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Shen Yun Artists Face Discrimination from Pro-CCP Official at US Customs Upon Return From European Tour

Published: March 20, 2024
Shen Yun dancers rehearse a classical Chinese dance routine at their facility in Orange County, N.Y., in this file photo. (Image: Courtesy of Shen Yun)

In an alarming incident, artists from the New York-based Shen Yun Performing Arts, the world’s leading classical Chinese dance company and a significant thorn in the side of the repressive Chinese Communist Party (CCP), experienced what can only be described as a violation of their civil liberties upon returning to the U.S. from their European world tour. 

Made up of a large ensemble of elite artists comprising more than 500 dancers, musicians, and vocalists, Shen Yun currently has eight companies that tour and perform across Europe, Asia, the Americas, and Oceania annually, reaching millions and garnering glowing reviews from high-profile artists and professionals from diverse backgrounds.

The incident, which unfolded at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport on March 11, saw several Shen Yun members, including U.S.-born tour manager Teresa Du, subjected to undue scrutiny by a customs officer. This officer, who appeared to be of mainland Chinese extraction was heard making disparaging comments about Du and Shen Yun, many of whose performers are adherents of the persecuted Chinese spiritual faith Falun Gong.

The customs officer’s actions, which included claiming that Falun Gong was “illegal” and questioning Du about her affiliations in Chinese, mirror the CCP’s rhetoric and raise questions about the extent of foreign influence and prejudice within U.S. borders.


Shen Yun Performing Arts is the world’s premier classical Chinese dance and music performance, bringing to life 5,000 years of traditional Chinese culture and heritage to audiences across the globe in a brand new production each year. (Image: Shen Yun Performing Arts)


Speaking with Vision Times, constitutional law expert and candidate for the Virginia state senate, Jonathan Emord, expressed outrage over the incident. Describing the incident as an “outrageous” and flagrant abuse of power, Emord criticized the officer’s alleged actions as “patently unlawful” and indicative of an “abuse of power” within the U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

“I think it’s outrageous,” said Emord, adding, “It’s a violation of the religious liberty of an American citizen, and it’s a wrongful detention. And it also violates the rules that govern the Immigration and Naturalization Service and the agents who function for border protection.”

Constitutional law expert and candidate for the Virginia senate, Jonathan Emord (R), expressed outrage over the incident. (Image: via Jonathan Emord for U.S. Senate)

During the interaction in Chicago, Teresa Du, who is from Texas, recalled the officer telling his co-workers at customs that “[t]hey [the Shen Yun artists] are Falun Gong. They’re political. They’re illegal,” and that thereafter he questioned her on whether she was “being sponsored by Falun Gong,” before eventually letting her pass.


‘A violation of religious liberty’

“[The incident] raises the issue as to whether or not that official, who’s obliged to swear an oath in support of the Constitution and laws of the United States, is actually an agent for a foreign power or is behaving in a manner that suggests that he’s complicit with a foreign power, at least in this instance,” added Emord. 

“I’m an American citizen, and I was born in America,” Teresa Du told The Epoch Times in an interview about the incident. “I was coming back home,“ but ”it just felt like I was under verbal attack and verbal abuse.”

In addition to haranguing her over Falun Gong, the customs officer also physically intimidated Du, she said.

Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, is an ancient Chinese spiritual practice that has been under severe persecution by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) since 1999. Thousands of people have been confirmed to have perished from torture, imprisonment, forced labor, and other forms of human rights abuses at the hands of Chinese police.

Human rights investigators say that thousands more have been killed every year in China’s state and military-run hospitals for their organs.

The CCP is persecuting elderly Falun Gong practitioners
Falun Gong practitioners of Thailand hold a candlelight vigil solemnly commemorating the 23rd Anniversary of Jiang Zemin and the CCP’s persecution of the practice in Nakhon Pathom, Thailand, on July 17. (Image: via


The issue at hand also extends beyond mere procedural misconduct; it touches on the broader concern of foreign influence within the American government, said Emord. 

“[The incident] raises the issue as to whether or not that official, who’s obliged to swear an oath in support of the Constitution and laws of the United States, is actually an agent for a foreign power or is behaving in a manner that suggests that he’s complicit with a foreign power, at least in this instance.” 

Transnational repression and CCP influence

Shen Yun Performing Arts, which states that its mission is to help revive China’s ancient cultural heritage, has long been targeted for harassment and sabotage by Communist China, which sees the company’s worldwide success and critical acclaim as a threat to its control over the Chinese nation.

While the CCP interprets and twists Chinese civilization through the lens of its atheist Marxist ideology, Shen Yun depicts a “China before communism” deeply rooted in ancient spiritual traditions, social mores, and faith in the divine.

According to Du, other Shen Yun performers faced similar harassment from the Chinese-speaking U.S. customs officer in Chicago. Two of the artists reported that the officer had interrupted their routine questioning while re-entering the United States at O’Hare, and in one case demanded to know details regarding Shen Yun’s business operations in New York state, where it is headquartered.

In the third situation, the officer was heard suggesting to a supervisor that a whole group of people working for Shen Yun should be detained, but was rebuffed.

The treatment faced by Shen Yun artists at O’Hare was not only degrading but unlawful, notes Emord. They were wrongfully detained and accused of illegal entry into the U.S., based solely on their supposed spiritual beliefs. “[The incident] violates their First Amendment rights, and it constitutes wrongful detention,” said Emord. 

A rally calling for an end to the persecution of Falun Gong in China in Goshen, N.Y., on July 22, 2023. (Image: Cara Ding/The Epoch Times)

As such, Emord recommended that the Shen Yun team file a civil rights complaint with the Department of Justice to seek legislative intervention and a thorough investigation into the customs officer’s background and his associates.

“I think they should file a complaint, a civil rights complaint with the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice. I think there should be an investigation,” said Emord, adding, “They should demand that their member of Congress should be notified to demand an investigation of this officer, his affiliation and background, as well as those who were complicit with him in this instance.”

Moreover, Emord underscored the need for the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the Department of Homeland Security to scrutinize their employees for any ties to foreign entities, particularly the CCP. Those found to be in violation should not only be dismissed but also held legally accountable for their actions.

According to The Epoch Times, a spokesman for CPB confirmed that the agency “strictly prohibits profiling on the basis of race or religion,” but did not answer a question about whether or not the incidents at O’Hare were being looked into.

Rep. Brian Babin, a Republican representing Teresa Du’s home state of Texas, has called for a “thorough investigation” regarding the custom official’s “totally inexcusable” behavior, which, if Du’s complaint is accurate, ought to result in the official being “terminated immediately.”

Emord, the lawyer running for state senate in Virgina, added, “anyone affiliated with the CCP, which is, in fact, an enemy of the United States, should not in any way be employed by the government of the United States.”

With reporting by Jim Giragosian, Vision Times contributor