tl;dr, it's Falun Gong evangelism
January 16, 2019 2:20 PM   Subscribe

Here in NY, the ads are everywhere.
posted by AugustWest at 2:25 PM on January 16 [2 favorites]

Yeah, the ads are truly everywhere. Also its at Lincoln Center?

This morning i heard ads on the radio, saw them on my tv AND while walking past a coworkers work station a few mins ago was vicariously exposed to some banner ads on his browser.
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 2:28 PM on January 16

I asked my in-laws (long-time US residents originally from Hong Kong) this exact question at Thanksgiving as we drove past one such billboard. Their quite serious answer was that Shen Yun is capitalist propaganda funded by the CIA. They're normally pretty sober-minded research scientist types, so I found their response pretty surprising. But still maybe their view is worth taking seriously, at least as a common conspiracy theory among Chinese speakers. YMMV.
posted by crazy with stars at 2:29 PM on January 16 [6 favorites]

They are in Toronto as well, and have been for several years. I'm glad I read this: I had thought this was a show of traditional Chinese dance/arts, and was tempted to go.
posted by jb at 2:34 PM on January 16 [9 favorites]

A Falun Gong connection would explain the apparent ambivalence about it evident at our local Chinese Cultural Center, which has ties with (but is not directly related to) the Confucius Institute. That I've heard decidedly better comments from White than Chinese who've attended has made me not feel any urgency about seeing it.
posted by Quasirandom at 2:38 PM on January 16 [3 favorites]

Back in the 90's, a family friend dabbled in this. She claimed that high-level masters could stop locomotives with their hands, wouldn't be harmed by bullets fired at them, would walk away from major car crashes without a scratch as a result of their qi practice, etc. It was hot nonsense, and one of the few times my (Hong Kong born and raised) father has ever agreed with the Chinese Communist Party.*

Once in a while, you'll get evangelizers for them where I live now. Usually, they tend to avoid the actual East Asians, choosing to go after white tourists or business people instead, but I occasionally get hit up.

I'm proud to say the last time I got approached, I nailed a crit on my Intimidation check, rolling so high that my stinkeye slid her five feet to the side, 4th edition style.

* To give you an idea of how rarely this happens, the only other instance I can remember was, uh, fighting the Japanese during WWII.
posted by joyceanmachine at 2:39 PM on January 16 [73 favorites]

They advertise in a lot of Asian-owned restaurants and small businesses all over America, not limited to specifically Chinese ones either. Every Chinese person I know has extremely negative views of Falun Gong, so I wonder if the proprietors of these places are practitioners, or if they don't know about Shen Yun's affiliation with them, or if they just get paid enough to get over their misgivings about putting up the posters.
posted by hyperbolic at 2:42 PM on January 16 [3 favorites]

I started wondering about this when they had a card table set up outside a Safeway. It seemed pretty extreme for mere acrobatics showbiz marketing.
posted by salt grass at 2:44 PM on January 16 [5 favorites]

Emily Nussbaum commented about this last year and that led to a more in-depth Hazlitt piece, for those interested.
posted by The Bellman at 2:49 PM on January 16 [14 favorites]

I got a completely weird magazine/flyer thing from them in the mail this year, which did helpfully specify that it had been paid for by some local Falun Gong association. The best part was the last page, which had some caption like "AUDIENCES ARE EXTREMELY MOVED BY SHEN YUN" over a bunch of photographs of what were definitely people sitting in audiences exhibiting facial expressions that were no doubt informed by some emotion or other.
posted by prize bull octorok at 2:49 PM on January 16 [5 favorites]

A couple of years ago, I went to the show just to see whether it was actually impressive.

It wasn't.

There were amusing effects but not at all what they advertise it to be. And oh yeah, there's all this proselytizing.
posted by janey47 at 2:50 PM on January 16 [5 favorites]

I see ads for Shen Yun and also frequent boxes of The Epoch Times, an allied publication which is openly Trumpist and greets me with bizarro headlines when I'm just waiting for the light to change to take home my groceries. Let me live, corner box of the Epoch Times, I was just listening to a podcast and forgetting this hellworld for a minute.

I also often see young people on the Common who are sitting with signs about Chinese governmental organ harvesting from Falun Gong members, especially if there is some other public event or protest. I could easily believe both that Falun Gong is a dangerous cult and that the Chinese government is treating them with unwarranted brutality. Whatever Scientologists have done, I don't want their livers.
posted by Countess Elena at 2:53 PM on January 16 [52 favorites]

I've wondered about this; thanks for posting.
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:53 PM on January 16 [3 favorites]

huh. Every year a certain billboard on i4o in oklahoma city advertises this. I had no idea there was any underlying propaganda to it. I am super curious to see who attends these performances around here now though. Do they find kindred spirits with the Church of the first born? Do the rednecks go thinking it is like Cirque du Soliel? There is a large asian population here, but more from Vietnam i think than China. What do they think?
posted by domino at 2:57 PM on January 16

MetaFilter: my stinkeye slid her five feet to the side, 4th edition style
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:58 PM on January 16 [16 favorites]

When I was a child simultaneously exposed to the concept of heaven and the disappearance of Jacob Wetterling, I eventually concluded that in heaven you could ask any question and know the answer. At the time I mostly wondered what had happened to Jacob. But what I really had in mind was things like this - when you come across something (like the 30 sheets of full page glossy ads they would leave in my old office of 25 people) and go, "huh?" you would just know what the deal was.

One mystery solved!
posted by Emmy Rae at 3:03 PM on January 16 [6 favorites]

Oh, man. They have flyers in a restaurant I quite like here in Omaha, so I kept walking past it and going "huh, that's interesting, I should think about going to that", and I hadn't gotten around to it because I'm always distracted by, you know, dinner? I'm fine with other people practicing their religion even if it happens to be one I don't follow, but I find it extremely shady when religious groups try to event attendance from people for something they don't bill up-front as religious, especially when they are, for example, pretty racist and homophobic as religions go.

Which is to say, I'm queer and mixed-race so very glad I didn't wind up giving them any money.
posted by Sequence at 3:08 PM on January 16 [15 favorites]

Having lived in the Bay Area until 2017, I had been increasingly mocking the escalating rhetoric of the ever-present Shen Yun ads that mocked me in the subways and I-280:


Having moved to Milwaukee, I was shocked to see the Shen Yun ads there, beckoning to the southern Wisconsin commuter, with the same message...

posted by eschatfische at 3:10 PM on January 16 [24 favorites]

My father-in-law's girlfriend got tickets for the four of us a couple of years back. They were both from Korea. All her golf friends were going or had gone in previous years. Traditional Chinese music and dance! Acrobatics!

I'd heard about the Falun Gong connection, but what the heck sure why not.

The show we attended was at the auditorium at Pomona College in Claremont. It was packed. Things started off okay, but it wasn't long before the weird history and proselytizing began.

Afterward I asked my father-in-law what he thought and he said, "I don't know what I think. I already converted to Catholicism; I don't need to convert to something else."
posted by notyou at 3:13 PM on January 16 [12 favorites]

The Shen Yun media blitz here in Boston is pretty heavy. Every single subway car is plastered with posters right now, and the TV ads with "celebrity endorsements" run in practically every commercial break on every channel. They even have little ticket kiosks at the shopping malls. I knew it was a Falun Gong thing, but did not realize there was quite as much active propagandizing and proselytizing until I read the story in the FPP a couple of weeks ago. We've often talked about going to see it, but have usually been dissuaded by the ticket prices. After reading the article, I wouldn't go if the tickets were free.
posted by briank at 3:14 PM on January 16 [5 favorites]

I'm just skimming Wikipedia, and it reads like Falun Gong is not even a cult. They were a conservative offshoot of Qigong that mixed in Buddhist and/or related belief systems. They don't steal money or entrap members like actual organized cults.
The reason there's little international recognition for Falun Gong isn't because it's a cult but because they're conservative--anti-political and anti-sexual freedom in particular promoting homophobia, and because there's no corresponding Western religipus organization (like persecuted Christians in China would have). Imagine an oppressive government finding a hugely popular New Age movement, and so the government decides they're an enemy. That seems to be what Wikipedia is saying.
posted by polymodus at 3:15 PM on January 16 [9 favorites]

Oh geez. I carried around a brochure for this thing for ages. I may still have it! I was fairly convinced by the text it would be an amazing evening of Chinese dance and acrobatics. I never bothered to Google it, which may have helped. (area: North Chicagoland)
posted by Glinn at 3:16 PM on January 16

We went a few years ago totally blind and were very creeped out by it. It felt like you might imagine a Mormon variety TV show from the fifties would be like.
posted by octothorpe at 3:17 PM on January 16 [19 favorites]

Huh. I had assumed that it was a Chinese dance group and that the billboards were just advertising to the Bay Area's large Chinese and Chinese-American population. TIL, I guess.
posted by tavella at 3:18 PM on January 16 [4 favorites]

I see commercials and billboards for this every year. I’d been curious but not curious enough to remember to look it up after the moment passed.

So: thanks. I’m glad I never went.
posted by Monochrome at 3:20 PM on January 16

My mom said she took me to see when I was younger and it was basically terrible production value. I don't even remember it. It looks like Shen Yun is a very misguided attempt to get outsiders to support their cause. Cheating outsiders of their money and getting in the face with political convictions is a backwards approach. But it doesn't prove they're sociologically in the category of Scientology.
posted by polymodus at 3:24 PM on January 16

I was another person duped by this. They market and tour pretty heavily in Australia as well. I took mum as we thought it would have the wow factor of something like the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony. Not only was it lacklustre in its entertainment value and choreography, it was a slap in the face when the second half did a tone switch and had posters and chants that said “Falun Gong is good.” They also asked the audience to chant along. Super creepy.

Mum had no idea who they were; I had to explain and apologise profusely for taking her to a religious propaganda performance that wasn’t even that entertaining in the first place.
posted by chronic sublime at 3:32 PM on January 16 [4 favorites]

So somebody gave me tickets once as a gift and I saw it. But I have to say, you're not missing much if you haven't seen it.

Most of the show is basically traditional style dancing and some instrumentals. The backgrounds are usually projected using what look to me like the best 16-bit graphics renderings of Chinese scenery they could come up with and occasionally the actors will do this thing where they jump behind a piece of set and then a 16-bit sprite of them does something on the background like fly around in the clouds and then the sprite will "land" and then the actor will jump back out on the stage. There is a hokey pair of announcers telling you about the scenes you're about to see. It's all rather bland and Disney-fied.

But then, about 30% of the acts are Falun Gong related and they are just...weird and awkward. Like a tenor will come out and sing about how Falun Gong is the greatest and how evolution is wrong. And I think a lot of people are basically looking at each other like "Huh? What is this guy even saying?" but then they roll out the next set of dancers and acrobats. Then after a few sets they'll do something awkward again. So it's basically colorful dance/music sets punctuated with awkward and relatively ham-fisted religious/political messaging.

A lot of the people in the audience tend to be older or tourists, etc. and I think most people figure they are just going to see a colorful show with some dancing and then there's this awkward content that I think people don't quite know what to do with and they just kind of ride it out so they can see the dancing/acrobatics and the occasional instrumental.
posted by delicious-luncheon at 3:33 PM on January 16 [12 favorites]

When I worked for the Ballet, the Shen Yun ads always ramped up around the time our Nutcracker adds were ramping up and my Marketing Director, a bombastic old newspaper man, was on a personal quixotic mission to make sure our flyers and lobby cards didn't appear next to theirs. They'd hand out flyers to the lines at our shows and he'd chase them off. Waved fistfuls of their flyers at local business people ranting about how they were a subversive cult that had been chased out of China and not to give them the space. I looked into it at the time and read a lot of interesting stuff about Falun Gong but nothing that seemed to justify his alarm.

I mean, they're a little odd but not hurting anybody and in retrospect I'm pretty sure my boss was mostly just being kinda racist.
posted by Phobos the Space Potato at 3:38 PM on January 16

These are all over Raleigh, NC in recent years as well.
posted by freecellwizard at 3:49 PM on January 16 [1 favorite]

Once I was walking down Market Street in SF from the Powell stop on the 38, on a random Thursday around 9:30 AM. I was coming home from an overnight shift and was very tired.

Suddenly, some cops on motorcycles with lights but no sirens except for that intermittent "get out of the way" bloop come up the street and clear everyone back. At that point, I'm slightly interested, and there is a pause before I hear drums and see a marching band come around the corner. Hooray, a weird little parade! I love marching bands and parades.

The band is pretty good, if a little amateur. Huh, everyone in the band is Asian. Must be some local community center. Oh, there are majorettes. Wow, they have those fancy flags. Another marching band! These folks sure like yellow. Some people with a banner that is in Chinese! Ok, sure! This is San Francisco, it's not totally unexpected. Some miscellaneous people with signs come down the street. The only English on the sign is "Falun Gong." Huh. Everyone seems fairly cheerful, maybe it is some holiday I never heard of. The crowd is having a fine time.

Next around the corner are some people wearing medical scrubs. It's starting to get weird. They are losing the crowd. Following them are several tableaux vivants on floats of people, presumably Falun Gong martyrs, being tortured and vivisected, plus some bilingual banners that say in English CHINESE GOVERNMENT TORTURES FALUN GONG TELL THE WORLD and so forth. It is a very vivid depiction and the even have a grim dude following each float with boombox playing screams. Eventually it just peters out until it's one dude with a boombox jogging to keep up and some people picking up trash and handing out flyers, which I do not take. I am awake now!
posted by blnkfrnk at 3:52 PM on January 16 [38 favorites]

That seems to be what Wikipedia is saying.

I'm afraid this is one of those subjects that Wikipedia is not a good source of information on. That page is undoubtedly heavily edited by Falun Gong itself. The Economist has a possibly more objective article about it.

The Chinese government does persecute them to an extreme. After they showed up en masse and unannounced at the gates of the Party compound Zhongnanhai one morning in 1999, the CCP went after them with a vengeance. TV news reports started accusing Falun Gong of kidnapping children and other atrocities, which charges are certainly fabrications.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:00 PM on January 16 [9 favorites]

Cirque du Soleil is a billion-dollar company and advertises less than Shen Yun (and both are currently in San Francisco).

So either a) Shen Yun generates several billion dollars in revenue or b) they aren't doing it to make a profit but to put as many butts in seats as humanly possible
posted by GuyZero at 4:10 PM on January 16 [2 favorites]

So, a couple of years ago, my wife and I went to the show at the Kennedy Center in DC, because the tickets we got were cheap and it looked vaguely interesting. We didn't really know what we were getting into.

My first hint, though, was when our seats mysteriously got upgraded as soon as my wife went to the entrance. My wife is not at all political, so she was flying as blind as I was, but she has the distinction of being American-born Chinese. This hint grew when I realized that the section we were now sitting in had all of the 3 or 4 other Chinese people in the audience at all, and that it was very prominently visible throughout the center.

Anyway, the first third of the show was nice, and entirely apolitical. The second third started hinting at what was really going on with subtle political jabs. But in the final third, one of the items involved crew holding up a giant banner, and allusions to political crack-downs in mainland China. It was basically impossible to ignore.

Afterward, my wife was stunned. She doesn't complain much, but she absolutely said it was over the top. We looked it up, and saw the FG association. When she called her mom to mention details, her mom was all "what's the problem?" until the FG links were mentioned, and then her mom simply warned us to stay away.
posted by mystyk at 4:37 PM on January 16 [4 favorites]

When I worked downtown by the Trinity Church, the Falun Gong were always in front of the orange box on Broadway just north of 115 Broadway on the east side of the street. They would get right up in your grill and try to hand you stuff and say things about the Chinese government. I took to crossing the street after a few days of that.

To me, it is one of those situations where both the Falun Gong and the Chinese Government are the bad guys. No good guys in that situation. But I am an outsider who has limited information.
posted by AugustWest at 4:38 PM on January 16

To me, it is one of those situations where both the Falun Gong and the Chinese Government are the bad guys.

Uh, one of these two has concentration camps and harvests organs from political prisoners, the other is a New Age religious movement with pushy marketing and a less-than-woke view on sexual identity.

They're both "bad guys" in the sense that the Nazi Party and the Boy Scouts are both bad guys.
posted by Kadin2048 at 4:43 PM on January 16 [21 favorites]

I'm afraid this is one of those subjects that Wikipedia is not a good source of information on. That page is undoubtedly heavily edited by Falun Gong itself. The Economist has a possibly more objective article about it.

That Economist article is 4 paragraphs and doesn't say anything the Wikipedia entry already basically said (Wikipedia has a separate page on Persecution of Falun Gong). The Wiki entry's Talk page says anyone randomly editing that entry will be sanctioned. So it's not like the editors there are unaware of the issues.
posted by polymodus at 5:00 PM on January 16 [2 favorites]

Huh. I first got personalized ads soon after getting called to the bar — they had clearly lifted my name and address from the Lawyer’s Directory. I took it as a sign that I’d, you know, made it. I resolved to go one day.

But then the ads started appearing just anywhere, and my interest went away. I was no longer special.

Oh well. Good thing I’d never gone. I’d be pretty miffed.
posted by Capt. Renault at 5:25 PM on January 16

The Falun Gong people in downtown Flushing have a booth most days where they will help people leave the Chinese Communist Party...I've often wondered if that's helpful or them or desirable at all or what?

Presumably if you're an immigrant to the US from China, it doesn't really matter unless you want to go back and visit family in the old country, and then I guess it really matters. A LOT of Chinese immigrants to the US are asylum-seekers-- I forget exactly how many, but it's a much larger percentage than I expected-- and that probably makes a difference, too. I suppose there are some people who are so mad at the government and maybe have no family left that they'd want to hook up with this officially-disapproved New Age group to finally burn that bridge. Like, I don't know, if the LaRouche campaign wanted to help me disenroll myself from baptismal records. If I were mad enough, I'd go for it.

We also get ridiculous Shen Yun ads in Flushing, but they're usually in English. I looked into going and it was like $60 a seat, so no thanks.
posted by blnkfrnk at 5:36 PM on January 16 [2 favorites]

"steal the minds elation"
posted by clavdivs at 5:41 PM on January 16 [1 favorite]

Huh, that mystery explained.

The FG are no longer hanging around that part of Broadway, though you do occasionally see a fake monk or two working the crowd. I always vacillate between my usual indignation at scams and a sense that 9/11 tourists (i.e., the people who didn't suffer personal loss who are coming to the memorial to get worked up about 'MERICA!) probably should be flim-flammed for all they're worth.
posted by praemunire at 5:53 PM on January 16 [3 favorites]

I got a completely weird magazine/flyer thing from them in the mail this year, which did helpfully specify that it had been paid for by some local Falun Gong association. The best part was the last page, which had some caption like "AUDIENCES ARE EXTREMELY MOVED BY SHEN YUN" over a bunch of photographs of what were definitely people sitting in audiences exhibiting facial expressions that were no doubt informed by some emotion or other.

Well now I have to go pull mine out the recycle bin where it got tossed as soon as I walked in the door.

"Presented by the Michigan Falun Dafa Association"

No images of emotionally moved audiences, but the list of endorsements is pretty underwhelming.
posted by Preserver at 6:31 PM on January 16

Years ago on Slashdot, someone in the comment section advocated responding to Chinese spam emails with some variation of “Message received, hope the encryption is working. Money is wired to the agreed upon account and the weapons are on the way. Long live Falun Gong!”, hoping that the ensuing persecution would get spammers to think twice about their life choices before being hauled off to some gulag. Even then, Falun Gong was understood to be some sort of persecuted religion/minority that threatened state power in China, thus the harsh crackdowns.

Did their standing in the world get so much better that they can afford to do these shows and what must be an astronomical marketing cost?
posted by dr_dank at 7:03 PM on January 16 [5 favorites]

I think the CIA money comment above was a joke, but OTOH it's a known fact that they did pay a lot of artists (with an unclear degree of creative control?) as part of a cultural war with the Soviets. Wouldn't surprise me if Shen Yun got started with similar grants.

Not to disparage the persecution of Falun Gong members back in China, of course, which is both real and shameful. But something like that is both plausible and could explain how they're able to afford to both put on these productions and advertise so heavily despite having a fairly small actual membership in the US.
posted by tobascodagama at 7:32 PM on January 16 [3 favorites]

The persecution of Falun Dafa members in China is horrendous and terrible. Founder Li Hongzhi is a weird man with crazy views, who - despite what he says - can't turn invisible or walk through walls. The movement is deeply racist and homophobic. All three things are true at once.

As a white person working on China/Taiwan issues, I can't even remember how many times I've been asked if I wanted tickets to the Shen Yun show, but I've never gone. I knew of the Falun Dafa connection, of course, but had no idea of the proselytizing that went on at the shows. I'm glad I was never tempted to go.
posted by gemmy at 7:49 PM on January 16 [14 favorites]

I knew of the Falun Gong connection, but I don't know how. I assumed it was knowledge you just absorbed living in the Bay Area but as this article has circulated, it's become clear that's not the case. So I'm left wondering why it wasn't news to me, and I have no idea.
posted by hoyland at 8:15 PM on January 16

I don't know if RationalWiki is still reliable, but it's where I first learned why no-one seemed to be doing anything to help Falun Gong.
posted by Merus at 8:16 PM on January 16

China's crackdown on the cult is certainly heavy-handed. But Shen Yun is a show in America. Falun Gong has no more place in America than Scientology.

"They oppress our brothers and sisters over there, so you should support us here" seems like an awful argument. The folks who are over here are free and unoppressed, so I feel no duty to support their awful ideology.
posted by explosion at 8:52 PM on January 16 [1 favorite]

I work in one of those tall office buildings that has ad/news/weather/time screens in the elevators. The Shen Yun ads are in heavy rotation.

It's at least better than the AWS ads.
posted by asperity at 9:08 PM on January 16 [1 favorite]

Oh yeah, my mother haaaaaaaaaaates these people (and I think my father, like me, has a mild sense of "stay away"). They are mainlanders.

If the Epoch Times is pro-Trump, and my mother (now a voter in Florida!) is turning pro-Trump, maybe there's a chance to get her back...

Where do the performers come from? Are they US falungong folks who get together every year to tour? Is this like their Nutcracker? Do they train their followers in dance?
posted by batter_my_heart at 9:16 PM on January 16 [1 favorite]

Their ads also seemed to pop up on Youtube about every other video or so for awhile (okay I'm exaggerating, but not by much); needless to say, based on said vids you'd end up thinking that it was just, to quote JP, a show of traditional Chinese dance/arts" or whatnot.

Also, is it just me or have they upped their media blitz recently? (Not that I know anything about YT's ad rates, but considering you're more likely to find ads there from Apple and Fresh Empire than that DIY bookstore down the street, I'd guess that it takes $$$ for said ad rotation).
posted by gtrwolf at 9:23 PM on January 16

They have arrived in London. A glossy brochure was shoved through my (sensible height) letterbox and it gave off a weird Mormons meet Scientology in a North Korean tractor plant vibe.

There are now ads on the Underground too and Londoners are ignoring the whole thing in the same way we have ignored the regular FG pitches outside the British Museum.

Advertising to Londoners is a very good way of wasting your money.
posted by fallingbadgers at 9:31 PM on January 16 [1 favorite]

I got a robo call advertising for Shen Yun a couple months ago! They are completely saturating the universe.
posted by latkes at 9:53 PM on January 16

I've seen it. It's amazing, and amazingly weird. If you want to know more about behind the scenes, watch The Secret Chinese War for Your Opinion! (although IMO he doesn't really 'get' Falun Gong, but what do I know.)
posted by Rash at 10:11 PM on January 16

Chinese traditional cultural arts and dance is really beautiful. The Shen Yun shows are not that at all, and the Falun Gong connection is even worse. I feel sorry for everyone who has seen these shows.
posted by yueliang at 10:51 PM on January 16 [2 favorites]

For some time now I've felt that, between their ads and the ads for hearing aids, the Chicago Tribune is kept in a twilight state of semi-life. My gratitude depends upon the amusement value of any given day's comics page.
posted by Chitownfats at 11:06 PM on January 16 [2 favorites]

I did not know this. I've always thought this looked mildly interesting but was put off by a weird vibe I couldn't put my finger on.

Cirque du Soleil is a billion-dollar company and advertises less than Shen Yun (and both are currently in San Francisco).

That's part of it. I could never figure out how it made financial sense to promote so much.
posted by bongo_x at 11:22 PM on January 16 [1 favorite]

Cirque du Soleil is a billion-dollar company and advertises less than Shen Yun (and both are currently in San Francisco).

I had originally thought it might be affiliated with some sort of cultural outreach program of the actual P.R.C., given how much advertising they invested in.
posted by atoxyl at 12:00 AM on January 17 [5 favorites]

I've seen it. It's amazing, and amazingly weird. If you want to know more about behind the scenes, watch The Secret Chinese War for Your Opinion! (although IMO he doesn't really 'get' Falun Gong, but what do I know.)
posted by Rash at 2:11 PM on January 17 [+] [!]

I've watched some of that guy's videos, and I don't particularly like him, because nuance and context aren't exactly his stock in trade (the clickbait video titles my god), but that's a good overview of the flavor of Confucius Institute & Falun Gong outreach efforts.

A LOT of Chinese immigrants to the US are asylum-seekers-- I forget exactly how many, but it's a much larger percentage than I expected-- and that probably makes a difference, too.

Crucial background here is also how Beijing works among overseas Chinese communities, and how China is ramping up religious persecution (the Xinjiang internment camps are part of this, they're coming down hard on any and all manner of "superstition").

The tradition of political song and dance in China and deliberate propaganda in China are also factors. No single link could adequately describe that, but it's safe to say that it has its roots in the years when Mao was in power. Back then, everything, including art, was politicized or banned, and modern Chinese "publicity" efforts make more use of overt propaganda than we're used to because audiences and professionals spent a generation soaking in that soup. It leads to some pretty surreal results in advertising, politics, and many other fields.

Mix in a cult with a political agenda and an active community of donors and volunteers (Mormons and Scientologists have publishing arms too) and a show they obviously put a lot of work into developing (obviously someone organized it, and chances are it's someone high up on the decision tree), and here we are.

Go see STOMP! instead.
posted by saysthis at 12:23 AM on January 17 [7 favorites]

Also, I don't know if this is germane, but I found this thing in Adweek about NYC subway advertising costs.
Running a subway ad campaign is admittedly pricier than buying up some online display ads—for a half "brand train," or ads along one interior side of 570 subway cars, companies can expect to pay around $240,000, while the cost of a full "station domination" ranges from $100,000 to $350,000 depending on the location—but for companies looking for a relatively clutter-free environment and captive audience, the investment can be worth it.
And I found Shen Yun's seat prices in New York.

Mon–Fri: $300, $200, $180, $150, $120, $100, $80
Sat–Sun: $300, $230, $200, $165, $130, $110, $85

They're sold out from Jan 10-20. The David H. Koch Theater has a capacity of 2,586. At $80 x 2586 x 10, those sold out shows gross them $2,086,800 at a minimum, probably more like $3-4 million. It's very possible they're making money on this.
posted by saysthis at 12:46 AM on January 17 [5 favorites]

Haven't seen it discussed much, but my understanding is that Falun Gong is not a big fan of modern medicine. My wife has a cousin who's a member along with her husband (and I've gotten the heavy-handed proselytizing from them), but the cousin suffers from really nasty rheumatoid arthritis, and apparently she's spent years trying to meditate it away because FG forbids her from going to see a doctor about it. Not sure how much of that is general practice and how much is a particular situation, but it doesn't make me like them any better.

The overall vibe I've gotten from knowing them is very Scientology-like.
posted by McCoy Pauley at 4:26 AM on January 17 [1 favorite]

Shen Yun comes to my town about once a year, usually around this time if I remember correctly. The ads made it look interesting and I have thought about going. Now I’m glad I didn’t. I wondered if it was some sort of Chinese government cultural propaganda like the Confucius Institutes, but apparently not.
posted by TedW at 7:07 AM on January 17 [1 favorite]

Their quite serious answer was that Shen Yun is capitalist propaganda funded by the CIA

Is it? Given their work in Tibet and pretty much everywhere else I wouldn't be, you know, shocked.
posted by aspersioncast at 7:33 AM on January 17 [2 favorites]

Oh interesting. They dropped off free tickets at every house on my street in Seattle last year - that itself told me it probably wasn’t exactly the cultural phenom it says it is.
posted by clseace at 7:58 AM on January 17 [3 favorites]

My mother and sister went to see this last year. My mom is a former analyst for an intelligence agency and knew it was connected to Falun Gong but not much more than that fact. My sister just thought it was an acrobatics show. They were, like many others, disappointed by the ratio of Check-Out-This-Sweet-Flip to Let-Me-Read-You-My-Brochure. However, my mother amused herself by playing Spot the Intelligence Agent Interns. She gave herself a point for anyone who was dressed in Ultra Normcore and who was also being Super Suave about taking photos with their cell phones, not of the show, but of anyone in the audience who appeared to be particularly enjoying it. (She described the technique as of casually holding the phone at chest height and determinedly looking in a different direction than down at the screen.)

So going to this show is definitely a way to end up on a list of some kind, especially if you look at all Chinese and smile or deeply frown at any point during the political stuff.
posted by Scattercat at 8:02 AM on January 17 [13 favorites]

clseace: "They dropped off free tickets at every house on my street in Seattle last year"

Free tickets for a specific show -- not just flyers advertising the performance?

That's very interesting -- if they're not actually able to fill seats at the relatively high prices they advertise on their website ($80+, as saysthis points out), then they're almost certainly not able to make money on these performances.

And if they're not making money, then *somebody* is bankrolling these shows.
posted by crazy with stars at 10:04 AM on January 17 [2 favorites]

I went to this show in Vancouver 2-3 years ago and no joking I cannot remember a single thing about it, I cannot remember why I went, how I got tickets, who I went with or what the show was like. I had completely forgotten I even went until this post, weird.
posted by Cosine at 10:16 AM on January 17 [3 favorites]

My hometown of the last three years has a charming and very popular 4th of July parade. There are the usual participants--the high school marching band, every sports team and youth club in town, politicians--but also a lot of fun home-grown entries (that red sign says "Build Bridges Not Walls"). And who knew Evanston had such a big samba club? (If that pic was less blurry it might be NSFW.)

In the middle of all this came a huge contingent of the Falun Gong, so many that they couldn't possibly from our town. I've never seen them on a street corner handing out literature, not even by the Northwestern campus. Marching in our parade is a really quaint and ineffective way to spread their message, although they did look stunning in their yellow robes.

It's too bad we don't have an LGBTQ group that participates in the parade. It'd be fun to see the Falun Gong sandwiched between them and the samba club.
posted by hydrophonic at 11:14 AM on January 17 [2 favorites]

Metafilter: a weird Mormons meet Scientology in a North Korean tractor plant vibe.
posted by zaelic at 2:25 PM on January 17

Not only does Chicago get this show every year lately, I've noticed Falun Dafa/Falun Gong turn up in the yearly Thanksgiving Parade on WGN, where they mostly appear as if they're just another group representing their culture and history (alongside assorted Polish, German, and Irish groups) - but then there'll be some sign with a too-strident message that goes uncommented on by the announcers.
posted by dnash at 4:49 PM on January 17

Welp, now I don't feel bad about not going, or the that somehow this always gave me the bad vibe seeing the commercials. I always suspected it wasn't just nice dancing in big clothes.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:10 PM on January 17

I knew this was Falun Gong b/c I live in an area with a big Asian population, but knowing what it costs to run Chicago-market TV ads from political campaigns, I cannot get over how many ads they run, and I have BIG QUESTIONS about where all that cash is coming from.

" I never bothered to Google it, which may have helped. (area: North Chicagoland)"

Yeah I mean definitely go see whatever Chinese acrobats or Chinese dance group Ravinia gets this summer instead of Shen Yun. (Bonus: Ravinia is a lot nicer than the Rosemont Theater or the Aurora Paramount, and the tickets are like 1/4 of the cost even in the Pavilion! Acrobats are usually children's series performances, which are Saturday noonish.)

Literally while I was typing this a Shen Yun commercial came on.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:14 PM on January 17 [1 favorite]

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