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China and Covid19

CCTV New Year’s Gala 2020: Highlights and Must-Knows (Liveblog)

What is Chinese New Year without the CCTV Spring Gala? What’s on Weibo reports the must-knows of the 2020 ‘Chunwan.’

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Chinese social media is dominated by two topics today: the CCTV New Year Gala (Chunwan) and the outbreak of the coronavirus. Watch the livestream of the CCTV Gala here, and we will keep you updated with tonight’s highlights and must-knows as we will add more information to this post throughout the night. (This liveblog is now closed.)

As the Year of the Rat is just around the corner, millions of people in China and beyond are starting the countdown to the Chinese New Year by watching the CCTV Spring Festival Gala, commonly abbreviated in Chinese as Chunwan (春晚).

The role of social media in watching the event has become increasingly important throughout the years, with topics relating to the Chunwan becoming trending days before.

Making fun of the show and criticizing it is part of the viewer’s experience, although the hashtag used for these kinds of online discussions (such as “Spring Festival Gala Roast” #春晚吐槽#) are sometimes blocked.

The Gala starts at 20.00 China Central Time on January 24. Follow live on Youtube here, or see CCTV livestreaming here.

About the CCTV New Year’s Gala
Since its very first airing in 1983, the Spring Festival Gala has captured an audience of millions. In 2010, the live Gala had a viewership of 730 million; in 2014, it had reached a viewership of 900 million, and in 2019, over a billion people watched the Gala on TV and online, making the show much bigger in terms of viewership than, for example, the Super Bowl.

The show lasts a total of four hours, and has around 30 different acts, from dance to singing and acrobatics. The acts that are both most-loved and most-dreaded are the comic sketches (小品) and crosstalk (相声); they are usually the funniest, but also convey the most political messages.

As viewer ratings of the CCTV Gala in the 21st century have skyrocketed, so has the critique on the show – which seems to be growing year-on-year.

According to many viewers, the spectacle generally is often “way too political” with its display of communist nostalgia, including the performance of different revolutionary songs such as “Without the Communist Party, There is No New China” (没有共产党就没有新中国).

To take a look at what was going on during the Spring Gala’s previous shows, also see how What’s on Weibo covered this event in 2016, in 2017, in 2018, and in 2019.

Live updates
Check for some live updates below. (We might be quiet every now and then, but if you leave this page open you’ll hear a ping when we add a new post). (Update: Live blog closed)

 

Happy New Year Wishes from Wuhan People’s Hospital
[Jan 24 / 17:30 CST]

Medical staff at the dedicated isolation ward of Wuhan’s People’s Hospital wish everyone a Happy New Year, saying: “We’re here, don’t worry [and celebrate Spring Festival]” – a hashtag that’s now propagated online to ease the #coronavirus panic. #有我们在大家安心过年

 

Director of the Gala: Yang Dongsheng
[Jan 24 / 17:57 CST]

This year’s director is Yang Dongsheng (杨东升) from Guangdong (see picture below), who also directed the Gala in 2017 and 2018. With Avatar-like settings for dance and singing acts in 2017, spectacular light and dance show in 2018, we can also expect tonight’s show to be colorful and big.

 

Jiayou Wuhan, Jiayou China!
[Jan 24 / 19:57 CST]

In the ten minutes leading up to the CCTV Gala, it is clear that the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan is not a news topic that will be ignored tonight.

The presenters have a strong message showing their support to the patients and people in Wuhan and beyond, saying: “Jiayou Wuhan, Jiayou China!” – Come on Wuhan! Come on China!

 

It just started and the first memes are here
[Jan 24 / 20:10 CST]

The first act has only just completed and already there are memes going around Chinese social media, comparing the dancers in the act to Chinese cabbages..

 

Time to have a “live look” inside the main hospital in Wuhan!
[Jan 24 / 20:40 CST]

A special moment during the CCTV Gala as the show switched to one of Wuhan’s main hospitals right now to get an update from the nurses there who are spending their Chinese New Year night taking care of the many people infected with the coronavirus.

According to the presenter, the switch was “very last minute.”

The presenters also take this time to thank all of those people sacrificing their time and energy to take care of the ill.

Global Times editor Hu Xijin also posted about the “last minute” Wuhan segment, and praised it for communicating the feelings and worries of Chinese people.

 

“Who has been eating wild game?!”
[Jan 24 / 20:44 CST]

With the outbreak of the coronavirus, the eating of wild game has been severely criticized on Weibo these days. This meme of the sketch performed by actor Yue Yunpeng (岳云鹏) during tonight’s Gala says: “Let’s see which idiot still dares to eat wild game?!”

Read more about the backlash against wild game eating here.

 

Some people only think about food during Chinese New Year…
[Jan 24 / 20:53 CST]

We already said that this CCTV Gala, directed by Yang Dongsheng, would be a colorful one. For some viewers, the dance performance set up at the start of this night just looks like food.

 

[Jan 24 / 21:03 CST]

 

#春晚历史上首次没有彩排的片段#
[Jan 24 / 21:18 CST]

As the night continues, people on Weibo are still talking about the segment in the show that cut to the Wuhan hospital. For the first time since 1983, the CCTV Gala included a segment that was not rehearsed. The topic is making its way around social media under the hashtag “For the first time in history, the CCTV Gala airs unrehearsed segment” (#春晚历史上首次没有彩排的片段#).

 

How much is live?
[Jan 24 / 21:45 CST]

Although this Gala is a live broadcast from CCTV’s No.1 Studio in Beijing, combined with broadcasting from different other venues (this year: Guangdong, HK, Zhengzhou, Macao). every year’s show has a taped version of the full dress rehearsal. The tape runs together with the live broadcast, so that in the event of a problem or disruption, the producers can seamlessly switch to the taped version without TV audiences noticing anything.

Because of the outbreak of the coronavirus, Beijing seems to be the only location that is actually aired live tonight, with the other locations using pre-recorded versions.

 

What’s tonight’s theme?
[Jan 24 / 21:53 CST]

Every year, the CCTV Gala has a different theme. Sometimes, these themes are very clear, such as the “Chinese Dream” in 2016, or “National Unity” in 2017.

This year marked the 70th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China, and the Gala seems to have an umbrella theme capturing issues such as the celebration of 70 years ‘New China,’ the fight against poverty, unity among all languages and ethnic groups within China, and China’s important role in international society (especially marked by the first act, showing dancing and performances from different One Belt, One Road countries).

 

2020, I Love You
[Jan 24 / 21:53 CST]

This catchy poppy song is called “Hello 2020″(你好2020), performed by various artists.

 

Stunning Dance “Morning Light”
[Jan 24 / 22:02 CST]

This is one of the dance performances of tonight, called “Morning Light” and led by Zhu Jiejing. The performance is by the Shanghai Song and Dance Troupe. Zhu Jiejing was born in October, 1985 in Jiaxing of Zhejiang Province. She won a top award for dance in China.

 

Kuaishou x CCTV Gala
[Jan 24 / 22:06 CST]

Tonight’s show is done in cooperation with Kuaishou, a hugely popular Chinese video sharing app. The CCTV Gala usually has different social media and/or online partners – which usually means a boost for these online platforms.

 

“My Motherland”
[Jan 24 / 22:32 CST]

The inevitable patriotic song “My Motherland” is here, including a segment with the 90-year-old singer Guo Lanying (郭兰英).

BUT WHERE ARE THE DANCING ROBOTS?!

This is Guo Lanying singing the song for the first time at the Chunwan in her younger years, 30 years ago:

 

Spectacular footage from Zhengzhou
[Jan 24 / 23:03 CST]

We’re moving to one of the venues outside of Beijing – this is one of the prerecorded segments including piano play by the renowned Lang Lang, followed up with a song by Sun Nan (孙楠) and Li Yuchun (李宇春).

 

Meanwhile on Weibo
[Jan 24 / 23:04 CST]

 

Mixed feelings: CoronaVirus and Chunwan share the Weibo stage
[Jan 24 / 23:18 CST]

On Weibo, there are many netizens sharing their mixed feelings about tonight and going on social media, with some posts being about the CCTV Gala and happiness, and the others being about the situation in Wuhan and the despair. “I am laughing and crying,” some write.

 

[Jan 24 / 23:39 CST]

 

A ‘Yellow River’ of humans
[Jan 24 / 23:47 CST]

 

Chunwan and Coronavirus: stark contrast night
[Jan 24 / 23:52 CST]

While Miranda and Manya are watching the CCTV Gala and keeping an eye on social media developments, editor-in-chief Manya just joined BBC World News to briefly address the current social media developments regarding the coronavirus outbreak. See embedded tweet below.

 

Will tonight’s show break viewership records (again)?
[Jan 25 / 00:24 CST]

Over the past few years, the number of people watching the CCTV Gala has increased because of the many people watching the event via online platforms. Youtube is one of the platforms outside of China where the event is being livestreamed, and where over 105,000 people are joining.

Together with the traditional TV audiences, the CCTV online viewership, and the total number of people watching via other apps, will tonight’s show cross the one billion record again?

 

Wear your facemask
[Jan 25 / 00:26 CST]

Just before the end of the show, a public service announcement reminds viewers to wear a face mask in times of the Corona virus outbreak.

 

It’s a wrap
[Jan 25 / 00:59 CST]

It’s a wrap for tonight, so we will close our updates here, but stay tuned the coming days and weeks as we will keep a finger on the pulse of everything happening on Chinese social media and online discussions regarding the Chinese New Year travel season and the outbreak of the coronavirus. Thanks for joining, and a Happy New Year of the Rat!

 

By Manya Koetse and Miranda Barnes
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China and Covid19

“Why Is It Always the BBC That Has Problems?” – Chinese Response to Arrest of Foreign Reporter

China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs blamed the BBC for distorting facts and painting China in a bad light.

Manya Koetse

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Chinese media reports about the official response to the arrest of a UK reporter during protests in Shanghai has gone viral on Chinese social media, without explicitly mentioning the circumstances in which the incident occurred. Chinese netizens are now demanding videos to ‘expose’ how the situation unfolded.

News about the arrest of BBC journalist Edward Lawrence while covering the second night of protests in Shanghai on November 27 has not only made headlines in English-language media, it also became a trending topic on Chinese social media.

On Tuesday, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Zhao Lijian (赵立坚) responded to the incident in a regular press conference. A day earlier, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak denounced the arrest of the BBC journalist as “shocking and unacceptable.”

But according to Zhao, the incident has been distorted by Western media to paint China in a bad light. The Chinese side claims that Lawrence refused to cooperate with the police and failed to show his credentials. “There are many foreign media in China, why is it always the BBC that has problems at the scene? This is a question that must be seriously considered.”

Zhao’s comments went viral on Weibo in two hashtags, namely “Zhao Lijian Presents the Truth about the BBC Reporter Who Was Taken Away” (#赵立坚介绍BBC记者被带离真相#), and “Why Is It Always BBC That Has Problems at the Scene?”(#为什么每次都是BBC在现场出问题#).

Zhao Lijian on Tuesday.

A translation of the full statement by Zhao was also posted on the official website of the Chinese Embassy in the UK. Part of the statement said:

“On the night of November 27, to maintain public order, local police in Shanghai asked people who had gathered at a crossroads to leave. One of  those at the scene is a resident journalist from the BBC. Though the  police made it clear to the journalist and others that they needed to leave, the journalist refused to go and in the entire time did not identify himself as a journalist. The police then took him away from the scene. After verifying his identity and informing him of pertinent laws  and regulations, the police let him leave. Everything was conducted within legal procedures. This BBC journalist refused to cooperate with the police’s law enforcement efforts and then acted as if he were a victim. The BBC immediately twisted the story and massively propagated  the narrative that its journalist had been “arrested” and “beaten” by police while he was working, simply to try to paint China as the guilty party. This deliberate distortion of truth is all too familiar as part of the BBC’s distasteful playbook.”

On Weibo, the statement by Zhao, including video, was published by state media outlet Global Times (环球时报), which did not explicitly report that the incident happened during demonstrations in Shanghai. Instead, they reported about ‘the scene’ and that it allegedly happened “in the course of his work” “记者在工作中”).

One top comment on Weibo said: “The BBC is always making up rumors, there are engaged in an anti-Chinese campaign. They should be punished.” That comment received over 6700 likes.

“Are BBC reporters really reporting on the news, or are they making the news up?” another popular reply said.

The idea that Western mainstream media outlets are ‘creative’ in their reporting has been a long-standing one on Chinese social media. In a well-known example from 2017, social media users accused American broadcaster CNN of staging an anti-ISIS protest in London after a Twitter user uploaded a video that showed how police and TV producers directed a group of Muslim women to stand in line with their protest signs behind the TV anchor. The BBC was also widely criticized for using the allegedly “staged” CNN footage.

Although many netizens gave their thumbs up for Zhao’s remarks about the arrest of Lawrence, there were also some who wanted to know more about the incident.

One popular comment said: “Was there just one BBC reporter at the scene? Why would take away a hard-working journalist? What was the BBC reporter recording? Were there also Chinese reporters? If so, can you give us the real recordings of what was happening at the scene?”

“Domestic reporters wouldn’t dare to post it,” someone replied: “The scene was too electrifying.”

There were also those who made sarcastic comments relating to the ‘outside force’ narrative that became ubiquitous in China’s online media sphere in response to the (censored) protests that have been taking place across China.

“Give us the irrefutable evidence to expose these ‘outside forces,'” some said.

The idea that “outside forces” or “external forces” (外部势力) had something to do with the protests first started increasingly popping up in social media discussions on late Sunday night, and it was also raised in an online column by the political commentator Hu Xijin (read here).

Zhao Lijian also reiterated this idea in Monday’s press conference in by talking about “forces with ulterior motives” who had connected the Urumqi fire, which initially triggered the unrest, with the local response to Covid-19.

“Thousands of people are protesting, they must all be foreigners. CNN and BBC are fully responsible. Except for us and North Korea, the whole world is watching these news channels. The entire world – except for us – is wrong,” one commenter wrote.

Many commenters kept asking for video proof of the incident: “I demand you make the video public so we can all denounce them, we will resolutely denounce them” one person wrote, adding a melon-eating emoji (吃瓜 ‘eating melon’ is frequently used as a humorous reference to standing by and watching the scene unfold).

“We firmly denounce disturbing editing, give us the original video!”

Despite the banter, there were also some more serious comments. One Weibo user wrote: “Foreign reporters often do not have good intentions, they are often distorting the facts, and I hate that. But domestic reporters do not dare to face the epidemic situation and only report on the good news.”

“So who can actually give us the truth?” others wondered.

Read more about the “11.24” unrest or “white blank paper protests” in China here.

By Manya Koetse , with contributions by Miranda Barnes

If you appreciate what we do, please subscribe here or support us by donating.

Featured image via Zhejiang Daily.

 

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China and Covid19

Zhejiang Daily: ‘People First’ Does Not Mean ‘Anti-Epidemic First’

Many Chinese netizens are showing support for Zhejiang Daily after the Party newspaper published an article that tries to find a middle ground between what authorities want to say and what ordinary people want to hear.

Manya Koetse

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After days of unrest, Party newspaper Zhejiang Daily published an article by the Propaganda Department (aka Publicity Department) that addresses the current problems in China’s epidemic situation, talks about the way forward, and stresses the importance of listening to people’s demands and “putting the people first.” But not everyone is convinced.

On Tuesday, November 29, after days filled with unrest and protests in various places across China, Party newspaper Zhejiang Daily (浙江日报) published a noteworthy article titled “‘People First’ Is Not ‘Anti-Epidemic [Measures] First'” (“人民至上”不是“防疫至上“).

The phrase “the people first” (人民至上 rénmín zhìshàng), also “putting the people in the first place,” is an important part of the Party’s ‘people-based, people-oriented’ governing concept. The phrase became especially relevant as part of Xi Jinping’s now-famous “put people and their life first” slogan (人民至上,生命至上, rénmín zhìshàng, shēngmìng zhìshàng), which became one of the most important official phrases of 2020 in light of the fight against Covid19.

The Zhejiang article starts by addressing the recent unrest surrounding China’s zero Covid policy, writing:

Since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus epidemic in late 2019, already three years have passed. As the time of preventing and controlling the epidemic situation is getting stretched, many people’s psychological tolerance and endurance level are put to the test, and they are even breaking down little by little. As some netizens say: if the first year was about panic followed by the secret joy of being able to have a good rest at home; the second year began to be more bewildering and was about the hope for a quick end to the epidemic situation; the third year is then more about dissatisfaction, when will this finally end?”

The article mentioned that in addition to growing frustrations about the endless pandemic, various places across China have been intensifying their anti-epidemic efforts in the wrong ways:

“​​”(..) they are abusing their power, and are making things difficult for the people. This has led to epidemic prevention becoming deformed. They will not explicitly say they are locking down, but they are locking down, they are ignoring the interests of the masses and the demands of the people, interrupting the order of normal life at their will, and are even disregarding the lives and safety of the people, harming the image of the Party and the government, and breaking the hearts of the masses. There are even some people who will seize this epidemic situation to make money. Compared to the epidemic, it’s these phenomena which are hurting people. The ensuing sense of helplessness and tiredness and anger are all understandable.”

The article then stresses:

“Anti-epidemic measures are to guard against the virus, not to guard against the people; it was always [supposed to be] about ‘people first,’ not about so-called ‘epidemic prevention’ first. Regardless what kind of prevention and control measures are taken, they should all be aimed at letting society return to normal as soon as possible and getting life back on track as soon as possible. They are all are like “bridges” and “boats” to reach this goal, and are not meant to keep people in place, as blind and rash actions that disregard the costs.”

Zhejiang Daily mentions how the World Cup in Qatar has made some people wonder about the crowds in the audience not wearing any masks, as if there was no pandemic at all. If they can, why can’t China?

As the foremost reason, the article mentions the relatively low number of hospital beds in China.

Whereas countries such as South Korea or Japan, which are still seeing high numbers of new Covid infections, have about 12.6 beds per 1000 people (12.65 and 12.63 respectively), China only has 6.7.

With the United States being mentioned as an example of a country where Covid-19 patients were using up 32.7% of total nationwide ICU capacity early in 2022, with 7 ICU beds per 100,000 people being occupied by Covid patients, the article suggests that China does not even have this many ICU beds per 100,000 people.

Zhejiang Daily posted its article on Weibo, where one related hashtag received over 350 million views by Tuesday night.

The article further mentions how China, which is a rapidly ageing country, has a relatively large elderly population. With mortality rates being higher in Covid patients over the age of 60, it is estimated that if China would let go of its Covid measures, some 600,000 seniors (60+) catching the virus would die (the article bases this estimation on mortality rates in the Singaporean Covid epidemic.)

Due to Chinese historical, social and traditional values, the protection of the country’s eldest is of great importance. Zhejiang Daily suggests that this is different from Western societies: “Some Western countries had nursing homes where hundreds of people passed away during the epidemic – if that would happen in China, it would be unacceptable. If you understand this point, you can also understand all the efforts we are putting out to contain the epidemic situation.”

And so, Zhejiang Daily highlights the high price people in many Western countries paid to get to the stage in the epidemic where they are today.

The article repeats some of the arguments that have previously also been included in writings in other newspapers and by political commentator Hu Xijin, namely that with China’s current zero-Covid policy and the adjustments that were recently made, the country is now focusing on precise and science-backed epidemic prevention that is meant to put as little strain as possible on society and economy.

However, the latest changes and the essence of China’s zero Covid policy are not properly implemented everywhere, the article says, as there is a lack of understanding or an incapability to handle the situation due to a local lack of staff or available methods. Then there is also the issue of some people making money off of to strict epidemic measures. This has all led to tragic situations that should never have happened.

Although the article does not mention any concrete examples, there are many recent incidents where people did not get the help they needed because of excessive Covid measures. We have covered some of the biggest ones on What’s on Weibo, including the young girl who passed away after getting gravely ill at a quarantine location in Ruzhou; the toddler who died due to carbon monoxide poisoning and a severe delay in medical help in Lanzhou; and the woman who jumped from the 12th floor of an apartment building in Hohhot, although her daughters had been seeking requesting help for her deteriorating mental state for hours.

The problem at hand, Zhejiang Daily suggests, is that some local authorities are putting epidemic prevention first instead of putting people’s lives first. The problem can also not be solved by letting go of all measures, nor by adhering to a ‘one-size-fits-all’ zero Covid policy (“走出疫情阴霾,不是一句“放”与“不放”就能解决的事情.”)

Instead of fighting for ‘opening up’ versus ‘closing down’, the point is to find a “soft landing” (“软着陆”) way out the “haze of the epidemic situation” (“走出疫情阴霾”).

Although the article does not give very concrete answers on what the best way forward is – although it does mention increasing China’s vaccination rates, hospital beds, and available medications, – it proposes to look at the exact pain points within the bigger picture, and to deal with them one by one in order to quickly improve epidemic situations across the country.

At the same time, it also advocates that the various systems that are in place across China should be efficiently unified. The health code system in China is not operated nationally, and instead, various regions are each working with their own Health Code apps (see this article).

So, in other words: local problems should be spotlighted and dealt with, while regional innovative tools or effective measures should also be pinpointed and standardized across the country (“一地创新、全国使用”).

The article does not explicitly mention the recent unrest across China, but it does hint at it: “The voices and the demands of the people have always been the central point regarding the adjustment and optimization of anti-epidemic policies. There is only one goal in the fight against the virus, and that is to benefit the people, to protect the health and safety of every person. If we hold on to this point, our steps won’t be chaotic, and our actions won’t stray from the intended line.”

On Weibo and WeChat, the article is discussed by many netizens (#浙江宣传发文人民至上不是防疫至上#). One hashtag related to the article received over 350 million views on Weibo on Tuesday (#人民至上不是防疫至上#).

Many people spoke out in support of the article.

“This is a well-written article. It really combines the two components of ‘what we want to say’ and ‘what the ordinary people want to hear,’ it brings in some fresh air, clears up some confusion and eases the mood,” one commenter from Hubei writes: “But why is only Zhejiang Daily publishing this? The Zhejiang Propaganda [department] is the pride on the propaganda front, the fact that there’s just one Zhejiang Propaganda [department] is the sorrow on the propaganda front.”

“Finally something that’s clear-headed,” others wrote. “This article actually moved me. There’s been masses of people raising their voice recently because some local epidemic measures are creating problems and are not benefiting the people. No matter how we solve it, the target is unchanged.”

“Well put!” others wrote: “So what do we do now?”

But not everyone was convinced that the article is meaningful. “I don’t buy it,” one person wrote: “This won’t do much more than a fart.”

“The title is welcomed by the people, the content protects the central authority,” another commenter said.

The Zhejiang Daily article suggests that there is nothing wrong with the general zero-Covid policy and the twenty new measures, but instead points at how various places across the country have different interpretations of the policies and sometimes take drastic measures which actually undermine the authority of the central government (“中央定下来的“动态清零”总方针、优化防控二十条措施,一些地方有不同解读,极大降低了中央政策的权威性.”)

“It only scratches the outside of the boot,” another Weibo user replied: “It does not talk about the main point and avoids taking responsibility by how it’s written. It shifts the conflict to ordinary people (..), the fact that we are still reading these kinds of [xxx] articles in 2022 is typical [xxx] socialism.”

Regardless of criticism, many people did praise how Zhejiang authorities wrote the article: “Zhejiang has done quite well, and I’ll praise their Publicity Department.”

Read more about the “11.24” unrest in China here.

By Manya Koetse 

If you appreciate what we do, please subscribe here or support us by donating.

Featured image via Zhejiang Daily.

 

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