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Trio protests performance by "Splendid China' troupe

Even with their colorful signs, the three protesters outside the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center Sunday were hard to pick out amid crowds going to see The Phantom of the Opera and the nearby Gasparilla Sidewalk Arts Festival.

The picketers were protesting a lesser-known event, a song and dance presentation called "Splendid China," also playing at the Performing Arts Center.

The troupe of artists that is "Splendid China" normally perform at a theme park in Kissimmee that goes by the same name. Although the tourist attraction is one of the state's newest theme parks, it is already one of its most controversial.

"Splendid China" has been criticized by Mongolians and Tibetans who say that the park exploits their cultures, cultures that the Chinese destroyed, yet now want to show as their own.

A group of about 50 protesters, including several monks, protested at the park when it opened late last year.

Sunday's protest outside the Performing Arts Center was organized by the International Campaign for Tibet.

One of the three participants, Tanya Keenan, a graduate student in Indo-Tibetan Buddhism at the University of South Florida, said she is against the "Splendid China" exhibition because it's a "bogus representation" of what has happened in Tibet.

"There's so much that's happened to them," she said of the Tibetan people. "They're now a minority in their own country."

She and two other women carried signs that said "Free Tibet" and "Splendid China is a Communist Front."

Thomas Chen, president of the Suncoast Association of Chinese-Americans, the group that sponsored Sunday's "Splendid China" performance, was not aware of the planned protest until a reporter questioned him about it Sunday morning.

He said he was saddened to hear about the protest because his organization does all it can to keep the political divisions at the heart of the demonstration out of the association's agenda.

"We make a point in all our activities to filter that out," Chen said. "All factions of Chinese come to the same association here, where in most other cities, they must have many separate groups."

The Suncoast Association of Chinese-Americans has existed for more than 15 years without a lot of the infighting and bitterness over Asian politics that have divided and destroyed other associations of Chinese-Americans, he said.

"From our point of view, we try to keep all these conflicts at the edge of the Pacific Ocean."

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