Thursday, November 29, 2007

Traditional Chinese Holiday Cheer

Culture and politics can be difficult to untangle from each other. A case in point is NTDTV’s upcoming Holiday Wonders and Chinese New Year Splendor stage-show spectaculars. On one level, they look to be big extravaganzas, featuring traditional Chinese music, dance, costumes, and visual art. However, at a media event yesterday, the producers made the point that these shows are part of an effort to revive interest in traditional Chinese culture, which has suffered from neglect in recent years, and downright persecution under Mao and later the Gang of Four.

The Chinese New Year show is entering its fourth year, set to open in Radio City Music Hall January 30th. The Holiday Show is a new production opening at the Beacon Theatre December 18th. While not a Christmas Show, it seems to more or less fit with the “Happy Holidays” spirit.

I have never attended one of the shows, but judging from the rehearsal opened to media (and a few stray bloggers), they look cool. Reportedly, most of the troupe are ethnic Chinese, but born outside of mainland China. At the time, they were working on moves derived from Tibetan and Mongolian dances, which of course is significant, as the Communist government has tried to suppress the cultural traditions of both countries.

In their video package, Canadian Conservative MP Rob Anders recommends the show, making the point: “it’s so important that people get a sense of Chinese history from something other than the Communist lens of propaganda.” Anders also played a lead role during the Dalai Lama 2004 Canadian tour and is an outspoken critic of the Communist government’s brutal campaign against Falun Gong practitioners.

That seems to be where politics and culture collide again. NTDTV and co-sponsor Epoch Times have been aligned with the Falun Gong movement, speaking out against the government’s human rights abuses. For their part, the Communist authorities have labeled Falun Gong a cult to a surprisingly receptive western media, which seems to have colored some critical responses to the show. No matter what you think of Falun Gong, its practitioners should not be tortured and held incommunicado. Even Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are concerned, issuing strongly worded reports.

China is rightly celebrated for centuries of artistic and cultural achievement. Tragically, that heritage faced literal, physical attack during the Cultural Revolution. To preserve a cultural legacy and provide an entertaining night out is quite a program. Again, only based on what I saw, they look impressive—a really different kind of theater experience, but audiences can judge for themselves on the 18th and January 30th.