ROSEMONT, Ill.—Mechanical engineer and former Army service member Gary Gaughan enjoyed a Shen Yun performance on the evening of April 29. It became a jumping off point to deepen his exploration of Chinese culture.
Shen Yun is a New York-based performing arts company that brings to life 5,000 years of Chinese culture before communism took over. Through classical dance and live music, it provides audiences a glimpse of China’s rich but threatened heritage.
“I’ve always been attracted to the Chinese culture, and … I’m still trying to learn Mandarin,” he said, commenting on the talent and dedication of the performers. “The artists are very creative, very fluent in their moves, and well-practiced. It just tells me that they’re putting their full heart and soul into what they’re doing.”
He appreciated the old traditions and values presented in Shen Yun‘s program.
“It’s kind of like with a lot of American culture. We’ve lost to a degree where we’ve come from and what our basics were. Everybody’s going for the bells and the whistles and forgetting about what a nation was truly created on. You have to embrace your heritage and where you come from.”
China’s cultural backbone prior to the communist takeover in 1949 was its faith-based traditions. But Shen Yun’s performers are practitioners of Falun Gong or Falun Dafa, a spiritual tradition based on truthfulness, compassion, and forbearance.
Shen Yun’s themes of “honor, tradition, unity, and discipline” stood out to Mr. Gaughan. After the show, he bought a copy of “Zhuan Falun,” the main text of Falun Dafa, from the gift stand.
“I’m one of those people that I always want to know more,” he said.
“I guess the way some Americans would end up looking at [this book] is that this is like what they would look at as their Bible. It was something that people would read every day. … The words in the book are more than just words on a page. They have a meaning. They have a true meaning behind them, about how you should practice [in] your life and how it’s not just about you, it’s about a higher power as well.”
Chicago IT director Mehul Patel called Shen Yun a “new form of art.” He attended the show with his wife, optometrist Payal Patel.
“It’s really calm and comforting,” Mr. Patel said. “And it’s bringing a new aspect of the whole performing arts that we haven’t seen before. So this is a new form of art that is very unique and really lively, makes a very kind of good feel, and brings the old and new aspects together.”
Mrs. Patel also commented, saying, “the dances were so beautiful. There’s this flow to it. It’s like a dream.”
The emcee’s introduction of China’s dance traditions helped her understand the origins of this art form, including how it differs from ballet, which audiences may be more familiar with.
“I love dancing myself,” she said. “I’m from India, so I always want to learn classical Indian dancing. So I can relate how Chinese traditional dancing, what it means to the Chinese people and how important it is to keep it alive. So I’m very glad that these people came together and put this much effort into keeping the culture alive.”
Both Mr. and Mrs. Patel came away from the performance feeling uplifted.
“It’s very fulfilling; you watch that and you feel good, and you want to do good,” Mr. Patel said.
“Absolutely,” added Mrs. Patel. “It touches your heart.”
Reporting by Stacey Tang and Sherry Dong.