NEW YORK—The theater was packed, the crowd gave a standing ovation,
and audience members raved in interviews after the show. But The New York
Times claimed instead in a story last week that as many as “hundreds”
were flocking to the exit doors by intermission.
Chinese New Year Splendor played 15 shows at New York's famed Radio City Music Hall, ending with a sold-out final performance on the evening of Feb. 9. The response to the show, confirmed by The Epoch Times reporters in over 1,000 interviews with audience members, was overwhelmingly positive.
One of those interviews was with John Wright, formerly with the NY Times own book review department. When asked what he thought of the show, Wright said, “It was very beautiful, very different.”
But the NY Times published on Feb. 6 a peculiar review of Splendor (under the byline of Eric Konigsberg) that did anything but suggest the consensus response. Backed with quotes from all of three audience members who were critical, only one of whom gave his or her full name, the NY Times proclaimed in its headline, “A Glimpse of Chinese Culture That Some Find Hard to Watch.”
The selection of audience reactions was not all that was questionable. Epoch Times reporters on-site saw nothing to support a claim that hundreds had left the show early, and organizers say the claim was not true.
What made the NY Times article even more unusual was that its criticisms mimic the line of China's communist regime, which has engaged in a behind-the-scenes campaign to have Splendor shut down.
Culture and Persecution
Put on by Divine Performing Arts as part of a world-wide tour, Chinese New Year Splendor presents traditional Chinese culture through dance and music. The show conveys cultural and moral stories of China's past, as well of recent times, such as those of Falun Gong practitioners' peaceful response to persecution in China today.
Mr. Li Yong, one of the founders of the Chinese-language newspapers United Daily and World Journal, after seeing Splendor stated that “The show brought us Chinese glory and presented the true China.”
Mr. Eric Shumsky, an accomplished violist and the son of the legendary violinist Oscar Shumsky, called the show “an evening of performance never to forget.”
He singled out the “elegant and artistic” Ms. Xiaoqun Qi, who plays the two-stringed Chinese instrument called “erhu.”
“I know most of the classical string players performing today,” Shumsky said, “and I dare say most of them could take lessons [from Qi] in the essence of expression.”
But the resurgence of traditional Chinese culture, particularly in the context of human rights issues today, has angered Chinese communist officials, who've long held a monopoly on Chinese cultural representation. Beijing's brass have attempted to discredit the show, calling it “political propaganda.”
The audience members quoted by the NY Times largely repeated Beijing's view, and cited the presentation by Splendor of the persecution of Falun Gong as the reason for their displeasure.
Ms. Carrie Hung, the spokesperson for the show's producer, New Tang Dynasty TV (NTDTV), objected to the impression the NY Times article gives of the shows contents.
“The New York Times' quotes from the audience members make Splendor seem to be a show all about Falun Gong,” she said. “It is not. The show is about discovering and reviving authentic Chinese traditional culture and values.
“The performances incorporate elements from Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism, as well as Falun Gong, and from various ethnic traditions and different dynasties.”
The NY Times story also quoted University of Nevada political science professor Ms. Maria Hsia Chang. When contacted by The Epoch Times, Chang indicated that she hadn't seen the show.
“I was interviewed on phone by the Times reporter. I haven't even read his article, so I don't know if he misquoted me or quoted me out of context,” she said in an emailed response, adding that she was sympathetic to the Falun Gong's plight.
Immediately following the publication of the NY Times story, the engines of the Party's propaganda machinery kicked into high gear.
Though Western news outlets like the NY Times are normally censored in China, this story was immediately republished by Xinhua, the official mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), and propagated widely.
Mr. Zhang Weiguo, an independent news commentator now living in the U.S. who was editor and reporter of the former Shanghai-based newspaper World Economy Pioneer, said of the state-run press's decision to pick up the NY Times article, “It would be surprising if they didn't.”
Zhang continued, “The New York Times is relatively well-known, and it suddenly carries a report with some negative details [about Falun Gong]. They certainly will make use of it without any reservation.”
Mr. Levi Browde is the executive director of the Falun Dafa Information Center, which reports on the persecution of Falun Gong.
Browde pointed out that “The Chinese Communist Party has always used the charge of being 'political' as a way to discredit its domestic opponents.
“The New York Times article neatly fits the Party's template by suggesting the Chinese New Year Splendor is 'political' because it portrays the persecution of Falun Gong.”
Browde continued, “The descriptions of Falun Gong also fit this template. In particular, the article three times in quotes gratuitously uses the slanderous description of Falun Gong that is the basis of the Party's propaganda campaign. We believe that not even one appearance of this description is acceptable.
“Would The New York Times repeatedly mention in an article the defamatory words used for blacks, Hispanics, or Jews? I don't think they would. Such words communicate nothing. They are only expressions of hatred. But their reproduction by the The New York Times serves very well the Party's agenda.
“The New York Times may not have intended to have this effect, but they have done something the Party has always wanted to do but did not have the ability to do.”
Audience Paints a Different Picture
While the criticisms of Splendor gained airtime in the pro-CCP press, they were not echoed by a growing number who came to see the show.
In fact, many were aware of, and critical of, the NY Times piece.
“It certainly did not dissuade us from coming,” said Mr. Ron Sablosky, a banker and executive vice president of Business Outsourcing Solutions. “I don't think it should dissuade anyone, because it really is highly unfair. And it might even be construed as unethical.”
Mr. Charles Liu, who works at the New York Freedom Times, called the story “terribly one-sided.”
But attendance at the shows after the article ran was not diminished by the critical article. If anything, it was boosted, according to NTDTV.
Ms. Penny Cohn, an account executive and building manager, had read the NY Times article and noted, “In fact, it piqued my curiosity.”
“And not only that, it had a lot of space, too. I was quite intrigued with the amount of space it was given, I have to confess that.”
According to surveys done of the audience, 95 percent gave a positive response, and the shows of Splendor at Radio City Music Hall frequently earned standing ovations.
Ms. Valentina Alexis, a former ballerina with the Moscow ballet company, said, “I am shocked, I am just completely shocked—but shocked in a fabulous way. It amazed me. I think it's the best show that I ever saw—the best.”
The two dances that portray the persecution of Falun Gong, “The Risen Lotus Flower” and “The Power of Awareness,” were often mentioned by audience members as their favorites.
Mr. Amerigo Fabbri, dean of Pierson College and professor of modernist literature at Yale University, talked about “The Risen Lotus Flower.”
“You have the three women in prison and how one of them gives her life for the other two, these are great, great elements of the culture that are certainly conveyed by the show,” he said.
On his overall impression, Fabbri said, “The show is spectacular, I mean amazing. They're doing a great job bringing together the history of Chinese culture. The sound effects, the visual effects, the special effects, the singing, and the dancing is just amazing.”
The Epoch Times Web site has a special page for audience response to Splendor, at http://en.epochtimes.com/features/dpa2008/city/New+York.html.
Apparently, the New York public did not believe the article's portrayal that the show was rejected by its audience. The final performance of Splendor on Feb. 9 was sold out, and Splendor closed New York to another standing ovation.
Attempts to Silence
At each stop on the Divine Performing Arts worldwide tour, the show faces pressure from Chinese embassy and consulate staff who work to persuade advertisers and theaters not to accept the show, and audience members to stay away.
Last year, The Epoch Times obtained a document originating from China's State Administration of Radio, Film and Television. Marked “highly confidential,” the document outlined the regime's efforts to derail the NTDTV shows.
“The leadership of the central government has ordered that they [the NTDTV shows] be destroyed by any and all means,” said the document, which was dated Dec. 16, 2003, when NTDTV was preparing its first Chinese New Year show.
If that was not possible, orders were to “minimize their impact,” the document said.
In the United States politicians have received letters from the Chinese consulate pressuring them not to attend shows performed by Divine Performing Arts.
Last year in Seoul the Chinese embassy pressured two theaters to terminate their contracts with the show. A similar incident has taken place this year in Denmark.
The Chinese Embassy in Sweden made a similar effort but Swedish officials staunchly refused to cater to the communist regime. A municipal chairman described the embassy's request that the show be stopped as “astonishing.”
Last year, when Divine Performing Arts held a Chinese New Year show in Ottawa, Mr. Glenn McGregor, a reporter with the local Ottawa Citizen newspaper, wrote following a very similar formula as the NY Times piece. Although he hadn't attended the show, McGregor quoted three people who said they attended and were upset with the Falun Gong content. He also gave prominence in the story to the Chinese embassy's criticisms of the show.
Clearly earning the trust of the Chinese Embassy, McGregor was invited by the embassy on an expenses-paid trip to China to probe allegations of serious human rights abuses against Falun Gong adherents and ended up writing in defense of the regime.
NY Times Response
The Epoch Times attempted to reach The New York Times for comment on this story, but representatives from the newspaper did not return the call by press time.
On Friday, Feb. 15, the day after The Epoch Times published its account of the NY Times story and nine days after that story was published on Feb. 6, the NY Times published a letter to the editor from Mr. Zhong Lee, the president of NTDTV.
That letter reads in part, “Human rights abuses are indeed a part of the culture modern Chinese have inherited, regardless of whether or not one agrees with the medium through which it was expressed. Whether we like it or not, these abuses are part of today's reality in China.
“One of the basic freedoms central to the United States is freedom of expression.
Mr. Konisberg should not find it so shocking that a Chinese culture show produced
in the U.S. includes some reference to China's human rights issues.”
Posting date: 14/Feb/2008
Original article date: 14/Feb/2008
Category: Media Reports