancient virtues that have guided humanity for thousands of years.
There’s also something that unites Shen Yun artists beyond performing arts. These artists are themselves spiritual seekers on a shared journey. They meditate together, study teachings together, and strive to live by the principles of truth, compassion, and tolerance.
Their self-discipline is remarkable, and they believe that cultivation of the heart is the way to create art that is truly sublime.
Every year Shen Yun premieres a brand-new performance, complete with new works of choreography and orchestral music, as well as new costumes, digital backdrops, and storylines.
Shen Yun’s mission is to revive authentic, traditional Chinese culture. But with 5,000 years of it, one show couldn’t possibly cover it all! To bring out all the splendor and glory of this ancient heritage, a new masterpiece is created from scratch each year.
It’s an enormous artistic undertaking—in 13 years, Shen Yun has produced 13 different performances, and toured with each around the world. It’s a phenomenon you won’t want to miss!