Shen Yun Performing Arts was set to play at Belgium’s National Theatre in Brussels April 2-6. The scary part for the Chinese Embassy, other than the presence of EU dignitaries in Shen Yun’s audience, was that Xi Jinping was expected in town. The Chinese Communist Party chief was on his way to the European capital heading a 200-person delegation for a summit as part of his tour of Europe.
At first, the embassy tried canceling the performances, demanding of the theater that it be done, saying the shows endangered Xi Jinping. But soon, the embassy faced a much more conspicuous problem.
Xi and the delegation were staying at Brussels’ Sheraton, only a couple blocks from the theater. The main road, Boulevard du Jardin Botanique, was decorated with large Shen Yun banners hanging high on light poles. BHS Promotion, the advertising agency in charge of the campaign, had even placed one banner 15 feet away from the entrance to Xi’s hotel. There was no way Xi and the delegation would not see the Shen Yun banner – many times a day – throughout their visit.
The banner was a terrible threat. It featured a single dancer, a smiling Angelia Wang, in the air doing a split, her orange skirt and soft pink sleeves against a blue background. The words “Shen Yun” appeared above her and the show’s date and theater name below. The embassy decided not to let Xi see it.
We don’t know whether it was acting on orders from Beijing, was overzealous (“too left” would be the Chinese expression), or was afraid of being embarrassed in front of the boss over failing to block the show. Whatever the motivation, making the banner go away became the theme of the slapstick skit that followed.
The show’s local organizers first heard of trouble the week of the visit, when they received a phone call from Brussels police. “We have to take the banners down,” the police said, adding that that it was because of Xi’s visit.
With Xi scheduled to arrive Saturday, the show’s hosting organization, the Belgian Falun Gong Association, called a press conference for Friday, March 28. In a press release, the Association said that the ad agency it hired “received a written request the same day from the police zone of Ixelles to remove all posters in their district for 2 days, since they would be on the route taken by President Xi Jinping.” The press release asked Belgium’s government and media to investigate, calling the request “Censorship of commercial advertising at another country’s demand.”
In response, European Union Vice President Edward McMillan-Scott wrote to the Mayor of Brussels urging noncompliance with the embassy’s demands. A green Member of Parliament posted a statement on her social network. Media began reporting the story. “Belgian Police Try to Censor Posters Ahead of China Visit,” wrote the EU Observer.
The police backtracked, saying, “We made a mistake, you don’t need to take it down.”
But that was just the beginning. As the press conference was concluding at Thon Hotel, which was right next door to the Sheraton, a reporter came up saying someone was trying to take down the banner. Nicholas Schols from the hosting organization rushed over. It was a security guard from Sheraton. “It’s in front of our hotel,” he told Schols, “our coming guests won’t like it,” he said. “But this is technically our property, since we paid for the advertising,” Schols replied. And with media present, the security guard went no further and left.
That evening, around 9, a group of people came and tried removing the banner again. They said they were from the mayor’s office. “Why are you taking it down?” asked the hosting organization’s Mattias Slaats, who by then was on duty watching the banner. “The advertising company didn’t pay taxes.” Slaats called their supervisor, and they soon left as well.
On Saturday, Xi’s delegation started checking into the Sheraton. A group of Chinese people gathered outside the hotel in front of the banner and tried lifting the PRC and Belgium flags to cover it. But he banner was too high and the flags could not reach to cover all of it. Angelia Wang’s smiling face and “Shen Yun” could still be seen above the red flag.
On Sunday, Xi was seen coming into the Sheraton. Whenever he moved in and out, the Chinese tried covering the banner. They did this not only in front of Sheraton, but also along the entire boulevard, as there were four banners near the hotel, part of a 36-banner advertising campaign.
In the beginning, when they spotted Xi’s motorcade, this Chinese welcoming committee would lift the flags in front of the banner and wait for Xi to pass. Later, they used packaging tape to connect their flags’ sticks to the street poles from which the banners hung. Around each banner stood 20-30 people – 7-8 would cover the banner with the flags, and 20 others would stand around it. About 10 of them stood in a circle around the banner holding large flags to keep Belgian media from being able to get a good angle to photograph it. There were at least 20 people at each location.
Throughout, Belgian police were present and did nothing. It seems like their final decision was – we won’t take down the banners, but we also won’t stop the embassy if it tries to block them.
Who Were These People?
According to Lixin Yang from the organization hosting Shen Yun, the people lifting the flags to block the banners were Chinese students and Chinese people associated with the embassy. He and others spoke with them during the long downtimes between the motorcade’s brief appearances.
“We didn’t know we were brought over to block a banner,” one of them told Yang. “We thought we were coming to welcome the Chinese president.” Yang said some of the Chinese who went there ended up buying Shen Yun tickets.
Perhaps the embassy should have invited Xi to the show.
Xi Jinping, if you are reading this: maybe next time you’re in town, you and your wife can come see the performance, and then extend an invitation to perform in Beijing.
The Epoch Times: Chinese Embassy Seeks to Remove Shen Yun Banners in Brussels
EU Observer: Belgian Police Try to Censor Posters Ahead of China Visit