Shen Yun Captures Essence of Spirituality Lost in Contemporary China

PHILADELPHIA—As the curtain rose for the first piece, audience members gasped in delight seeing heavenly maidens danced among the clouds. Dr. Ron Stoffey knew from the start that Shen Yun Performing Arts was not an ordinary Chinese dance and music performance.

Through the various dances and stories, he said Shen Yun tried to depict the core essence of Chinese people—something that cannot be seen in contemporary China due to its political climate.

“I think [Shen Yun] captures the essence of the Chinese culture—the spirituality, the compassion, the music, the artistry,” said Stoffey, a professor of psychology at Kutztown University in Pennsylvania and a licensed psychologist.

“I think young people today in China have lost really the essence of philosophy and the spirituality of China. And that’s captured here very clearly,” he added.

Stoffey experienced the performance with his wife at the Merriam Theater in Philadelphia on Feb. 9. Shen Yun is in the midst of its 2019 tour where six equally sized companies are set to perform in over 100 cities globally.

During the performance, Stoffey was able to appreciate Shen Yun’s efforts to revive China’s semi-divine culture that was lost after over six decades of communist rule. He said that he thinks Chinese people are “not allowed to go back to the essence roots because of the Chinese government.”

“I think there is a yearning of the young Chinese people to connect to some essence of spirituality,” he said.

China’s Lost Divinity

China was once known as the land of the divine, or “Shen Zhou,” which is a name to describe a land where mortals and deities co-existed. The ancient Chinese believed that heavenly beings came down to transmit culture to the people of the earth, according to Shen Yun’s website.

For thousands of years, the ancient Chinese, who were heavily influenced by Buddhism, Taoism, and other disciplines, lived by values and beliefs like benevolence and justice, propriety and wisdom, respect for the heavens, and divine retribution. They strove to improve their characters and lead moral lives.

Stoffey was familiar with how that changed under the current communist regime.

Since coming into power, the atheist Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has sought to undermine the traditional values and beliefs. This is because the regime believed that faith in the divine would weaken allegiance to the Party. The CCP launched various campaigns—most notably the Cultural Revolution—which sought to eliminate cultural and religious sites, while forcing Chinese people to adopt its philosophy of “struggling against heaven, struggling against the land, and struggling against man,” as Shen Yun explains on its website.

Stoffey said the education under communist rule has played a part in cutting the spirituality out of the culture.

“For example, my wife was raised with the Chinese under Mao and she knows very little about the early philosophers, Buddhist traditions—all of that, which is very spiritual. And with the take on the Chinese government, the essence of that spirituality has been kind of lost,” Stoffey said.

Although the CCP has sponsored performances or exhibits that depict aspects of Chinese culture superficially, such as costumes worn by ancient people or the retelling of legends, the underlying essence of the Chinese people is still missing, according to Shen Yun.  This New York-based company was formed in 2006 by artists who wished to revive the authentic traditional Chinese culture.

Bel Canto Vocalists

Meanwhile, Stoffey said he was captivated by the male vocalist who sang using the bel canto technique.

Along with dance and stories, Shen Yun also includes solo vocalists who sing original pieces that inspire listeners and encourage deep reflection about life.

Stoffey said he reflected on the lyrics of the song the male vocalist sang and that they resonated with him.

He said the song explored “the notion of that we come from the divine” and it makes people think that “we’re not here by just some mistake, [and] that we have an inherent purpose.”

“One aspect of inherent purpose is to help other people and eradicate human suffering—and that’s very spiritual,” he said.

Follow Janita on Twitter: @janitakan

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