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Footloose and Falun Gong

Footloose and Falun Gong



On a cool evening in late April, I watched a performance of Shen Yun, the two and a half hour variety show organized by the religious sect Falun Gong. Artistically, it was pleasant: The dancers are professionals, emotive and lithe. The emcees — one American, one Chinese — who introduce the acts and offer a bit of historical commentary, banter amicably if a bit awkwardly. Unsurprisingly for a performance held at Washington, D.C.’s John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and at flagship theaters around the world, the show and the orchestra are technically superb.
But Shen Yun, which ended its annual run at the Kennedy Center on April 26 and has performed in dozens of cities across the world since its founding in 2006, is not about the arts. It’s not about “reviving 5,000 years of civilization,” as the show’s ubiquitous fliersproclaim; nor is it a Chinese version of the wildly popular Canadian circus company Cirque du Soleil, as the older gentleman sitting next to me at the performance expected.

Falun Gong was founded in China in 1992 by qigong (energy cultivation) practitioner and former grain clerk Li Hongzhi. Emphasizing the three principles of truthfulness, compassion, and forbearance — values seen as lacking in modern China — the organization quickly grew in popularity. At its peak in the late 1990s, it had millions of practitioners across the country.
Practitioners perform breathing and movement exercises thought to improve health and extend one’s life. More serious members may subscribe to some of the organization’s religious beliefs, which borrow from the Buddhist notion of the cycles of rise, flourishing, decline, and death, says Benjamin Penny, author of the 2012 book The Religion of Falun Gong. “They’ve always had this notion that there was this physical end point coming, and that practitioners, or those that cultivate good to a certain level, will survive to the next cycle,” notes Penny, who’s also the deputy director of the Australian Centre on China in the World.
Practitioners of Falun Gong — also commonly known as Falun Dafa, which roughly means “Way of the Dharma Wheel” — stress that the organization was, and is, nonpolitical. Still, after an estimated 10,000 supporters massed for a silent protest outside the seat of the CCP government in the Chinese capital in April 1999, Beijing grew worried. Soon after, it launched a crackdown, one that continues to this day. Tens of thousands of practitioners have been detained, with an unknown number tortured and murdered. It remains illegal to practice Falun Gong — which Beijing has called an “evil cult” — in mainland China. (The laws are more permissive in Hong Kong, where authorities tolerate Falun Gong.)
Li moved to the United States in 1998. Although his precise whereabouts are a closely guarded secret, he is rumored to reside somewhere in the New York area, and he occasionally appears at Falun Gong events in New York City. An unknown but presumably very small number of people continue to practice Falun Gong inside mainland China. Outside the mainland, there are “maybe just tens of thousands” of practitioners, says Andrew Junker, an assistant professor at the University of Chicago who has studied Falun Gong. “They are very small and intensively organized,” he says.
Around 2000, Falun Gong practitioners decided to set up media organizations in the United States, including the broadcaster New Tang Dynasty Television (NTD TV) and the newspaper Epoch Times in part “to speak as the voice of Falun Gong,” as NTD TV’s then president, Zhong Lee, told the Wall Street Journal in a 2007 interview. The media outlets — which also cover a wide variety of general-interest news — seem to function as megaphones to amplify the persecution that Falun Gong practitioners have faced and continue to face in mainland China. But the aim is also to discredit the CCP.
Representatives from Falun Gong downplay the link between their organization, their media outlets, and Shen Yun. Dong Xiang, a practitioner and the executive director of theFalun Dafa Association of Washington, D.C., which put on the Kennedy Center show, emphasized in an interview that “Shen Yun is not a Falun Gong show, even though many of the artists practice Falun Gong.”
The show’s first act, “Following the Creator to Renew All Things,” casts doubt on that assertion; the first song, titled “A Song From the Ancestors,” disproves it. “Followers of a Great Way [Dafa] shall save us, even as they’re persecuted,” crooned the soprano. “The truth will be buried in lies.” Sung in Chinese, with an English translation broadcast on a massive screen, the song continues: “Followers of Dafa now spread truth to shatter delusion.” (Li is treated like a god among practitioners, “and that’s more or less how he represents himself,” says Junker.)

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壹場讓人深感傲慢專橫和尷尬不安的演出


科林·達布科沃斯基(Colin Dabkowski)是《布法羅新聞網》(Buffalo News)的藝術評論家,他曾於2010年5月、2013年3月撰文批評“FLG”的“神韻晚會”,稱其打著中國傳統文化旗號的演出,既是低劣的商業演出,也是赤裸裸的“FLG”宣傳活動。2018年5月10日,他再次在《布法羅新聞網》發聲,稱“神韻”這個“FLG”最厚顏無恥的鼓吹手,比以前更加怪異,是騙人的東西。
 近日在北美巡回的神韻回到了水牛城,這個最厚顏無恥的宗教鼓吹手比以前更加怪異了。
  “FLG”計劃在希斯表演藝術中心(Shea’s Performing Arts Center)舉行兩場演出。為此,他們已經組織了壹場營銷閃電戰——無數櫥窗海報、印刷廣告、戶外廣告牌和門掛卡等,四處充斥著誤導他人的商業廣告。
  神韻是浮誇古怪的,這種感受很難向從來沒有註意過它的人描述。
  可以把它看作是QVC公司電視購物節目的結合體,克莫拉丘(Hill Cumorah,傳說摩門教金頁片的發源地——譯註)的摩門教選秀,“700俱樂部”(“全美基督教廣播電視網”CBN的壹檔節目——譯註)的壹期節目,或是科學教派與“馬裏奧賽車”(Mario Kart,任天堂招牌遊戲《馬裏奧》系列的角色所構成的趣味賽車遊戲——譯註)的混雜。
  但這也無法確切描述神韻是怎麽回事。
  雖然這個演出自詡展示五千年“中國古典舞”,但它無疑是向無心購票者宣揚“FLG”運動的尷尬嘗試。這場流氓精神運動的信徒認為,人性正由於同性戀和種族通婚這類“現代思想和價值觀”遭到“毀滅”。
  這壹信息通過那些取笑男生娘娘腔的小短劇傳遞了出來,節目中的宗教歌曲也在警示天譴迫在眉睫,宣揚中國對“FLG”實施野蠻暴力。
  我上壹次看這個節目還是2010年,迄今為止幾乎沒有什麽變化。它依舊沒有誠實地體現自己的意圖,劇場體驗也差強人意。
  2009年粗制濫造的影像背景成為了過去時,取而代之的是略顯復雜的中國自然山水和城市景觀的投影。在這個粗陋難看的數字背景下,壹系列的舞蹈和故事展開,每個均引自中國文化宗教或民族故事。
  這個舞蹈團,作為“FLG”五家同時在各地巡回演出的公司之壹,由壹群有些功底但不算優秀的舞者組成。正如兩個熱情洋溢的中英雙語主持人所解說的,這些舞蹈的文化意義,對西方人有著無法抗拒的吸引力。不過,兩個半小時後,舞蹈開始重復,與其說是用舞蹈編排來講故事,不如說是借此機會展示演員的華美服裝。
  再版的神韻還包含了更多的幽默元素(或者說是試圖幽默),在新的短劇中插入了校園不當行為和壹場在現代廟宇中的失敗搶劫。主持人對多數節目的介紹令人不安,與美國觀眾理解的喜劇感相去甚遠。
  就算是輕快的音樂也難以弱化神韻的核心目的:壹系列關於“FLG”(也被稱為“法輪大法”)的信息被植入到誇張的短劇和歌曲中,盡管這樣,節目仍然讓人深感傲慢專橫和尷尬不安。
  我們可以從李甜(音譯,Tian Li)女高音演唱和Jingya Mahlen鋼琴伴奏的節目《信息》中,捕捉到“FLG”的真實意圖:“人類正走向毀滅。”李甜唱道,“勿因現代思想方法誤入歧途。勿忘神的路。 ”
  騙人的東西。
  後面有越來越多的節目講述“FLG”信徒受共產黨人毆打、遭趕牛棒折磨、被挖去雙眼,觀眾們很快就明白了:瓊斯鎮與籃子編織有多少關系,那麽神韻表演與中國古典舞蹈就有多少關系(暗指居住在美國瓊斯鎮的“人民聖殿教”邪教的真正目的並不是組織信徒編織籃子,而邪教“FLG”神韻表演的真正目的也不是傳播中國古典舞蹈藝術——譯註)。

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