Shen Yun Performing Arts has faced challenges in securing top-flight venues in South Korea, sparking concerns over Beijing’s interference in South Korea’s internal affairs and cultural sovereignty.
New York-based Shen Yun is the world’s top classical Chinese dance company, and since its inception in 2006, it has become a global phenomenon. Using the universal language of music and dance, it seeks to “revive 5,000 years of Chinese civilization” and show audiences the beauty of “China before communism.”
The organization’s eight equally sized companies have embarked on a journey of more than 750 performances in over 180 cities in more than 20 countries on five continents this year.
However, Shen Yun has struggled to secure top-flight venues in South Korea for the past 17 years.
Most recently, in 2023, 13 government-operated theaters refused to rent their venues to Shen Yun, all citing Beijing’s disinformation about the show.
Despite that, Shen Yun was able to secure three major venues this year, the National Theater of Korea in Seoul, the Sohyang Theater in Busan, and the Gumi Art Center in Gumi.
Viewing the company’s mission to revive traditional Chinese culture as a direct challenge to its authority, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has gone to great lengths to interfere with Shen Yun’s performances worldwide.
Its efforts are especially rampant in South Korea.
For years, Shen Yun’s venue applications to major South Korean theaters were often rejected ahead of its tour, oftentimes without an explanation.
There are also instances where the theaters would abruptly cancel the venue rental even after a contract had been signed. In such cases, Shen Yun would pursue legal action.
In 2016, Seoul’s KBS Hall pulled the plug on Shen Yun’s performances, prompting the local organizer to launch legal action against the venue, seeking a court order that the company be allowed to perform.
KBS Hall, a government-owned venue attached to the largest national broadcaster, Korean Broadcasting Service, had a working relationship with China’s state broadcaster, China Central Television (CCTV). Ahead of the performance, the theater received multiple letters from the Chinese Embassy, also obtained by The Epoch Times, demanding that it not host Shen Yun.
Seoul Southern District Court ruled that the cancellation does not hold and that Shen Yun must be allowed to perform at KBS. However, seeing the result, the Chinese embassy issued another official document and sent it to KBS Hall, again with the same libel and threats.
A few days later, the court revoked its decision and canceled Shen Yun’s four performances—even though thousands of tickets had already been sold.
The court order also revealed the implicit financial threat involved. It noted that KBS, or Korean Broadcasting System, the national public broadcaster that owns the hall, currently broadcasts content in China. The court order reasoned that if Shen Yun’s shows were canceled, the theater would only have to compensate the company’s losses. But if Shen Yun performed and, as a result, the Chinese Communist Party retaliated and revoked KBS’s content dissemination rights in China, then KBS stood to lose upwards of eight million dollars.
US State Department Report Highlights Beijing Coercion
The U.S. Department of State’s 2020 Report on International Religious Freedom cited Shen Yun’s difficulty finding venues in South Korea and several instances of the abrupt cancellation of performances in the country due to pressure from the Chinese regime.
The annual U.S. report highlights government policies violating the religious belief and practices of groups, religious denominations, and individuals in accordance with the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998.
According to the Korean Falun Dafa Association, the local organizer of Shen Yun, the Chinese Embassy and Consulate General in South Korea have been forcing local governments and universities with major performance venues to refuse venue rentals to Shen Yun or cancel existing contracts with the company for the past 17 years. And their methods of coercion include phone calls, letters, and personal visits.
It urged South Korean local governments to no longer remain silent or cooperate with the Chinese regime’s interference in South Korea’s internal affairs and violate its cultural sovereignty.
Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, is an ancient Chinese spiritual practice consisting of five meditative exercises and moral teachings based on the principles of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance. The practice became widely popular for its health benefits in China in the 1990s, eventually attracting an estimated 70 million to 100 million by the end of the decade, according to official Chinese records.
Perceiving this popularity as a threat to its power, the CCP started an elimination campaign in 1999, resulting in millions of adherents being detained and an unknown number of deaths from slave labor, torture, and other abuses over the past 23 years.
On the other hand, the venue at the government-operated National Theater of Korea was made available to Shen Yun for the first time this year, a welcoming change since President Yoon Suk-yeol took office in May 2022.
Yoon is widely known for his stance on strengthening ties with Washington over Beijing.
At the recent U.S.-South Korea Summit in April, the two leaders pledged to enhance the cultural connections between the nations, leading many to speculate whether the South Korean theaters, which have long yielded to Beijing’s interference, will undergo a transformation.