In an investigation it conducted, the Epoch Times uncovered a 15-year-long crackdown by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) on the Shen Yun Performing Arts Group on U.S. soil. The performing arts company is celebrated for its world-class performances of classical Chinese dance and music. Why the group is targeted is clear from its slogan this year: “China Before Communism.”
A systematic campaign of intimidation, propaganda and sabotage from the CCP has, for many years, targeted the group’s members, its supporters, its performing activities and even the campuses and venues where it performs.
Steven Wang, Shen Yun’s principal lead dancer, commented, “Yesterday, I was standing onstage at a prestigious venue listening to roaring applause. Today, back here at our home in upstate New York, I’m being spied on, harassed, and living in an environment where hostile people are formulating and spreading egregious lies about us.” “To know that the CCP is behind all this … doing this to us on U.S. soil, is scary.”
Many of Shen Yun’s artists experienced religious persecution under communist rule firsthand when they lived in China. Many of them practice Falun Gong, an ancient Chinese spiritual practice consisting of slow-moving exercises and spiritual self-improvement based on practicing the principles of Truthfulness, Compassion, and Tolerance. In July, 1999, the CCP made a decision to eliminate the practice of Falun Gong. Human rights advocates have estimated that millions of Falun Gong adherents have faced unjust arrest, kidnapping, torture, and death at the hands of the CCP regime.
Trevor Loudon, an expert on communist infiltration in the West had this to say about the CCP, “The CCP sees Shen Yun as very dangerous,” because of its efforts to revive and depict traditional Chinese culture. “They [the CCP] want to say Chinese culture is socialist.” In Loudon’s view, the CCP would be fully expected to go after Shen Yun with fervor, and indeed the dance company has had to overcome multiple forms of interference—some obvious and some outright dangerous.
Theaters have received threatening letters from Chinese embassies and consulates, warning them not to host Shen Yun lest they antagonize the Chinese regime. Public officials have received similar letters, urging them not to attend the shows.
In 2009, a Shen Yun Art Troupe bus carrying dozens of Shen Yun performers suffered a tire blowout in Phoenix, Arizona. The repair mechanics told the driver that the blown tire had unusual marks on it. Apparently, somebody had used a drill to make a hole halfway through the rubber—not enough for it to deflate, but enough for it to burst once on the road. Later, there were multiple similar cases of things happening to the Shen Yun troupe’s buses.
In August 2013, the home of a Shen Yun choreographer, Chen Yung-chia, was broken into. Valuables such as cash, gold jewelry, and expensive watches were left untouched. What did go missing were four laptop computers and a DVD player.
The CCP authorities have even exploited the most basic information, such as the identities of the Shen Yun staff, so that the regime could persecute their parents, spouses and those dear to them who still live in China.
The biggest target for Beijing, however, has been the company’s training facilities in upstate New York. Named Dragon Springs, the site hosts a Tang Dynasty-style temple as well as the campus of Shen Yun Performing Arts. According to insider information, the CCP treats the site as a “headquarters” for the efforts of Falun Gong followers to counter the persecution in China. One document that the Epoch Times obtained contained a CCP directive. It read, “Attack the overseas Falun Gong headquarters and bases systematically and strategically.”
The campus, which has produced the top talent in classical Chinese dance in the world, houses not only the company’s training and rehearsal spaces, but also two schools, Fei Tian Academy of the Arts and Fei Tian College, which help train future talent for the troupe.
Despite improving security measures over the years, the campus has faced repeated incidents of harassment, trespassing, and vandalism, such as cutting a hole in the perimeter fence large enough for a person to crawl through; smashing a security camera; breaking into the utility box of one of the security cameras and cutting the wires. In the early years, Chinese consular staff showed up at least once in a car marked with diplomatic plates, sneaked onto the property, and scurried away when Shen Yun staff discovered them.
Lately, Shen Yun staff have come to suspect a new and more sophisticated form of harassment. In November 2018, Dragon Springs, home to the Shen Yun campus, submitted a draft environmental impact statement (DEIS), a major document required for further expansion of the site. On Nov. 14, 2018, the town of Deerpark, New York, held a public hearing on one of the small projects planned for the site, the construction of a larger driveway to allow easier access by buses. There were, however, a couple of unexpected guests that night.
The board minutes show that Alex Scylla, a 39-year-old American, suddenly stood up and said he was “very concerned” about the “safety issues” of the lane expansion. At the time, Scylla drove an hour from his condo in New Paltz New York – to make a statement against a driveway expansion project in the town. Previously, Scylla had even lived in Tianjin, China for 15 years.
Another unexpected guest was Steven Schneider, a civil and appraisal engineer from Long Island. He said the project would create “a lot of traffic on an already hazardous road” and that the traffic study didn’t consider accidents around the driveway. Schneider was just the first in a lineup of environmental consultants and lawyers that came in Scilla’s wake in what seemed to be a part of his battle against Shen Yun’s campus.
Scylla’s ties to China
To this day, Scilla maintains close ties wih China, including with a Tianjin-based company. Sources familiar with the matter previously told the Epoch Times that a series of pro-CCP, and anti-Falun Gong protests in New York have been linked to the Tianjin Political and Legal Committee.
In 2006, Scilla married a Chinese woman named Zhang Lei. His first job in China began in 2011. He was the “General Manager of the Tianjin Zhongyi Metals Company, which was headquartered in the Tianjin Free Trade Zone…” However, while this so-called “leading” recycling company has virtually no business footprint. In late 2014, Scylla was elected to the executive committee of the American Chamber of Commerce in China, and in November 2018, he suddenly appeared at a hearing in Deer Park on the road expansion issue. That’s his first foray into advocacy of any kind on U.S. soil.
In January 2019, Scilla registered a nonprofit organization at his New Paltz address—the Mid-New York Environmental and Sustainability Promotion Committee Limited, or Nyenvironcom. Based on its website, nearly all of the group’s advocacy is focused on the Shen Yun campus and a few other real estate projects tied to the Chinese expat community in Deerpark.
In January this year, Scilla and his organization launched a lawsuit against the Shen Yun campus, backed by several lawyers and environmental consultants. Some Chinese state-controlled media picked it up immediately and used the information to attack Shen Yun.
In recent years, the Shen Yun campus staff have noticed a new and troublesome form of surveillance—drones. The staff suspected that at least one of the drones was being flown from the property of one of the neighbors who later joined Scilla’s lawsuit. Two people who live in the neighborhood confirmed they had seen a drone being flown from the land adjacent to the Shen Yun campus property at least four times between January and May 2020. They saw it in the air, above the Shen Yun campus, and then landing on the
neighbor’s property. One of them identified Scilla in several photographs as the one who operated the drone that was about two feet wide and seemed to be a type that costs thousands of dollars andwhich professional videographers often use.
Later in 2020, the staff noticed that two other neighbors put up cameras on their land and aimed them at the campus entrances. (One of them had a direct financial relationship with Scylla.) This has become a constant source of concern for the staff, as such surveillance can collect information on who’s coming in and going out of the site, again threatening to reveal the identities of the staff in case any entity wanted to do research on their relatives. One of the cameras was taken down recently.
According to Trevor Loudon, using U.S. groups, environmental laws or local ordinances as a tool to achieve its goals is entirely characteristic of the CCP. He said that, If somebody with strong China ties goes on to exert a focused effort against Shen Yun’s home base, “It would seem that the most obvious conclusion would be that the CCP is involved.”
Casey Fleming, CEO of BlackOps Partners and a counterintelligence expert, agreed that such a move would be right out of the CCP’s playbook. He said that the regime pursues the strategies of “unrestricted warfare” and “hybrid warfare” to defeat and dominate its enemies, “So yes, culture is absolutely critical for them to unwind our society for takeover.” “Their boldness to infiltrate and subvert the United States and the West is beyond most people’s comprehension.”
FBI Director Christopher Wray has also warned that China is “getting more brazen” in controlling certain speech inside the United States.
Source: Epoch Times, “Beijing’s ‘Black Hand’ Reaches Out to Shen Yun Artists in New York,” April 17, 2022.