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Federal

Feb 23, 2011

Theatre group raises questions about Chinese Consulate intimidating schools

Chinese diplomats are pressuring public schools in New South Wales not to attend a touring Chinese cultural show because of its association with Falun Gong, the association behind the show has claimed.

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Organisers behind a Chinese cultural show with an association with Falun Gong suspect that Chinese diplomats are pressuring public schools in New South Wales not to attend.

Shen Yun Performing Arts will today play a school matinee as part of the end of its two week run at Sydney’s Capitol Theatre, before moving on to other capital cities. Based in New York, the show is a worldwide touring music and dance show which celebrates 5000 years of Chinese culture.

But Ruby Wong from Universal Cultural Communications, the group behind the show, says that a number of schools have pulled out of today’s matinee, with one cancelling 160 tickets just two days before the show. She believes that the Sydney Chinese consulate have been in contact with the schools and have asked them not to attend.

“We have heard of cases where schools may have been contacted by the Chinese consulate to discourage them from seeing the show,” Wong told Crikey. “One school teacher told us that she was warned that if they [attend the performance] .. a [future] visa to China could be affected or denied. They were told that they better check with the Chinese consulate if they should see Shen Yun or not.”

At least three public schools had pulled out or threatened to pull out, said Wong, without making the reasons behind the cancellations clear. She said that, when contacted by Universal Cultural Communications, one of the school’s principals said they wanted to “maintain a good relationship with China”. Another school continually asked if they were speaking to the Consulate when on the phone to a representative of the show, Wong said.

Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, was formed in the 1990s and relies on meditation and exercise to promote spiritual awakening. It has been banned in China since 1999. The Chinese government claims Falun Gong is an anti-China political group and a destructive cult.

NSW Greens MLC Ian Cohen told Crikey that he has been the subject of pressure from the Chinese consulate about Falun Gong in the past. In 2006, the Consulate General sent out letters to politicians urging them not to attend a show called Chinese New Year Spectacular because it was a “propaganda tool” of Falun Gong.

“It really does fly in the face of proper process in terms of how diplomatic officials should be acting,” Cohen told Crikey. “I told them what I thought of them (in 2006) and I was very strident of my condemnation of that activity. They’ve learnt not to contact me but they certainly haven’t learnt about appropriately conducting diplomatic matters.”

Cohen also raised issues with schools being contacted by the Chinese consulate calling it a “coercive pressure”.

“It’s attacking very vulnerable people in our society, young people,” he said. “They have a future and they may want dream about going to a place like China.”

Cohen called for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) to respond to the questions, a move supported by NSW Family First MLC Dr Gordon Moyes:

“There is no question; if a foreign government interferes in religious or education practices of Australian citizens, they are acting illegally.”

Recently, the Sydney Morning Herald reported on the newly formed Confucius Institute,  funded by the Chinese government and the NSW Department of Education.

According to the report, the institute will provide teachers from China to help oversee “Confucius classrooms” for more than 3000 students in seven schools from the second half of the 2011. Senior Department of Education figures conceded that the discussion of sensitive topics such as Falun Gong, Taiwan, Tibet and Tiananmen Square in these classes could cause problems.

When contacted by Crikey, the principals of the schools declined to comment about Shen Yun. Crikey was told to contact the NSW Department of Education, who did not supply a comment before deadline.

DFAT did not supply a comment to Crikey before deadline. All calls to the Sydney Chinese Consulate went unanswered.

UPDATE: A spokesperson for the NSW Department of Education has told Crikey that the concerned schools had not been contacted by the Chinese Consulate about Shen Yun.

“Schools make decisions about attending performances using a number of Departmental policies and school priorities,” he said.

An email had been sent out to Chinese language teachers by the department prior to the show, the spokesperson said, but this simply contained information about the show and did not contain any directive from the department.

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15 comments

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15 thoughts on “Theatre group raises questions about Chinese Consulate intimidating schools

  1. Astro

    Wonder if the cool winds of change will sweep China, like the Middle East

  2. SusieQ

    The Confucious Institute? What is the NSW Education Department doing getting involved in something like this? Providing teachers for classrooms? What will they be teaching?

    The Chinese Government may well try to control its own citizens, but when they start trying to tell us what we can see and do, then that is clearly too much.

  3. David Reid

    Confucius Institute = Trojan Horse. This is essentially giving a free ticket to the Chinese Communist Party to install propaganda organs in the educational institutions of foreign countries. Schools are attracted to the institutes because they provide an easy way of setting up a Chinese-language program. However, they should be aware that the institutes are insidious in their nature.

  4. Meski

    There was a discussion over on another Crikey article about kicking the Libyan ambassador out, this one appears to be doing more to deserve it.

  5. Stiofan

    Hello? The horse bolted a long time ago.

    The Chinese Communist Party established its hegemony over Australia during the torch relay before the last Olympic Games. As far as I’m aware, there was no Australian Government protest, arrests or expulsions when Beijing organised attacks on protesters during the relay, by people who were allegedly here as students.

    That said, I wonder why NSW public schools would be organising excursions to events run by a cult like Falun Gong.

  6. nicolino

    China has the money and Australia will prostitute itself just for that alone. Goodbye sovereignty.

  7. AR

    Just because the Chinese government is a vicious, totalitarian gerontocracy seeking to spread its hegemony doesn’t make Falun Gong lillywhite. From what I’ve read it’s just another money grasping organisation combining the worst of televangelism with a coating of pseudo Sinoism.
    The enemy of my enemy is probably my enemy too.

  8. Rena Zurawel

    I think it is not only the Chinese government we have to please. It is only the Chinese government we feel free to criticise.

  9. Socratease

    With all due respect, the Chinese Consulate can go take a flying f*ck.

  10. GlenTurner1

    The letter you won’t see from krudd:

    Dear Chinese Ambassador,

    In the past you have been critical of myself and of the Australian Government for seeking to “interfere with another nation’s internal affairs” when I have described human rights policies and practices in China.

    I bring to your attention an unacceptable interference by your staff in the internal affairs of Australia. A theatre production written by Australians, given by Australians, viewed by Australians, held in Australia is — according to your own past statements — no concern of the Government of China.

    In line with your government’s past statements I ask that such interference cease immediately. Similarly, your embassy’s spying on students at Australian universities and your embassy’s activities to subvert certain cultural and religious institutions in Australia must also cease.

    Until then your Government’s words concerning interference in another nation’s internal affairs are exposed as self-serving hypocrisy.

    Yours, krudd.

  11. JJOz

    The article was pretty good and fairly accurate, but posts mentioned “Falun Gong … cult” and “money grubbing”… Pls forgive if this is a very long post, but a lot of people still quote the Chinese commie regime’s propaganda… in my expeience neither of these ideas is true.

    With regards to cult and collecting money, people who practise Falun Gong are normally ordinary people with jobs, who just get together to practise the exercises in the mornings or on weekends.

    I’ve practised for about 8 years and have found it a genuine body and mind practise. Its good for reducing stress and improving health, fitness and energy levels. After practising people normally feel refreshed, energetic and peaceful.

    There are no fees, and donations aren’t solicited or accepted. The books and materials are all available for free online, so anyone can practise without paying a cent. People can of course practise or stop as they please, and there is no list of names, its very informal. We don’t do evanglism, usually people just find out about the practise by reading the books or through family/friends.

    There’s also no formalities, no worship and almost no rules, but there are principles. People who practise are encouraged to improve their character, be kind and tolerant, and consider others first, etc.

    Given there’s no fee collection, people can practise or stop as they please and its good for people’s health and morality, I don’t think Falun Gong can qualify as a cult, or even money grubbing.

    Regarding “banning” of Falun Gong in China, in my understanding is its similar to Nero and the Christians, or Hitler and the Jews. Small minded people can do terrible things when driven by power and jealousy, particularly when faced with a group’s increasing popularity.

    In the case of Falun Gong, Jiang Zemin held the top 3 most powerful positions in China as President of China, head of the military, and chairman of the regime’s central Politburo, but he was losing popularity. In order to consolidate power and state funds, he put his name on the line, saying he couldn’t believe that the communist party couldn’t defeat Falun Gong within 3 months, and he gave edicts to “destroy their name, bankrupt them financially, and eradicate them physically”.

    Jiang used everything at his command to make the persecution happen, including saturating the media with lies about Falun Gong. They used people’s attachments to turn them against it, eg, if you like money, they’d say “Falun Gong is rich”… if you like science, they said “Falun Gong is superstitious”… if you were nationalistic, they said “Falun Gong is foreign-controlled”… all lies.

    They set up a secret police bureau similar to the Nazi’s to eliminate Falun Gong, and faked a self-immolation in Tiananmen square. They then labelled Falun Gong a cult then passed a law banning cults, known as “shooting first, then painting the target”.

    After ten years the persecution is still going on, with thousands of documented cases of deaths by torture of Falun Gong practitioners in China’s forced-labour camps. My friend’s mother spent 3 years in one of those labour camps, working 16 hour days, making all sorts of cheap products for sale to Western markets.

    Everything they have done to Falun Gong is against China’s own constitutional laws, so you have to wonder, which is really the cult? And do we really want this kind of regime involved with educating our children?

  12. AR

    JJOZ=MaroubraMan? It’s the same turgid defense of Flying Spaghetti Monsters – why are so many people eagerly throw away their critical faculties rather than ‘be here,now’?
    Anything that has a guru, dogma, sacred text or any of the other trappings of hierarchy & obedience thereto is an immediate FAIL.

  13. JJOz

    Sorry if I offended you with an alternate point of view, I’m just speaking about my own experience. It’d be a shame if people couldn’t give their opinion in our free society without being derided.

    I don’t know about anyone throwing away their critical faculties… personally I work as a software engineer, which needs plenty of “here and now” thinking. Its stressful at times, which is why I like to meditate. Besides, you don’t “go” anywhere or lose anything when meditating… its just a normal, relaxed state with a somewhat focussed mind.

    It sounds like you’re saying most religions, schools, businesses, lawmakers and politicians are “fails”… after all, they have gurus, dogma, hierarchy and require some obedience. I would have thought hierarchy is pretty normal in an orderly and law-abiding society.

    Using wild generalisations and scary labels to cast aspersions isn’t generally a nice thing to do, but it *is* a tactic the communist regime often uses to create division between people, in order to better control them. They even pay a lot of so-called internet police to do it online, in feedback blogs just like this one. I read somewhere there were over 30,000 of these police, that must be a tedious job silencing free speech and spreading poisonous lies, intolerance and hatred. I feel sorry for people who have to live that way.

  14. Meski

    @AR: Maroubraman was a Scientologist, you think they’d defend the Falun Gong?

  15. AR

    Meski – I just meant the same mindset of defending the indefensible. MarbMan would defend anything that mentioned the Hubbarseists – he must be on Theta as BK dared to cast naturtiums in the citizenship article and he hasn’t zoomed in yet.

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