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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.

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 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.