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Sunday, March 30, 2008

AU: China pressured state MPs to skip show

The Age: Jill Stark
March 31, 2008
Performer Nancy Xiang in the Arts Centre dressing room before yesterday's Chinese Spectacular.

Performer Nancy Xiang in the Arts Centre dressing room before yesterday's Chinese Spectacular.
Photo: Wayne Taylor


THE Chinese Government has pressured Victorian MPs not to attend a stage show it has denounced as propaganda for the Falun Gong movement.

China's Melbourne Consul- General Liang Shugen wrote to politicians urging them not to accept invitations to performances of the Chinese Spectacular at the Arts Centre.

Organisers told The Age four MPs who had accepted invitations cancelled at the last minute, without explanation.

The show, which has toured to critical acclaim all over the world, depicts China's rich cultural history through traditional dance and classical music.

Many performers are Chinese exiles who follow Falun Gong — a spiritual movement banned by the ruling Communist Party.

Mr Shugen's letter claims the Divine Performing Arts group, through its links to Falun Gong, was trying to "sabotage friendly relationships" between China and the rest of the world.

He describes Falun Gong as a "despicable" group trying to gain support for its "anti-society, anti-human, anti-science motives under the disguise of cultural activities".

Mr Shugen writes: "In view of the good relations between China and Victoria it's my sincere hope that you will not attend the performance and will also avoid any future contact with Falun Gong and its affiliates."

But Falun Gong supporters say the letter is a thinly veiled threat about trade opportunities.

Michael Pearson-Smith, secretary of the Falun Dafa Association of Victoria, which helped bring the show to Australia, said Chinese diplomats used similar tactics when the performance toured last year.

"It's clearly exceeding the bounds of what they're supposed to do and it's about time the appropriate authorities in our country came down on them and said enough is enough. I'd like to see the consuls-general and the ambassador hauled in for a dressing down whenever one of these letters appears," Mr Pearson-Smith said.

Lead dancer and assistant company manager Vina Lee said the show told traditional spiritual stories suppressed by the Chinese Government.

"When the Communist party destroyed the culture, the Chinese didn't have any history kept to educate young people, so we are reviving the culture that has been destroyed. We present it through beauty and compassion and legend stories and they're so frightened by this that they try to shut it down. If you let people have a spiritual belief in the Chinese culture, then the Communist Party has no place," Ms Lee said.

The show, which finished a three-day run in Melbourne yesterday, will now tour Sydney, Brisbane, Canberra and Adelaide.

A program for the show includes messages of support from Victorian Minister for Education Bronwyn Pike and several federal MPs including shadow treasurer Malcolm Turnbull.

More than 50 politicians are listed as supporters in the program, and it is believed that the Chinese Consul-General may have written to all of them.

About 130 Victorian MPs were invited to a VIP function on opening night but only seven attended. Four accepted invitations, only to cancel at the last minute.

"We've got self-censorship happening with a lot of MPs when they're invited to anything with a Falun Gong connection," Mr Pearson-Smith said. "We're talking contacts and business interests and clearly many politicians will put their business interests ahead of human rights. But we're actually in a very strong position because China needs our natural resources and they need this market for all the consumer goods that they're producing. We just need to have the courage to say this shouldn't be going on."

A State Government spokesman did not say which MPs attended the event. The Chinese Consul-General could not be reached.

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