Art, religion and politics collided last April when the Chinese consul to Vancouver urged Mayor Gregor Robertson to boycott a dance show that was staged at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre.
Liang Shugen, B.C. consul general of the People's Republic of China, wrote a letter from his Granville Street office to Robertson March 21. The letter was recently obtained by the Courier through the Freedom of Information law.
"As you know, the Falun Gong cult has been engaging in activities aimed at undermining the Chinese government and poisoning bilateral relations between China and Canada," Shugen wrote. "One of their tactics is staging the socalled Shen Yun Performing Arts across Canada in the name of 'promoting classical Chinese dance and music.' But in reality, the show is filled with cult messages and political attacks on the Chinese government. This year's performance will be no exception."
He continued: "It is my sincere wish and belief that, being aware of Falun Gong's nature of anti-China intentions, yourself and the city council won't issue any 'letter of congratulations' to them, let alone attend their performance. Please kindly be assured that I will work closely with you to build a stronger relationship between my country and the City of Vancouver."
The show's brochure published best wishes that were sent in from Robertson and six other local mayors, the prime minister, the citizenship minister, five MPs and three MLAs. The mayor's office told the Courier last week Robertson did not attend the show because he was out of town on holiday with his family.
The Chinese regime outlawed Falun Gong in 1999 and has since been imprisoning and torturing members.
Their abuse has been much documented in reports by the United Nations, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
The only politician who openly mentioned the political strife in the brochure was Bill Siksay, who was then the NDP MP for Burnaby-Douglas and chair of the Canadian Parliamentary Friends of Falun Gong. "I am committed to speaking out against the persecution of practitioners," he wrote. "As well, our organization seeks to promote a better appreciation of the practice of Falun Gong among Parliamentarians and Canadians in general."
Siksay is a longtime gay rights activist. Yet several sources such as the BBC report that Falun Dafa founder Li Hongzhi has condemned gays as "immoral" and "disgusting," and akin to criminals.
Siksay could not be reached for comment, but he had told the Westender in 2006 that the beliefs of the leader are not the issue: "I've heard those allegations as well and, as a gay person, that does concern me, but at the same time I think that freedom of religion is an important aspect of our society."
The lavish, colourful show, which this reporter attended, was presented by the Falun Dafa Association of Vancouver and New Tang Dynasty Television Canada, both created by Falun Gong supporters, as is the Epoch Times.
The suppression of Falun Dafa-another term for Falun Gong-was the subject of three dances (Our Story, No Regrets, and the Opening of Heaven's Gates), which show religious practitioners being jailed or clubbed to death. One song called The Only Hope, with "words by D.F.", states that: "In the followers of Dafa lies the lone hope of salvation."
The other dances were apparently non-political, based on historical, martial arts, and comical subjects, such as Little Mischievous Monks, Herding on the Grasslands, and The Monkey King Outwits Pigsy.
Reviews were widely mixed. The show's website posts many plaudits. Yet in other cities, the display was derided as "propaganda disguised as art," created to dupe viewers into following Falun Gong. Newspaper dance critics in London and Toronto called it "spectacularly tacky," "a horribly Disneyfied version" of traditional Chinese culture and an "unsettling" evening.
The Chinese consulate could not be reached for comment.