Ubiquitous around Sydney these posters advertising a performance at a Sydney theatre brings together a number of elements of recent Chinese Australian history. On the surface the poster advertises exactly what its title in Chinese claims it is – 神韻晚會 – romantic entertainment. But it is the line above it all that provides the clue to this poster and its entertainments deeper meaning – China before Communism.
Founded in 2006 Shen Yun Performing Arts is closely associated with the Falun Gong religious movement and can have up to six troupes touring the world at any one time. Falun Gong as a religious movement originated in China where it is now banned and is heavily persecuted. The Shen Yun performance is designed to promote both the religion and to attack the Communist government of China. One of its claims being that the style of performance is true Chinese culture not to be now found in China itself. Hence the ‘China before Communism’ poster title.
What has all this to do with Chinese Australian history? The poster, the Shen Yun performances and the activities of Falun Gong adherents in Australia – including its newspaper The Epoch Times – represent one extreme of the interaction of China in the world that affects not only recent migrants from China, but people of Chinese heritage and even the perception and presentation of Chinese Australian history. (See No.13 & No.27) It is a reminder therefore of how the present impacts on how we perceive history. China Australia relations, recent migration, economic power and political animosity all create situations in which people seek to use and abuse history for their own agenda. The Falun Gong’s Shen Yun show being merely a less subtle form than most.
Another aspect of this poster as an ‘historical’ object is that most would not recognise it as ‘history’ just yet. Yet as a piece of ephemera however it is just this kind of ‘rare in the future object’ that needs to be preserved now and which will one day find itself archived and commented upon for what it tells us about its times. History starts now, even if historical perspective take time to evolve that more romantic entertainments do not.