Human Rights Advocate Sees China in New Light After Shen Yun

DETROIT—Beth Grate knows all about the persecution of Falun Dafa practitioners in China. In fact, the advocate and activist in the fight against human trafficking came to see Shen Yun Performing Arts specifically because she’d heard that the performance touched on the plight of these people of faith.

Every year, New York-based Shen Yun brings traditional Chinese music and dance to audiences around the globe. The company aims to revive the beauty of China’s ancient culture by tracing its spirituality through its 5,000-year-old civilization: from the time when the Chinese believed that deities first bestowed cultural blessings, such as writing, on humankind, to the present day, when since 1992 the spiritual discipline of Falun Gong emerged in China and flourished.

The spiritual aspect of the performance was one of the elements that drew Grate to the Detroit Opera House for the matinee on Jan. 23, 2020.

“That’s one of the reasons why I came. I wanted to see that aspect of [the] culture, especially from the Falun Dafa or Falun Gong perspective.” (Falun Dafa is also known by the name Falun Gong.)

According to Shen Yun’s website, the company’s “source of inspiration, rooted in traditional Chinese culture, is the spiritual discipline known as Falun Dafa,” a practice of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance.

Falun Gong was condemned by China’s atheist communist regime in 1999, and since possibly as early as 2000, the regime has instigated the systematic, widespread crime of forced live organ harvesting against the adherents.

“I became aware of what’s been going on in China in the persecution against the practitioners of Falun Gong … and the organ trafficking associated that they’re being faced with,” said Grate, whose own organization, according to its website, has helped hundreds of trafficking victims in Michigan since 2014.

Basically, she came to see Shen Yun to enlarge her understanding of the Chinese people and culture as a whole.

She came away with a new respect for the Chinese people:  “I found a new appreciation for the beauty of [the Chinese] culture and the beauty of … the people apart from what we see coming out from our news, and a beautiful appreciation for the ancient history of this art form,” meaning classical Chinese dance.

She described the dance as “so uniquely Chinese; it’s not just an amalgamate of all the different ballet forms from around the world, it is uniquely Chinese.”

Everyone on stage makes it looks so easy and flowing and natural when you know that it takes incredible athletic ability and discipline.
— Beth Grate

“You can see how different it is in the various aspects of the dance form and just beauty and flow of it. Everyone on stage makes it looks so easy and flowing and natural when you know that it takes incredible athletic ability and discipline,” she said.

Grate learned that the dance form, which developed over thousands of years, is the source of acrobatics. Often people believe classical Chinese dance incorporated acrobatics, but it’s “the other way around,” she said.

She loved the live orchestra that includes ancient Chinese instruments along with Western ones, loved the digital backdrop that shows interaction between itself and the live performance. “I was reading in the program that [Shen Yun has] patented that and are in control of that and take credit for that, and it’s a unique element.”

Grate loved the variety in the presentation. There was a classically trained singer who provided a break from the dancing, and whose song’s lyrics gave her a clear sense of China’s ancient spiritual ideals.

“It wasn’t all dance, it wasn’t all music, and it was interactive not only with the backdrop of the screen, but it was humorous.”

Of the many short dances, some tell stories, and these each have a different tone.

“There were parts that were … very proper, and also parts that drew us in with humor, so we saw the propriety as well as the humor,” she said.

Overall, she is just happy that Shen Yun came to the States. “I think it’s wonderful. I truly appreciate that [Shen Yun is] having multiple shows throughout the U.S. because the United States needs to see the beauty of the Chinese people and culture apart from the regime that we hear so much about.”

Shen Yun is “not just … an art form but is able to show the heart of the people,” she said.

With reporting by Michael Huang and Sharon Kilarski.

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