Several mainland artists, members of the nation's top political advisory body, have lamented the poor overseas showing of state-sanctioned performance troupes amid competition from groups funded by the Falun Gong spiritual movement, which is banned on the mainland. Lyricist Xu Peidong said state-funded overseas tours by mainland artists had failed to match the popularity of Falun Gong-funded performances in North America and Europe in recent years. Xu, a Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference delegate, said a variety show by the Falun Gong-sponsored Shenyun performance arts troupe had become a hit last year. He said he was alarmed by the show, as it was based on traditional Chinese folk stories and legends similar to those that state-sponsored shows stage. Xu also accused the central government of ruining Chinese culture. "To be fair, the show is very eye-catching for its modern stage design and highly trained cast, comprised mostly of second- or third-generation Chinese," he said. "On top of that, it's a commercial show that makes money." A growing number of mainland art troupes have been going overseas on state-sponsored tours as part of a central government initiative to promote Chinese culture. Troupes' obsession with such tours has seen hordes of Chinese artists rush to perform in the Musikverein concert hall in Vienna, Austria, in recent years. Top Chinese artists including soprano Song Zuying and pianist Lang Lang have performed at the venue, the home of the Vienna Philharmonic orchestra. Xu said some mainland middle school orchestras had also booked the venue for shows to burnish their credentials back home, and surging demand had led to the rent for the hall surging from €20,000 (HK$202,130) a show a few years ago to €80,000. "But all these performances are used to generate cheers back at home at taxpayers' expense," he said. However, competition for limited state funding and overseas audiences have compromised the quality of such state-sponsored tours and deprived some top mainland artists of the chance to perform abroad. Yu Junjian, a veteran Chinese tenor, said top artists were often forced to perform in poorly produced shows because Chinese art troupes could only afford to send small casts overseas due to financial constraints. "Such productions would do no good to the image of the country because they're so small and poorly staged, without any stage design," he said. On this issue, Xu said: "There must be a co-ordination and quality check mechanism at the top to guide Chinese art troupes' tours overseas in order to promote Chinese culture."