The long arm of Chinese oppression and censorship has wormed its way into a key United States ally—South Korea.
A number of major theaters in Seoul are now declining to host Shen Yun, a performing arts company based in upstate New York whose dance and music portray China before communism.
Epoch Times investigations show that the Chinese Embassy in Korea has for years been threatening Korean theaters with economic and political retaliation if they let Shen Yun perform.
In 2016, the KBS Hall—which is owned by Korea Broadcasting System, the country’s national broadcaster—canceled a contract with Shen Yun after the Chinese Embassy sent management a letter warning that it would be “detrimental to the relationship between Korea and China” if the theater proceeded with its Shen Yun performances.
A Korean court ruling in this case explicitly pointed to potential economic retaliation from Beijing, stating that if KBS “cannot export its broadcasting contents to China … it may face huge losses.”
In a reply sent on April 26, the Chinese Embassy in Korea stated that, “From the angle of protecting Korea’s image and friendly relations between Korea and China, KBS should not provide a performance venue for Shen Yun performances.”
“If Shen Yun Performing Arts performs at KBS Hall, it will be detrimental to the relationship between Korea and China,” the statement continued. “In conclusion, I hope that KBS clearly recognizes the true value of Falun Gong and Shen Yun performances and does not provide convenience for anti-China activities.”
A translated copy of the court decision refers to the financial losses that KBS could have incurred if the shows were allowed to go ahead—ostensibly because of Chinese government retaliation against the firm’s Korean television dramas, which are popular among viewers in China. The judicial decision stated that if KBS “cannot export its broadcasting contents to China, there are possibilities that it may face huge losses, which cannot be compared with the income from ticket selling.”
It then calculated that if the KBS content exported to China were cancelled, it would result in 10 billion KW ($8.5 million) in losses for KBS each year. The court reasoned that this sum would dwarf the losses incurred if KBS had to reimburse the performing arts company for the several thousand tickets that Shen Yun had already sold that year.
However, Korea is not the only democratic country in which the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is using its political and economic leverage to censor Shen Yun’s art.
Chinese embassies have sent similar letters pressuring theaters and elected officials in the United States, Canada, Europe, and Australia.
In one case in Spain, the Chinese Ambassador there admitted on a taped phone call that he had warned the manager of a theater in the capital, Madrid, that they would “lose the Chinese market” if they didn’t cancel Shen Yun.
“You have a great potential in the Chinese market. You can’t afford to lose the Chinese market because of this. They immediately realized that,” said Lu Fan, the Chinese regime’s ambassador to Spain.
Shen Yun describes its mission as one of reviving China’s 5,000-year-old traditional culture—much of which has been destroyed under decades of Communist rule.
The group’s performers also practice Falun Gong, a meditation practice that is severely persecuted by the Chinese regime. In fact, some company members have themselves fled China’s brutal persecution, or have family members still imprisoned in China.
Alongside dances portraying scenes from imperial dynasties and classic Chinese literature, some of the show’s pieces depict stories of the persecution Falun Gong practitioners face in China today, or attacks on Buddhist temples during the Cultural Revolution.
The show’s perspectives on Chinese culture, history, and spirituality have put it on the CCP’s blacklist.
However, Shen Yun’s world-class portrayal of traditional Chinese culture continues to go from strength to strength, with a completely new program each season drawing millions of audience members around the world each year.
The most recent world tour spanned more than 20 countries across five continents, with tour groups visiting nearly 200 cities along the way.
While the CCP’s campaigns to censor the show have failed in most countries, they continue to have an effect in Korea.
It remains to be seen whether Korean theaters and government bodies will continue to bow to CCP pressure, or choose to uphold the values of freedom and integrity shared by the United States and its other allies across the free world.