New York-based dance troupe Shen Yun has felt China’s long reach in South Korea when they found their recent scheduled performances cancelled by court order “explicitly citing threats by the Chinese embassy”, reported The Diplomat on 9 May 2016.
The trouble between Shen Yun, the Korean Broadcasting Service (KBS) which runs the theatre venue KBS Hall, and China started earlier in January 2016. At that time the Chinese embassy sent a letter to KBS warning that allowing Shen Yun’s show to go on would result in a “a huge loss” if China were to revoke their broadcasting rights, reported The Guardian on 6 May 2016. KBS is one of the few companies allowed to air foreign television in China.
KBS Hall capitulated and cancelled the show, which led local organisers New Cosmos Media to take the matter to court. In proceedings KBS Hall stated that they were not “properly notified” of the troupe’s association with Falun Gong, which gave them grounds for cancellation. Falun Gong is a Chinese spiritual practice that gained prominence in China in the 1990s, but was later banned and labelled as a “cult” by authorities.
The Seoul Southern District Court ruled on 19 April 2016 in favour of the organisers and troupe saying KBS Hall had “no justification” for the cancellation and the association was “indeed present on the rental contract”.
However, the new 4 May 2016 order by the same Seoul court reversed its own prior ruling from mid-April. The ruling not only came out just two days before performances were set to begin ahead of a weekend, but also ahead of a national holiday, meaning administrative offices were closed, leaving no opportunity for recourse.
China’s long reach
China often uses its reach and economic heft beyond its borders on a bevy of issues it finds undesirable, including Falun Gong, Tibet, Taiwan and Tiananmen.
In February 2016, the Chinese embassy in Dhaka, Bangladesh pressured art summit organisers to remove an exhibit of handwritten letters by five Tibetans before they self-immolated. Rather than removing the framed letters, organisers worked with the artists and covered the fames with white sheets to draw attention to the pressure.
In April 2016, American pop star Selena Gomez became yet another artist on China’s list to have concerts cancelled in the country due to statements on Tibet, relationships with the Dalai Lama, or having taken part in Tibet-related events.
According to Shen Yun master of ceremonies Leeshai Lemish’s website, the group has experienced 59 events since 2007 of Chinese authorities “interfering” with the group’s performances worldwide. Shen Yun’s performances in Seoul were scheduled to take place 6-8 May 2016. Shen Yun’s stated purpose is to revive 5,000 years of Chinese culture that has been destroyed under Communist rule.
» China Digital Times – 10 May 2016:
Shen Yun show cancelled after pressure from Beijing
» The Diplomat – 9 May 2016:
The long arm of Chinese censorship reaches South Korea
» The Guardian – 6 May 2016:
New York dance troupe says China banned shows over Falun Gong links
» Shen Yun Performing Arts – 4 May 2016:
Press Release: Threatened by Chinese Embassy, South Korean theatre cancels shows
» The Epoch Times – 21 April 2016:
Korean court says Shen Yun show must go on in Seoul
Who’s afraid of Shen Yun?
» Artsfreedom.org – 27 April 2016:
China: American pop star tour dates cancelled
» Artsfreedom.org – 17 February 2016:
Bangladesh: Tibetan art exhibit censored under Chinese pressure
» Artsfreedom.org – 21 January 2016:
China/Taiwan: Singers banned for nationalist statements and actions