January 12, 2008

Despite pressure from the Chinese Consulate to boycott a New Year celebration at the Escondido arts center, because of the show's alleged link to a spiritual movement outlawed in China, the show will go on.

The Chinese New Year Spectacular will be held Tuesday through Thursday, ahead of the actual Chinese New Year, which is Feb. 7.

The California Center for the Arts, Escondido, which is leasing space to the show's producer, has sold about half the 6,000 tickets available for four shows, said Vicky Basehore, president and chief operating officer.

The elaborate performance, produced by the New York-based New Tang Dynasty Television, will consist of singing and dancing in traditional Chinese costumes, and orchestral music using Chinese instruments.

Escondido and San Diego city and county leaders apparently did not receive communication from the Chinese Consulate. But many of them had heard about the dispute in Orange County and New York.


Chinese New Year Spectacular
When: 8 p.m. Tuesday, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Wednesday, 8 p.m. Thursday
Where: California Center for the Arts, Escondido, 340 N. Escondido Blvd.
Tickets: $28 to $108
Information: artcenter.org or (800) 988-4253

On Dec. 17, Orange County Supervisor Chris Norby received a letter from the consulate in Los Angeles, urging a boycott of the show in Escondido and at the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles.

The letter said the show's producer is backed by Falun Gong, which it likened to the Branch Davidians and Peoples Temple cults. The consulate did not return phone messages seeking comment.

The movement, which uses five sets of meditation exercises, has as many as 70 million practitioners in China. The Chinese government contends it is political, and suppresses it. Amnesty International and other groups have charged that practitioners are fired from their jobs, illegally imprisoned and tortured.

The letter urged Norby to exercise "high vigilance" against Falun Gong, "making sure no congratulations, no recognition letters, no attendance or no support" comes from the Board of Supervisors.

Norby replied Jan. 2, saying he was insulted and will not honor the request.

New York state Assemblyman Michael Benjamin received a similar letter Dec. 18 and said he was upset with the consulate for telling him what to do.

"I went to the show in the past," Benjamin said. "It was a very wonderful, warm show. It highlights the beautiful aspects of the Chinese culture."

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Carrie Hung, a spokeswoman for New Tang Dynasty Television, said the Chinese Consulate has been discrediting her company for years.

"We are not associated with any religion, government or political party," she said. "We have volunteers who work for us who have different religious backgrounds, such as Falun Gong practitioners.

"But I don't think the issue here is about Falun Gong. It is about . . . interfering with what is happening in the U.S."

Chinese New Year is the most important Chinese festival, which is also celebrated by the Vietnamese. Each year is named after one of 12 animals in the zodiac. This is the Year of the Rat.

New Year's Eve begins with spring cleaning and ends with a banquet-like family reunion dinner. New Year's Day arrives with auspicious greetings from relatives and strangers. "Kung Hey Fat Choi," wishing a person well, is the most common refrain heard throughout the Chinese community. Married adults pass out red packets stuffed with pocket money to children, and the day is spent visiting friends and relatives.