Bay Area/ San Francisco/ Arts & Culture
Published on October 18, 2021
Shen Yun announces its SF return, brace yourself for advertisementsImage: Shen Yun via Ticketmaster

There have been a few nice silver linings to this past year and a half of pandemic life. Slow streets have brought us delightful community bonding. To-go cocktails and mural-covered parklets have beautified our streetscapes and redefined our social gatherings. And while the loss of live theater has been devastating, it’s had the slight upside that we have not had to deal with the saturation-advertising menace that is Shen Yun.


It’s baaaack. The Shen Yun website shows that Shen Yun will be in San Francisco at the War Memorial Opera House from January 2–9, 2022. It’s also in San Jose December 22-26, and actually opens this Tuesday night in Modesto, and playing a two-night engagement in Fresno October 30 and 31.

This is not a scaled-back COVID schedule. Shen Yun typically plays for only about a week in San Francisco, despite its notorious months-long advertising onslaught.


This year’s iteration seems more upfront about its political bias, with the tagline “China Before Communism.” The historical extravaganza is financed by the Falun Gong, a sort of cultish meditation group that over the decades has turned very political. The group also publishes the wildly pro-Trump conspiracy newspaper Epoch Times, which has recently run very favorable Shen Yun “reviews” like Lavish Praise for Shen Yun in Massachusetts, Dentist Moved by the True Stories of China Told in Shen Yun, and Couple Says Shen Yun Had Them Sitting on the Edge of Their Seats.


How on earth can this show afford to advertise so much? The Chronicle dug into their finances and found the show does indeed turn a profit. Their secret is labor costs, or rather, a lack thereof. A very significant percentage of Shen Yun’s workforce are volunteers. Each production is regional, but the Chronicle found California’s regional Shen Yun outfit spent a staggering 62% of its budget on advertising in 2017, the most recent year for which they had tax data available.


The show’s reviews are obviously determined by politics. The U.S. Chinese embassy, which absolutely despises this show, says on its website that “the so-called ‘Shen yun’ is not a cultural performance at all but a political tool of ‘Falun Gong’ to preach cult messages, spread anti-China propaganda, increase its own influence and raise fund [sic]. Such show denigrates and distorts the Chinese culture, and deceives, makes fool of and even brings harm to the audience.”  

Not to be outdone, Shen Yun’s website contains a section called Challenges We Face, wherein they say of the Chinese Communist Party, “The primary aim is to prevent [Shen Yun] from revealing the tragic reality of the persecution to the world — but that is not the only reason. The Party is also trying to infiltrate Western society to manipulate the international community’s opinion.”

Happy Shen Yun advertising season, everybody.