What should Christians make of Falun Gong and Shen Yun?
You may have been introduced to the Falun Gong religious group through the magnificent stage presentation Shen Yun. If so, you will be aware that Falun Gong is opposed to atheism and belief in evolution, and appears to preach a recent creation. The musical performance Shen Yun claims that it encapsulates “5,000 years of civilisation re-born” according to promotional material (Figure 1). This follows beliefs about ancient Chinese history, which places the earliest emperor at about 5,000 years before present.1
The musical rendition of Shen Yun states that “We follow Dafa, the Great Way,” and that a creator has saved mankind and made the world anew.2 And indeed, much of the language in songs and poems is framed in ‘Christianised’ terminology, with usage of such words as salvation, incarnation, deliverance, and Creator.3 At face value this may appear close to the Christian message, together with its apparent sympathy for young earth creation. But is this group really a natural ally of evangelical Christians and the message of divine creation and salvation?
The performance is a spectacular musical and dance routine that tours cities around the world. Founded in 2006, there are now six groups touring globally. It is wonderfully colourful, entertaining, and endeavours to show off Chinese culture. The acrobats, dancers, and singers perform with great skill, a testimony to many hours of practice. Shén Yùn, we are officially informed, means “the beauty of divine beings dancing”, but can be translated as “the rhythm of a divine spirit.”2
My wife and I saw the performance in Plymouth, England a few years ago, but in my spirit I was troubled. The reason being that through the musical lyrics, and several interludes, the audience were exposed to religious testimonials that promoted a blend of ancient Chinese religions.
Critical reviews by atheists have focused upon the stage presentation’s rejection of Western science, and its anti-evolution messages in the performance. One song asserted that “Atheism and evolution are deadly ideas. Modern trends destroy what makes us human.”2 Another line is sung, with subtitles: “Dangerous is the curse of modern ways and thought. Atheism and evolution were born of the Red Spectre.”4
While Christian creationists may agree with the criticism of atheism and evolution, Shen Yun exists to promote Falun Gong; a religious group that espouses a mixture of Buddhism and Taoism (or Daoism)—as symbolised in their emblem (Figure 2). Regrettably, this is not made clear in advertising—it only becomes apparent after purchasing rather expensive tickets, and becoming settled in a crowded room.5
About Falun Gong
Fǎlún Gōng (sometimes Fǎlún Dàfǎ) was founded by Lǐ Hóngzhì in 1992 and quickly gained adherents, particularly via a number of books; for example, China Falun Gong in April 1993, and Zhuan Falun, first published in Chinese in January 1995. In terms of meaning, Fǎ is a Chinese translation of the Sanskrit word dharma, which is essentially Buddhist teaching, while lún is Chinese for a turning wheel. Gōng is a shortened version of Qìgōng, meaning the skill of mastering spiritual energy. Falun Gong, then, is “a method of Qigong that turns the dharma wheel [Buddhist teaching].”6 Thus, it implies the mystical study, spiritual practice, and propagation of Buddhist teaching, although one blended with aspects of Taoism.
Followers now number in the tens of millions. Hongzhi teaches against the errors of modern thinking, and controversially introduces followers to belief in aliens, suggesting that they have introduced humankind to modern science and technology.7 The movement is also one that strongly urges faithful obedience to the centralised leadership,8 and some former members have accused the organisation of encouraging followers to work long hours without pay, and reject Western medicine, even for life-threatening conditions.9
The more traditional Eastern religious practices, on which Falun Gong is based, include a commitment to follow the Tao (meaning ‘the Way’), which is adapted from Taoism. Perfection towards the divine comes through seeking moral virtue, meditation, and exercises that channel various spiritual aspects. The three main virtues are truthfulness (Zhēn), compassion (Shàn), and forbearance (Rěn). By mastering the virtues, they say it is possible to overcome bad karma, which has consequences for reincarnation. Thus, Falun Gong is a works-based, eastern mystical religion.4
In stark contrast, Christians believe people are saved and transformed by divine grace, which comes through Christ’s atoning work upon the cross, and sanctified by the power of the indwelling divine Holy Spirit. This grace enables believers to do good works, not the other way around. For Christians, Jesus is the only true way to the Father (John 14:6):
“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Epoch Times and New Tang Dynasty TV
Falun Gong also runs the Epoch Times and New Tang Dynasty TV media outlets. These news agencies tend towards supporting right-wing politics, and so have some attraction for conservative Christians. However, they also promote the wider religious organisation, which even highlights cases of religious conversion to Falun Gong.10 Evangelical Christians may be following these media organisations without knowing their background and religious agenda.
So, what are Christian creationists to think? Of course, we also oppose both atheism and belief in molecules-to-man evolution. But there is a wide gulf between the beliefs of this revived Eastern religion, and Christianity, which we should be aware of. If you have the opportunity and desire to see Shen Yun, then be cautious and mindful that you will be exposed to the carefully-organised promotion of a non-Christian Eastern mystical religion.
References and notes
- One of the Taoist creation accounts, that of Pangu, speaks of creation occurring over a period of eighteen thousand years, not the billions of years of Western naturalistic science. Birrell, A., Chinese Mythology: An Introduction, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 32–33, 1993 (but this is not the earliest account of Chinese history). Return to text.
- Tolentino, J., Stepping into the uncanny, unsettling world of Shen Yun: Does the ubiquitous dance troupe really present five thousand years of civilization reborn? newyorker.com, 19 Mar 2019. Return to text.
- See also for example: Hongzhi L., Hong Yin VI: The Grand Verses, en.falundafa.org, 1 Jan 2023. Return to text.
- Robertson, D., Chinese Culture, Cult and Communism – Shen Yun – A Review, theweeflea.com, 29 Jan 2019. (The Red Sceptre is a reference to communism). Return to text.
- Hongzhi L., Be More Diligent, en.falundafa.org, 24 Jul 2010. “There’s also the matter of Shen Yun ticket sales. I have said that we are now to focus on higher-end society, and only by making ourselves part of the cultural mainstream can we unlock society at large, have a greater impact, have more people attend, and have more sentient beings come to be saved.” Return to text.
- Cohen K.S., Falun Gong, tricycle.org, Summer 2000. Return to text.
- Dowell, W., Interview with Li Hongzhi, content.time.com, 10 May 1999. “The aliens have introduced modern machinery like computers and airplanes. They started by teaching mankind about modern science, so people believe more and more science, and spiritually, they are controlled. Everyone thinks that scientists invent on their own when in fact their inspiration is manipulated by the aliens. In terms of culture and spirit, they already control man. Mankind cannot live without science.” Return to text.
- See ref 5. “There is something you need to be clear on. When I want something done, it’s absolutely not something for you to then debate the feasibility of. If I say to go about it a certain way, then you should only concern yourself with doing it. That’s because once I decide something, it is not just a simple matter of uttering a few words, nor is the approach I choose in any way simple. I need to adjust many things, and even divine beings are following my lead.” Return to text.
- Hurley, B., Me and Li—Why I left Falun Gong after being a devoted believer for a decade, ben-d-hurley.medium.com, 23 Oct 2017. Return to text.
- Chengshi, New Tang Dynasty TV helped my husband learn the truth about Falun Dafa, en.minghui.org, 19 Mar 2021. Return to text.