Shen Yun – The Divine Land, 5000 Years of Cultural Heritage

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Superb costuming and divine dancing of Shen Yun, a performing arts group promoting the the ‘compassion, loyalty, kindness and bravery at the heart of traditional Chinese culture’. Photo: Courtesy Shen Yun Performing Arts Company

Shen Zhou, the divine land is the name given to one of the world’s oldest civilisations known as a ‘Celestial Empire’ one whose values were based on the ‘idea of the harmony existing between heaven and earth’.

In that respect China, as we know it today, shares a great deal with other cultures on earth in which a reverence for nature demanded that at first we all recognise that humans, while the dominant species on the planet, are indeed just one aspect of it.

Every culture on earth for centuries now has during its evolutionary development, demonstrated its concerns by striving to achieve excellence in the arts, letters and manners, as well as scholarly, professional and personal pursuits.

If it is to celebrate its achievements it must continue to provide opportunities for people of different ethnicity to come together to exchange views and opinions as well as develop ways of recording what is agreed and done.

Humankind’s early cultures belief systems were interchangeable and interdependent because the people did not seek, during their daily occupation, to separate themselves from their faith, beliefs or actions.


Dancers of the Shen Yun story ‘sleeves of grace’ Photo: Courtesy Shen Yun Performing Arts Company

Rigorous, expressive, the Shen Yun Performing Arts Company on its opening night at Melbourne on Wednesday 25th February at the State Theatre in the Arts Centre Melbourne provided an impressive display.

The dancers were choreographed cleverly on a program of small story performances, presenting a combination of music, dance, acrobatics and aesthetics in glorious array.

The program offered such appealing items as ‘Sleeves of Grace, ‘The Power of Compassion’, ‘The Fable of the Magic Brush’, ‘Scholarly Aspirations’, Phoenixes of the Sapphire Paradise and Handkerchief Blossoms and more, revealing the values and traditions followers and supporters of the Shen Yun Performing Arts Company want to see retained.

The performers who made up the dancing company dazzled; the men with their precision and athleticism, the girls with gentle beauty and grace.

They all captivated with their energy and technical brilliance. Many loved the ‘sleeves of grace’ in which ‘gentle maidens glide with dainty steps, their silken sleeves trailing through the air in ethereal patterns. They certainly did paint as promised, a picture of ‘serene delight’.

The two soprano singers Haolan Geng and Tianling Song with their accompanists hit the high notes and the orchestra, including the Erhu soloist Xiaochun Qi played superbly.


Erhu, a stringed instrument that has developed since it was first mentioned during the Song dynasty (960-1279), although it is thought to be older than that.

The orchestra produced unique sounds the performers danced to, which was played by a combination of Chinese instruments such as the two string Erhu, plucked pipa and Chinese percussion, alongside classical string and wind instruments used by western orchestras.

The works were uniquely composed for the occasion by a trio of gifted composers, many of which were truly sublime.

All the dancers displayed the breathtaking beauty of their dance movements wearing glorious and colourful costuming set against clever animated backdrops. Each of the scenes were a visual feast of delight.

The animation worked because of the performers amazing precision, the timing such an important element, integral to ensuring scenes worked.

People emerged out of a moving projected image on the backdrop screen onto the stage to take part in the telling of the story. When it was over they would meld cleverly back into the scene and either fly off into the distance and disappear or become static figures overseeing what is to come.

Whether or not people can deal with political messages being integral to such a graceful dance performance as Shen Yun Performing Arts Company, which is presented locally by the Falun Dafa Association, will be a moot point for many.

It and its supporters are promoting what they see as the survival of traditional Chinese culture and gather followers and contributors wherever they go.

The decision is up to you to contribute, and you have the same choice here. All Australian arts organisations supported by our government have ‘donors’ and ‘supporters’ programs too.

Many will go along just for the show’s visual beauty and entertainment value.

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Against a backdrop of imagery reflecting the magical land of Cathay Photo: Courtesy Shen Yun Performing Arts Company

Chinese history still may at times seem a little obscure, despite its art and trade wares having attracted a great fascination in the west since Roman times.

For many centuries the country was almost inaccessible behind a great barricade of mountains. Between Peking Man of the anthropologists discovered in 1927 in a cave south west of the modern city and a Peking man of today there is a span of some 400,000 years.

The dynastic histories of China started before the birth of Christ. From the Han Dynasty 206BC to AD 220 onward a series which became known as the Standard histories began.

This meant a government department was responsible for keeping a day to day account of the present dynasty while writing the official history of the previous one. The Chinese race as we now know it emerged fully during this period and became known as the Han Chinese.

The dynasties continued unbroken until 1911, when a communist political regime arrived in the ancient land of Cathay, one that sought to supress past ideologies and values.

At this time those involved did their best to destroy many traditional beliefs and ancient treasures, bringing the history of the place to a standstill and threatening its eventual extinction.

When any culture has its art forms destroyed it becomes personal to each and everyone proud of their ancestry as it did for many Chinese, especially the descendants of those who left their country in fear of their lives at the time.

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Photo: Courtesy Shen Yun Performing Arts Company

In New York there is many it seems who want to revive China’s culture of beauty, one they believe was almost lost and are prepared to support four separate troupes of performers to travel around the world annually delivering their message.

In 2006 they came together as the Shen Yun Performing Arts Company, a not for profit group with one purpose in mind: to revive what they believe is the true, divinely inspired culture of China and share it with the world.

Robert Fortune recorded a thought provoking statement in his 1847 publication Wanderings in China

‘but the curtain, which had been drawn around the celestial country for ages, has now been rent asunder; and instead of viewing an enchanted fairyland, we find, after all, that China is just like other countries…’

Whatever you believe, the decorative and performing art heritage of China represent, as they do in Australia the very essence of its culture, its attitudes and philosophies, as well as its fashions and passions.

They can be traced throughout the ages as they contributed to both its evolution as a culture and its art, design and style.

Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2015

Brief Synopsis:

Chinese Cultural Evolution – 1911

Neolithic Period           

Shang c1751 – 1100 BC

Capital at Anyang 1400BC, spanning the plain of the Yellow river They referred to themselves as the Shang but the Chou name for them was the Yin. First ruler T’ang. Ruled for 600 years.

Chou c1111 – 256 BC

Established they’re capital in the Wei valley, but driven out by Barbarian hordes in 771BC went to Loyang but were eliminated by the Ch’in in 256BC

Western Chou c1100 – 771BC

Eastern Chou 771 – 256 BC

Warring States 453 – 221

Ch’in c249 – 206 BC

Chi’n established the first Empire taking over the Chou States of the Han, Chao, Wei, Ch’u, Yen and Ch’i. Built walls to protect the frontier and three of these were joined to form the beginnings of the Great Wall. Capital at Peking

Han 206BC – AD 220

Capital in the Wei valley but moved to Loyang. Empire included North Korea and North Vietnam. Great wall extended and the Silk Road opened up

Hsin AD8 – 23

Western or Former Han 206BC – AD8

Eastern or Later Han 23 – 220

Three Kingdoms 220 – 265

Three Han generals carved up the empire between themselves

Six Dynasties 265 – 589

China broken up into dynasties and kingdoms

Sui 589 – 618

Re-unification of China the capital at Ch’ang-an

Linked the Yangtze to the Yellow River extending canals and waterways

T’ang 618 – 907

Capital the ancient site of Ch’ang-an with Loyang the eastern capital. Fortification of eastern frontiers.

Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms 907 – 960

An interim period with a succession of five brief dynasties established by rival provincial commanders. The south was divided between ten kingdoms

Liao Dynasty 907 – 1127

Country divided into five provinces each with its own capital.

Song (Sung) 960 – 1279

Capital at Kaifeng until 1127 when driven out by the Chin. Established at Hangchow and the Chin lost Peking to The Mongols who became neighbours of the Sung

Northern Song 960 – 1127

Southern Song 1127 1279

Chin 1115 – 1234

Yüan c1260 – 1368

Rule of the Mongols. Kublai Khan made his capital at Peking in 1260’s. Mongols built a Grand Canal to bring grain from the south to the new imperial capital.

Ming 1368 – 1644

Based at Nanking before driving out the Mongols

Third Ming emperor moved to Peking in 1421 and laid out the present Forbidden City. Intellectual development and artistic renewal during the mid sixteenth century. Palace workshops restored. Chinese renaissance. Jesuit, Marteo Ricci revived and interest in mathematics and astronomy.

Transitional Period 1621 – 1683

Death of Wanli in 1620 several emperors in quick succession. Moral, legal and economic decadence.

Ch’ing 1644 – 1911

The final dynasty ruled by the Manchus who captured Peking in 1644. It remained the capital until coming to an end with the boy emperor in 1911


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