Inside the Shadowy World of Shen Yun and Its Secret Pro-Trump Ties - 2020-03-09
Each spring the city is flooded by a deluge of advertising—from bright, colorful billboards to glossy mailers to round-the-clock TV commercials—heralding the imminent arrival of a quirky Chinese dance troupe named Shen Yun. Since the group first appeared in L.A. a decade ago, its exotic mix of traditional Chinese dance, Cirque du Soleil-like acrobatics, and anticommunist messaging has won a devoted audience. Critics may scoff at its outre theatrics, and the Chinese government has dismissed it as an "anti-society cult" with "tacky taste and low artistic standards," but the show regularly sells out across the country. This year, as Shen Yun prepares for a six-week run in Southern California in May, it is coming under scrutiny for its close association with the Epoch Times, a fiercely pro-Trump conspiracy website recently mired in scandal for its ties to a massive network of fraudulent Facebook accounts.
Both Shen Yun and Epoch Times are funded and operated by members of Falun Gong, a controversial spiritual group that was banned by China's government in 1999. Less a religion than a spiritual doctrine, Falun Gong melds traditional Taoist principles with occasionally bizarre pronouncements from its Chinese-born founder and leader, Li Hongzhi. Among other pronouncements, Li has claimed that aliens started invading human minds in the beginning of the 20th century, leading to mass corruption and the invention of computers. He has also denounced feminism and homosexuality and claimed he can walk through walls and levitate. But the central tenet of the group's wide-ranging belief system is its fierce opposition to communism.
In 2000, Li founded Epoch Times to disseminate Falun Gong talking points to American readers. Six years later he launched Shen Yun as another vehicle to promote his teachings to mainstream Western audiences. Over the years Shen Yun and Epoch Times, while nominally separate organizations, have operated in tandem in Falun Gong's ongoing PR campaign against the Chinese government, taking directions from Li.