Shen Yun Faces Online Interference From Beijing

2019/11/26

Shen Yun has practically sold out every year. Audience response has been tremendous.

Yet, if you Google “Shen Yun”, the top three review articles showing up are negative. Negative comments continue to flood in on Yelp, Twitter, and other social media.

For Shen Yun, these attacks are not uncommon. The traditional Chinese dance group, based in New York, has been experiencing this for years, from the Chinese communist regime.

“No matter how many thousands of positive reviews…But still, at the very top of the Google ranking are these negative articles,” Leeshai Lemish, a Shen Yun emcee said.

Shen-Yun-review-Rita-Cosby-Television-news-anchor-at-Lincoln-Center
Rita Cosby, Television news anchor and correspondent said Shen Yun told a story of incredible hope and incredible spirit after seeing the performance at Lincoln Center in N.Y. on Jan. 10, 2019.

China’s “50-Cent Army” Influences Shen Yun’s Search Result

The Chinese regime views Shen Yun as a threat. It has pressured theaters to cancel shows, and according to Lemish, is behind the sabotage of tour buses, cyberattacks to their website, and the company’s negative Google search results.

Lemish says the negative comments online could be the work of the “50-cent army” from China, “commenting and posting their hyperlinking in and out of there, to try to get these inner links to make the SEO ranking better.”

Beijing is known for using the internet to influence public opinion both inside China and in the West.

Many journalists and human rights activists have complained about being bombarded by comments and posts from the 50-cent army—the group paid by the China communist regime to sing praises for what the regime approves of, and attack any critics of what the China communist regime approves of.

The group was given their notorious name for being paid 50 cents per post.

Apart from the flood of negative comments on social media, Lemish says negative changes are added to Shen Yun’s Wikipedia page almost on a daily basis, another common tactic used by the regime to attack its critics.

“You think who’s actually so motivated and has the time and the energy, who’s not on salary, to actually go and do this on such a large scale,” Lemish said.

In 2017, a team led by a Harvard Professor produced a report (pdf) shedding light on the scale of the operation of the 50-cent army.

It estimated that the Chinese regime funds the fabrication and posting of 448 million 50-cent comments on the internet each year.

The Hidden Story Told By Shen Yun

But why is the Communist Party targeting a dance group?

Shen Yun was created by practitioners of Falun Gong, a spiritual meditation discipline that is banned and severely persecuted in China.

On stage, Shen Yun dancers depict scenes of ancient dynasties.

 

shen yun “Flowing Sleeves”
“Flowing Sleeves,” from the 2009 Shen Yun Performing Arts program. (Courtesy of Shen Yun Performing Arts)

The dance group says its mission is to revive China’s 5,000 years of ancient culture.

But the stories told through dance also include information about the persecution of Falun Gong practitioners in China. The Chinese regime denies their persecution of Falun Dafa and its practitioners.

 

falun gong dc
Falun Gong practitioners hold wreaths with photos of people who were killed inside China for their beliefs. They march from the U.S. Capitol to the Washington Monument commemorating the 20th anniversary of the persecution of Falun Gong in China, in Washington on July 18, 2019. (Samira Bouaou/The Epoch Times)

“Here we are at Lincoln Center and the Kennedy Center performing in front of Congressmen,” Lemish said, “and CEOs and entrepreneurs and people from the arts and in Hollywood, and showing them this thing that they’ve been trying to hide this whole time.”

 

Despite the challenges, Shen Yun shows continue to persevere and perform in front of sold-out crowds from city to city.

“They’re trying to make it more costly for us. Because if people are not coming to us organically through searching [the internet], then we have to pay more for advertising. We are facing this massive campaign to stop us,” Lemish said.

Some platforms have ramped up efforts to counter the propaganda from China. This summer, Twitter suspended roughly 200,000 China-sponsored fake accounts. Facebook and YouTube have detected similar accounts on their platforms.

For Shen Yun, there exists top Google search results from the Chinese embassy’s website. “These are not very popular websites. [They] Don’t do business. Don’t have news updates,” Lemish said he can’t understand why Google would consider the regime’s sites a reliable source of information.

“Those [regime sites] rank really high on Google,” he said, “Whereas a media article by a popular newspaper or TV station or reviews or posts on our website, you have to look really hard to try to find them.”