Politicians skip show slated by Chinese embassy

TOM HUNT AND SOPHIE SPEER
Last updated 05:00 26/01/2013
Shen Yun Performing Arts Company

TRADITIONAL: The Shen Yun Performing Arts Company revives culture from before the Chinese Revolution in 1949.

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Wellington politicians faced a diplomatic dilemma after being invited to a music and dance show blacklisted by the Chinese embassy.

None of the region's mayors or MPs contacted yesterday by The Dominion Post will attend the show linked to controversial dissident movement Falun Gong - with most saying they were unavailable that night.

Organisers admit the invitations put the politicians "between a rock and a hard place" - either facing the wrath of the Chinese Government or being seen to bow to Chinese pressure.

New York-based troupe Shen Yun Performing Arts is performing at the St James Theatre on February 5 and 6, presented by the New Zealand branch of Chinese dissidents Falun Gong.

A Chinese embassy spokeswoman said people should "know the truth" and not go to the show.

Falun Gong, banned in China since 1999, was an "anti-human, anti-social and anti-China organisation" which attacked the Chinese Government, the national image and diplomatic relations, she said.

But Shen Yun Promotions International spokesman Levi Browde said while Falun Gong and Shen Yun shared many members, were outspoken about human rights abuses and persecution, and promoted traditional Chinese culture, they were separate entities.

Falun Gong promoted Shen Yun around the world.

Political leaders were invited in every country Shen Yun visited. The Chinese embassy always requested they did not attend but this often spurred politicians to go, Mr Browde said.

University of Canterbury associate politics professor Anne-Marie Brady said Falun Gong invited political leaders to events to engage them in its cause.

But it was unlikely any would attend for fear of repercussions, which could range from harsh words from the Chinese Government through to deals not going through.

Falun Gong was defined as an "evil cult" by the Chinese Government after it was outlawed in the country in 1999. The ban followed an unprecedented protest of 10,000 members outside a meeting in China where party officials were discussing the group.

The ban - and subsequent detention then torture and death of some members - transformed a spiritual organisation into "probably the most vocal opposition voice to the Government".

Shen Yun's Wellington promotional co-ordinator, Margo MacVicar, said every Wellington region mayor and MP had been invited to opening night. None had responded by yesterday.

The invitation put politicians "between a rock and a hard place", she acknowledged.

China opposed the group because it promoted pre-revolution Chinese culture. "The Communist Party are saying, because they are reviving the culture they are critical."

Glenys Coughlan, chief executive of Positively Wellington Venues which runs the St James, said theatre staff had met the Chinese embassy.

"While the embassy are unhappy about the content of some of Shen Yun's performances, they did not ask us to ban Shen Yun from performing in our venues and we made it very clear that we are not mandated to censor any of our hirers at any time."

Falun Gong has previously been banned from the Wellington Santa Parade by Wellington City Council, which deemed it a political movement. In 2009 it was banned from a Chinese New Year Festival in Wellington.

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WHAT IS FALUN GONG?

Also known as Falun Dafa, it is a spiritual discipline founded by Li Hongzhi in China in 1992. Followers practise a form of slow-moving exercises combined with regulated breathing, and adhere to a strong moral code. In 1999, amid mounting tensions between the Falun Gong and the Chinese Government, the practice was banned in China. Since then followers internationally have been outspoken in their criticism of communist rule and advocates for human rights.

- The Dominion Post

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