The Long Arm of Chinese Censorship Reaches South Korea

By Sarah Cook for The Diplomat

In recent months, incidents of Communist Party restrictions on free expression extending beyond China’s borders have occurred across Asia. Now South Korea, a leading democracy in the region, has joined this disturbing trend.

On May 4, a court in Seoul issued a last-minute ruling canceling a series of classical Chinese dance and music shows by Shen Yun Performing Arts, scheduled to take place at KBS Hall over the weekend. The ruling explicitly cites threats by the Chinese embassy aimed at the theater owner, including implicit references to financial reprisals if the shows go on as planned.

The mission of the New York–based performance group is to revive China’s five-millennia-old traditional culture, which has been largely destroyed under decades of Communist rule. Shen Yun’s performers practice Falun Gong, a meditation and spiritual discipline whose practitioners are persecuted in China today; some company members have themselves fled religious persecution or have family members imprisoned in China still.

Alongside dances portraying scenes from imperial dynasties and literary classics, some of the show’s pieces also depict the story of what Falun Gong practitioners face in China today or attacks on Buddhist temples during the Cultural Revolution. An overarching theme throughout the Shen Yun performance is the traditional Chinese concept of a connection between Heaven, Earth, and humankind.

The performance has been widely acclaimed and drawn millions of audience members, including celebrities, around the world. But it is these perspectives on Chinese history, culture, and spirituality that have put Shen Yun on the Chinese Communist Party’s target list.

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