Humor and Heartbreak Enhance Shen Yun’s Amazing Pageantry

ST. LOUIS, Mo.—Linguist Jodi Zirbel got a new and positive view on China when she attended Shen Yun Performing Arts in St. Louis, Missouri on March 1, 2020. Here in the United States, she observed, we hear a lot about China, but the news isn’t often good. Seeing New York-based Shen Yun, however, the artists have taken a step back and present stories, legends, and song lyrics from throughout China’s heroic and morally-strong 5,000-year history.

“The color, the pageantry, but the history,” Zirbel said with astonishment about the classical Chinese dance performance at the Stifel Theater. “Also really the humor.”

As Shen Yun revives ancient China’s civilization that was once almost lost, the storytelling dances they present range in tone from heavenly to heartbreaking to humorous.

“The comedic timing was perfect,” Zirbel said of the humorous storytelling dances. “It was so understandable by—there was a little tiny child in front of us. And I was sitting next to a very old woman from China. And everybody was laughing. I was laughing. She was laughing. He was laughing. I thought ‘this hits all generations and all different cultures.'”

The more heart-wrenching stories in the performance depict spiritual believers in China who are persecuted at the hands of the current communist regime. Even these stories inspire hope, however, because of the compassion, faith, and forgiveness the believers exhibit even amidst violence.

“I was amazed by the piece about the persecution,” Zirbel said. “That was really hard to watch. And I realized that is what is going in China right now. And that was really hard.”

Throughout its five millennia, Chinese culture has always acknowledged the divine and the role that the Creator plays in life on earth.

Zirbel observed these traditional beliefs continuing on in Shen Yun‘s performance.

“I think that [traditional Chinese people] probably have a set of morals built [in] … When you believe in God, you usually will have a strong set of morals and ethics to live by. And you don’t ever hear about that, you know, because you hear about how China is repressing that kind of thing in their culture today. So it was interesting to see it presented here,” she said.

“It was just interesting to see that they have a deeper sense of spirituality than we hear about on the news. … This enormous culture. This enormous group of people from all different ethnic groups and how complex and deep [Chinese culture] really is. Maybe that’s what is my take away.”

You really pulled for the characters even though you knew it was just short little dances.
— Jodi Zirbel

If empathy and compassion are the winners of the day, Zirbel herself is also a shining example.

“You really pulled for the characters even though you knew it was just short little dances. But you still felt for those people, the characters that they presented, very much,” she said, adding that she felt the artists’ spirituality come out in the passion of their performances.

With reporting by Stacey Tang and Brett Featherstone.

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