Professor Describes How Shen Yun’s Culture and History Affects Us Today
McALLEN, Texas—For 30 years, Phil Ethridge has been a professor of criminal justice at the University of Texas in the Rio Grande Valley, and tonight at the McAllen Performing Arts Center he brought his unique knowledge and experience to bear when he spoke about what he saw in Shen Yun Performing Arts.
Although Ethridge’s tenure has been long, it hasn’t been as long as traditional China’s lineage, which reaches back 5,000 years into history. His career does give him, however, a good vantage point from which to observe the way New York-based Shen Yun revives ancient Chinese culture in their performance and the effect their efforts are having on the world.
“Ah, it was a beautiful experience,” Ethridge said. “[Shen Yun] talked about the culture, the traditions in China. It was beautiful. And it talked about the thousands of years of dance.” Ethridge attended Shen Yun on Feb. 15, 2020, with his wife.
Ethridge said the performance was very touching for him. “Oh! it was—it was very nice. … I think it showed how people reacted and how they use dance and their cultures, how that, how it changed over the years, and how they tried to express how they were feeling, or what they were going through.”
Shen Yun depicts almost two dozen short stories, songs, and dance pieces during one of its performances, transporting audiences from ancient China to heavenly realms and mythical kingdoms, all the way to modern-day China where spiritual believers are facing persecution at the hands of the communist party. Many say the latter stories are some of Shen Yun’s most touching, due to the compassion and faith the characters exhibit in these true-to-life scenes.
Ethridge took all this in and compared it to his own life experience having grown up in the United States.
“Well, I think it tells me that there are parts of the world that have had thousands of years of history. And the United States is this very young country that really hasn’t gone through what many countries have gone through. And what I’ve gone through, the people in the United States have gone through, does not compare to other parts of the world, especially China.”
Ethridge concluded that the China Shen Yun portrays is immensely profound, adding that the cultural value of such a show is important and needs to be seen by future generations.
“I think the cultural value was based on faith. And the very last act, I think was very good, to say, ‘We want to take all this culture and all this history and show how it affects us today and how this generation needs to be educated.'”
The final piece of Shen Yun’s 2020 performance is titled “Renewal of Heaven and Earth” and portrays an ancient Chinese legend about the Creator returning to earth and rewarding those who have chosen good over evil.
This along with other depictions of divine beings and heavenly themes run throughout the production. But Etheridge saw its relevance for the future on stage tonight.
“Well, I think what that told is not just from a historical point of view, but that this generation should look at that and have faith for the future. Even though people have gone through a lot, that they need to take that culture and that faith and apply [it] today, to what they’re doing in 2020, in China and the rest of the world.”
Ethridge added that he can imagine that many around the world, China-watchers and Chinese people themselves, are probably hoping that things will change for the better in China as Shen Yun and others expose the truth about what’s happening there and offer traditional wisdom and peaceful means as a suggestion for how to deal with it.
“But I think the real hope is that people within China—that someday this show will be in China,” he said, referring to the fact that Shen Yun’s artists cannot step foot inside China due to the ongoing persecution.
Lastly, Ethridge gave a big kudos to Shen Yun’s artists for carrying on such ancient and noble traditions and for having the courage to keep going despite enormous pressure.
“From generation to generation to generation, that they’re talking about hundreds of generations here, to try to continue, to carry on the hope, I think is very courageous,” he said. “I think to do this is very courageous. Considering what could happen if somebody tried to do this in China, or parts of the world, not just China. I’m sure that there are parts of the world where this group takes a big risk, putting on a show like this.”
With reporting by Sherry Dong and Brett Featherstone.
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