A Quintessential American Story:
Shen Yun Performing Arts

A group of elite artists fled repression in China, and built a marvel out of nothing but the traditions they carried with them. This is the story of Shen Yun.

China’s True Culture Bearers

For millennia, China was one of the most profound and bountiful cultures in the world. That all changed in 1949 when the Chinese Communist Party seized power. Viewing China’s rich spiritual and artistic heritage as a threat to its ideology, the communist regime spared no effort to eradicate traditional Chinese culture and anyone who stood firm to defend it.

But in 2006, a group of Chinese artists came together in New York amidst the rolling hills at the feet of the Catskill Mountains. Determined to not let their authentic culture be destroyed, they founded a nonprofit organization and called it Shen Yun Performing Arts. They then defined their mission: to revive the best of China’s cultural heritage and share it with the world.

Thriving Under Pressure

Since Shen Yun’s inception, the Communist Party has never stopped its attempts to sabotage this U.S.–based performing arts company. Dozens of performance troupes were dispatched from China to compete against Shen Yun by scheduling shows near Shen Yun’s theaters during the same dates. Chinese consulates and embassies pressured U.S. theaters not to sign contracts with Shen Yun or to nullify existing agreements, demanded local officials “not to attend the performance,” harassed Shen Yun sponsors, ran paid ads in U.S. newspapers defaming Shen Yun, paid internet commenters to post negative reviews on social media platforms, and even snuck into parking lots at night to tamper with Shen Yun’s touring buses.

Despite this interference, Shen Yun only flourished. In just over a decade, Shen Yun has grown from a performing arts startup to a worldwide phenomenon, premiering a brand-new show every year. In its 2019 season, Shen Yun’s six companies performed over 600 shows in 150 cities in front of over one million people in the audience.

Chinese Performance, Universal Message

Although the central art form of Shen Yun is classical Chinese dance, and the storylines played out on stage are often drawn from classical Chinese legends and lore, the message of the show resonates deeply with people from New York to Paris, from Los Angeles to Prague.

Academy Award-winning actress Cate Blanchett watched Shen Yun with her husband and three children. “Exquisitely beautiful,” she said. “An extraordinary experience for us and the children.”

Former White House photographer Joe Heard has watched Shen Yun year after year. He calls the performance “the eighth wonder of the world.”

How does a “Chinese” performance like Shen Yun uplift, inspire, and touch people across ethnic, religious, and geographical boundaries? The answer may be in its universal message, carried over from a profound, 5,000-year-old culture.

Art that Nourishes Your Soul

For thousands of years Chinese society was based on the principles of harmony between Heaven, Earth, and humanity. The ancients aspired to virtue, to be accountable to future generations, and to live by principles such as benevolence, propriety, loyalty, and faith. Emperors sought the Way of Heaven, even the fiercest warriors followed a code of honor, and life revolved around a sense of humility in the face of the divine.

Artists, too, believed that to create true art worthy of the heavens, they must cultivate inner purity and goodness. Shen Yun’s artists seek to follow this noble tradition.

The name Shen Yun means “the beauty of divine beings dancing.” Shen Yun’s artists draw courage and inspiration from their practice of Falun Dafa—a spiritual discipline based on the principles of truthfulness, compassion, and forbearance. They incorporate mindfulness and meditation into their daily lives alongside their rigorous training.

“There is a massive power in this that can embrace the world,” said former Czech Republic Minister of Culture Daniel Herman after seeing Shen Yun. “It brings great hope.”

Omega Medina, a former senior manager for the Grammy Awards, said after the performance, “I feel blessed. I come away feeling like a better human being for having experienced this magnificent event.”

In Our Forefathers’ Footsteps

This is one of the great American stories, one in which an oppressed people secured their freedom of belief and a wellspring of traditions and art that will inspire generations to come.

Fleeing the religious oppression of 17th-century England, Protestant Christians made an arduous journey to America. General George Washington, Colonel Alexander Hamilton, and an under-equipped army, battled with the most powerful military while suffering cold and hunger to bring America into existence.

Like our forefathers, the artists who began Shen Yun overcame unimaginable odds. Nurtured by the liberty of their adopted homeland, propelled by their work ethic, and guided by the moral compass of their convictions, they have built something truly breathtaking—something worth sharing with the world.