Chinese classical dance group Shen Yun Performing Arts is winning applause from a global audience. But beyond the stage lights, some of the artists’ families are facing life-threatening oppression because of their beliefs.
Shen Yun principal dancer Steven Wang was touring the globe with the company earlier this month when he learned his mother was sentenced to four years in prison in China.
For the past 15 years, a cell phone was the only thing that held together Wang and his family, who are an ocean away in China. It was a phone call that brought the news of his father’s death in 2009—of kidney failure resulting from years of torture detained in a Chinese prison merely due to his faith. In another phone call, Wang learned about his mother’s arrest last July. Earlier this month, he found out that she had been sentenced to four years in prison—for the same reason that landed his father in jail.
“After her arrest, the detention center didn’t allow visits or notify the family. We had no idea exactly what happened,” Wang said.
Last July, Chinese police arrested his mother Liu in central Hunan Province. That marked the 69-year-old’s 11th time in custody, after spending eight years in various detention facilities—all this because of her faith, Falun Gong.
Falun Gong is a spiritual belief centered on the moral teachings of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance. Its followers number in the tens of millions worldwide.
After its release to the public in 1992, the practice’s popularity soared across China.
But years later, the number of Falun Gong practitioners rose to meet the count of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) members.
The CCP began to see the practice’s emphasis on spirituality and free thought as a threat to its grip on power. By 1999, it had launched a sweeping persecution campaign against Falun Gong.
Numerous practitioners like Liu were jailed, sentenced to labor camps, and even tortured to death. Among them was Wang’s father. He died in 2009 after years in a Chinese prison.
In 2008, Wang joined the Shen Yun Performing Arts Company in New York. For the past 15 years, he’s tried to get his mother out of China and reunite in the United States. But the regime stripped Liu of her freedom to travel.
“[My parents] weren’t able to attend my graduation, my wedding, or witness the birth of their grandson. I have never experienced a complete family, where parents and children are reunited,” he said.
Wang and his sister turned to the international community for help in rescuing their mother.
“Not just my mother, but tens of thousands of people in China are being held for their belief in Falun Gong. I hope the U.S. will take a stand to stop this persecution,” Wang said.
Wang explained that he’s chosen to expose the truth and share his story through art.
“I am now a dancer at Shen Yun. Shen Yun’s mission is to revive traditional Chinese culture. Through the performance, I am also telling the audience what is truly happening China, and the lies of the CCP.”
Shen Yun has earned worldwide acclaim in hundreds of countries, but is not allowed to perform in mainland China.