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CCTV New Year’s Gala 2017 Live Blog

It’s time for the CCTV Gala 2017: the special annual evening variety show that captures millions of viewers on Chinese New Year’s Eve.

Manya Koetse

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The biggest live television event in the world is about to start. Spring Festival is here and that means it is time for the CCTV New Year’s Gala 2017: the special annual evening variety show that captures millions of viewers on Chinese New Year’s Eve. What’s on Weibo provides you with the ins & outs of the 2017 Gala and its social media frenzy, with updates before, during and after the show.

Are you ready for the Year of the Rooster? Like every year, the start of Chinese New Year is celebrated with Chunwan, the CCTV Spring Festival Night Gala (中国中央电视台春节联欢晚会), better known as CCTV New Year’s Gala.

With an average viewership of 700/800 million, or 90% audience share, the event is the world’s most-watched TV show. The four-hour long spectacle, that starts at 8 pm Chinese time, is a both an entertainment show and propaganda platform – it features China’s biggest stars and best performers while also including the current Party propaganda outlines.

Stay with us to watch the gala and to get to know its ins & outs (also see our liveblog of 2016).

Live stream of the Gala on Youtube and on CCTV Gala official website.

Liveblog (now closed) :

27/01 18:34
Are you ready?

A little over three hours to go before the start of the CCTV Spring Festival Gala (央视春晚), the variety show that will entertain families all over China in the last hours of the Year of the Monkey with an evening full of music and performances. This year is the 35th edition of the Spring Festival Gala, which has been broadcasted since 1983. With a viewership of 700 to 800 million people, is the world’s most-watched TV show – bigger than the Oscars or the Super Bowl.

27/01 19:04
What to expect?

What can we expect at this year’s show? Like last year, the show will be broadcasted from various places besides its main venue in Beijing’s CCTV’s No.1 Studio. In 2016, the Gala was aired from Quanzhou, Xi’an, Guangzhou and Hulun Buir.

This year, it will be aired from Harbin, Guilin, Shanghai and Liangshan. Every city has its own hosts, who often welcome the audiences in their own local dialect or language, with performances that are related to the region. Last year the spectacular performance of singer Sun Nan (孙楠) who danced with 540 moving robots reinforced the image of Guangdong as the home of China’s tech startups.

27/01 18:49
The show people love to hate

Just one hour to go! The CCTV Gala will feature a total of 34 different acts tonight, including singing, dancing, and comedy, in a time frame of around 4 hours.

It is a tradition for families to gather around the TV to watch the Gala before the New Year comes at midnight. The Gala usually is as much about entertainment as it is about political propaganda, and it is somewhat of a tradition to comment on the show and complain about it; criticism on the Gala is actually so commonplace that the sentence “there’ll never be a ‘worst’, just ‘worse than last year'” (“央视春晚,没有最烂,只有更烂”) has become a popular saying over the years.

Unsurprisingly, the show also drew much criticism in 2016 when some called the show a “propaganda disaster.” According to many viewers, the spectacle was “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)… we can probably expect the same complaints on Chinese social media tonight.

27/01 12:31
Tonight’s hosts

This year, the main show of the CCTV Spring Festival Gala will be hosted by familiar faces: the presenters Zhu Jun (朱军), Dong Qing (董卿), Zhu Xun (朱迅) , Kang Hui (康辉) and Nëghmet Raxman.

The 52-year-old Chinese host and actor Zhu Jun is one of the most well-known CCTV faces. He has presented the CCTV New Year Gala since 1997. Dong Qing (43 years old) is also an annual host: she has hosted the Gala since 2005. Zhou Xun is a Chinese actress and singer, who will be on the show for the fifth time. Kang Hui is an influential CCTV news anchor and Nëghmet is a Chinese television host of Uyghur heritage.

Tonight there will be many stars appearing on the show, from kungfu star Jackie Chen to skit actor Pan Changjiang, Olympic star Fu Yuanhui, actress Yan Xuejing, comedian Jiang Kun, and many, many others.

27/01 12:44
The Mascot

It’s almost time to start! In the meantime, a little update on the CCTV mascot. In 2015, the CCTV Gala introduced an annual new mascot for its New Year’s Show. Last year’s mascot Kang Kang drew so much controversy with its unconventional appearance, that CCTV decided to play it safe this year with a traditional Rooster. The rooster will reappear throughout the show in the Gala’s logo. Besides this rooster there is also a more humorous one that appeared in the promotion video of the Gala.

27/01 19:09
Here We Go!

Here we go! This year’s CCTV New Year’s Gala first starts with intertextual references to all the past “hits” of the gala, which has been aired since 1983. This opening act is a much-anticipated one, as the very popular boy group the TFBoys are performing together with beautiful Chinese actresses Liu Tao, Jiang Xin, Wang Ziwen, Yang Zi and Qiao Xin.

They are performing the song “Beautiful China Year” (美丽中国年).

The TFBoys have been very successful in China over the past years. They also appeared at last year’s Gala, and recently won the Weibo Awards for being the most popular on Chinese social media, for which they received nearly 63 million votes. Their performance here tonight might make it more appealing for younger audiences to watch the New Year’s Gala, which generally has a somewhat stuffy image.

27/01 13:28
Theme: National Unity

Tonight’s hosts have welcomed us to this year’s Spring Gala and are introducing us to the other sub-venues from Harbin to Guilin, from Shanghai to Hong Kong. All the while the various ethnicities of China are emphasized. An important theme of this year (and previous years) is national unity, traditional culture and family affection. Previous year there was a special emphasis on the “Chinese Dream.”

27/01 13:32
First Sketch

During tonight’s show there will be various performances, of which nine will be comical sketches. After we have just witnessed dozens of chickens dancing in a somewhat hysterical performance by the “Air Force BLue Sky Children’s Art Troupe”, it is now time for a comical sketch. These sketches often contain some political messages; previous year there was a special emphasis on corrupt officials.

This sketch called “Big City, Little Love” is performed by Liu Liang, Bai Ge and Guo Jinjie. It is about a young man, a migrant worker, who lied to his wife saying he has gone to work in the city where he had a “high position.” In fact, he is a window cleaner for high buildings.

27/01 13:40
“In This Moment”

This is the older song “In this moment” (在此刻) performed by singers Hu Ge and Wang Kai (胡歌, 王凯). (Watch the show live here https://youtu.be/8Tnna8odMvA).

27/01 13:52
“Older Couple”

This second sketch of tonight has some big stars. Cai Ming (蔡明) is a singer, actress, and sketch performer notable for performing sketch comedy in CCTV New Year’s Gala since 1991 – she is known for her sharp language. Pan Changjiang also is a Chinese skit actor and sitcom actor. In his early years, he appeared regularly in the CCTV New Year’s Gala.

This sketch is called “Older Couple” and is about a man who forgot what his wife looked like until Cai comes along and pretends to be his wife. In the end it turns out that it is not him, but her who lost her memory. When she remembers – in a The Notebook kind of scene – the couple falls into each other’s arms.

27/01 13:59
Over to Liangshan

We are now moving over from Beijing’s studio to the venue in Liangshan (凉山), Sichuan province. We first see the dance ‘fire of celebration’, followed by a song titled “Deep Feelings, Long Friendship” (情深谊长). The Chinese singer performing here is named Jike Junyi or simply ‘Summer’. She is a 28-year-old singer who was born and raised in Liangshan. She is wearing traditional Yizu (彝族) minority clothing and sings about the Long March.

Summer’s performance is followed by a catchy tune by singers Li Keqin and Cai Zuoyan, who sing with some Sichuanese touch to it. The fire torches in the background are also an Yi minority tradition.

27/01 14:11
Crosstalk

We’re back in Beijing for this crosstalk (相声) scene by Gao Xiaopan and You Xiancha (高晓攀、尤宪超). Different from the other sketches (小品), crosstalk usually involves two actors with one being the “joker” and the other being the “teaser”.

Other than the other sketches, crosstalk is about word jokes and playing with rhythm and language. This particular scene is about two men looking back on their childhood, and the nostalgic things about being brought up by their grandmother. This scene, that represents some sort of collective memory, will be especially appealing to China’s post-1980s generations who were often raised by their grandparents. Apart from national unity and traditional culture, family affection is one of this year’s themes for the Spring Festival Gala. It touches a sensitive nerve for many, as it makes them think back of their own grandmother.

27/01 14:17
Wow, Li Yanchao

The next performance is a pretty stunning underwater-kind-of-scene with Chinese dancer Li Yanchao (李艳超) stealing the show. The female host says: “Let’s express the hope that in the new year, there will be more patches of grass under our feet, and more blue sky above our head.”

27/01 14:32
The Match-Making Show

This funny sketch imitates one of China’s most popular dating shows If You Are The One 非诚勿扰. They get succesfully matched, but then it turns out that they are actually a divorced couple. This is the 3rd of a total of 6 comical sketches that will be performed tonight.

The main conflict of this sketch is that the woman wants her husband’s attention, while he thinks making money is more important than being his wife’s side – a common conflict in middle-aged families in China today. Since tonight’s theme is family affection, the sketch ofcourse has a happy end with both husband and wife expressing their love for each other.

27/01 14:31
Is this show really live?

Is this really live? Yes it is. But although the Gala is a live broadcast from CCTV’s No.1 Studio, and its other venues across China, every year’s show has a taped version of the full dress rehearsal. The tape of the official rehearsal 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.

27/01 19:53
Two stars, different generations

Here are are teen idol Jason Zhang (张杰) and Mao Amin, one of China’s most famous and female pop stars of the mid-1990s. You might notice that Mao Amin’s voice is much firmer and fuller than Zhang Jie’s. In Mao Amin’s generation, most singer got popular because of their skills, not for their looks..

The set of this song is so extravagant and spectacular, that some netizens think that this year’s CCTV gala director, Yang Dongsheng, must be a big fan of Avatar the Movie.

27/01 14:48
Here’s Guilin!

We’re now moving from Beijing to Guilin in Guangxi. The event is performed near Guilin’s famous Elephant Trunk Hill, where various Taiwan and Hongkong singers are invited to sing folk songs. The first song is a well-known traditional Chinese song: the Mountain Song from the famous Chinese movie Third Sister Liu 刘三姐. The scene here seems to include fragments of Zhang Yimou’s Impressions Liu San Jie show.

27/01 14:58
Nostalgia

This year’s CCTV Gala is looking back on previous years. This is the 35th year the Gala is broadcasted, and this edition started with a look back on top hits over the past three decades. This sketch also reflects on the past of the Gala, as the actors have previously performed a sketch here in 1987. Its message is that the society today is not the same as the society of 30 years ago. It reflects on how many people are bystanders, and that few people are helping each other out.

27/01 15:04
Heroes of the Red Army

Time to honour some communist heroes – a recurring part of the CCTV New Year Gala. One of the elderlies honored here is aged 104 was around 22 years old during the Long March.

27/01 15:11
Propaganda Platform?

The Communist and military songs of last year’s Gala annoyed many netizens, who thought the Gala was merely a propaganda platform rather than a variety show. But it is a recurring part in virtually every show.

27/01 15:16
Hashtag #CCTVGALA

On Weibo, the views and comments on the hashtag #CCTVGala (#春晚#) have by now exploded, with over 13 billion views and 52 million comments.

One popular post is that from a netizen who tells she was watching the Gala and the TFBoys with her grandma on an old TV set when her grandmother asked: “Is that boy on the left not feeling well?”

27/01 15:22
Family First

It is clear that family affection is one of this year’s main topics, as all sketches revolve around family relations. This sketch deals with the relationship between children and parents in law. Instead of talking about the well-known daughter and mother in law conflicts, it talks about the relations between son and father in law. Although the father does not like his son in law, the young man is really trying to help him either way.

27/01 15:28
90 Minutes to go!

There’s still 90 minutes to go before the New Year! Main themes of the night up to now: national unity (dancing minorities!) and family affection (marriage and family harmony!).

We have already seen Liangshan and Guilin subvenues, and will still see performances from the venues in Shanghai and Harbin in the coming 1,5 hours.

Meanwhile, Weibo netizens are wondering why the actress from a sketch earlier tonight, the renowned Cai Ming, was copying Elsa from Frozen.

27/01 15:35
Chinese Opera

This is a compilation of songs, such as “One Generation to Another” (薪火相传), by various Chinese Opera performers and troupes.

27/01 19:19
Look at China

This song titled “Look at the mountains, look at the water, look at China” (看山看水看中国) by Lu Jihong and Zhang Ye (吕继宏, 张也) is an ode to China’s different landscapes. It is accompanied by a clip that shows different places in China, from the nature in the south to the big cities in the north.

27/01 16:31
Minority Sketch

This sketch called “A Tianshan Situation” (天山情) focuses on the people of the mountainous area on the border between Xinjiang and Mongolia. The act is mostly spoken in north-eastern dialect, with a slight Shanghai dialect. The sketch is about a train track project in their region that has shocked the cows due the noise, affecting their milk production. When all goes well in the narrative, the Uyghur people finally thank the Chinese Han people for saving their life and everything they have done and for saving their lives – perhaps a somewhat controversial angle…

27/01 16:05
Switching to Harbin

One of today’s subvenues is Harbin, in northern province of Heilongjiang, home to the famous Harbin Ice World. The park has dozens of enormous buildings and sculptures completely made from ice. The city is currently about -20 celcius; perfect weather for acrobatics on ice!

27/01 16:09
These are the Champions

The National Martial Arts team has arrived to the stage. These are all China’s top martial art champions. More than 60 of them, both men and women, are performing together here tonight.

27/01 16:11
Public Announcement

Every year’s CCTV Gala has a “public advertisement” (公益广告) , a movie that is often emblematic of the morals or the guidelines the Party leadership wants to emphasize for the Chinese New Year. With an audience of 700 to 800 people, the show is the perfect propaganda platform.

27/01 19:35
Dancing Pineapples

Yes. We are now watching dancing pineapples and watermelons. Always when you think it cannot get worse, it always does – as many netizens say. This is a song that encourages people to do sports and eat healthy; one of this year’s themes is also to promote good (mental and physical) health.

27/01 19:17
Trusting people

In one the night’s last comical sketches called ‘Trust’ (信任), we see famous comedian Lin Yongjian in a narrative about trusting people. On New Year’s Eve, a taxi customer wants to go upstairs to pick something up – but the taxi driver is afraid they will walk off. The customer is also afraid the driver will drive off. It is during this sketch that Olympic swimmer Fu Yuanhui, one of the most popular social media figures of 2016, pops up for a short role. She performs some tongue twisting sentences in Anhui dialect.

27/01 16:39
Honouring the Astronauts

Time to honour 11 Chinese astronauts.

27/01 19:14
Here’s Jackie Chan! But what on earth is he doing?

In this song that is simply titled “Country” (国家), Jackie Chan steps out with students from Peking University to sing about his love for China (“I love my home”) while doing a dance that entails what looks like sign language. Perhaps not really what you would expect the “kungfu master” to do.

28/01 09:23
Shanghai Dream City

Now over to Shanghai for a song by Chinese singers Coco Lee and JJ Lin about “Dream City” Shanghai. We see a futuristic scene with motors going round in a big metal round set-up in front of the iconic Pearl Tower. It is one of the most spectacular scenes of the night, comparable to that of the dancing robots in 2016.

27/01 16:56
Almost time!

It is almost time for the 12 o’clock moment! Just before we will hear a song by singers Han Lei and Tan Weiwei with what looks like a somewhat cringeworthy company of farmers, migrant workers, hospital staff and soldiers to represent “all the Chinese people.”

27/01 17:01
HAPPY NEW YEAR!

The hosts of tonight’s Gala are wishing everybody a happy Chinese New Year. And of course we at What’s on Weibo are also wishing you a happy Year of the Rooster.

27/01 19:11
“Mother China”

Just immediately after the New Year countdown, here comes a song called “Mother China” (母亲是中华).

27/01 17:11
Interlude

A little interlude clip shows Chinese abroad singing about the “Chinese feeling” (中国心). The CCTV festival is watched by millions of Chinese within the PRC, but there is also a huge viewership outside of China.

27/01 17:19
The last sketch of the night stresses national unity

The last sketch of the night is a typically southern sketch, set during the peak of the G20 Summit in Hangzhou. The story takes place in a community park, where the four protagonists have a misunderstanding. The narrative focuses on people’s good morals, and is full of Jiangsu and Zhejiang dialect.

This sketch, like the one of the “Tianshan Mountains” and the story of the Uighur herdsmen, again shows the theme of national unity.

27/01 18:16
More Family Love

“Leave the Grasslands” (离别草原) is sung by famous singer Yun Fei and the female singer Yun Duo. It is followed by another short film that stresses family affinity.

27/01 17:34
“Stop!”

In one of the last acts of the night with a foreign acrobat, the hosts speak some very clearly pronounced English sentences: “Here are the flowers!” and “Stop!” In a game where a Chinese and a foreign acrobat compete to collect as many flowers within 60 seconds, the Chinese woman wins with 16 flowers versus 15 of the foreign acrobat.

27/01 19:13
Dancing Troupe

Chinese singer Wu Tong sings the song “Deep Feelings” (一片深情) accompanied by a group of male dancers.

27/01 17:48
Unforgettable Night

The last songs of this night are “Magnificent Journey” (壮丽航程, by Yan Weiwen and Yin Xiumei) and “Unforgettable Night” (难忘今宵). The latter is sung by the 72-year-old singer and dancer Li Guyi and the 64-year-old mezzo-soprano singer Guan Mucun. Li Guyi sings the same song every year at the end of this show.

During these songs, the screen behind the dancers show images of the G20, new glass bridges, windmills, and all kinds of big projects that have been established or organized in China over the past year.

The last song ends with all performers of the Beijing venue on stage. The hosts wish everyone a happy newyear. “See you next year!”, they say.

27/01 19:10
Trending after the Gala: “Brother Smile”

Directly after the ending of the CCTV Gala, many Weibo netizens are talking about one person in the audience as observant viewers have spotted the very same man in the audience of the CCTV Gala every year since 1999. The man, who is now nicknamed ‘CCTV Gala Brother Smile’ (#春晚笑脸哥#), was again spotted in the audience tonight.

The man has gone viral over Chinese social media now. Many netizens are extremely curious about the man, wondering how he came to sit from the back of the audience to the front crowd throughout the years. Some also compliment him for not having changed much over the past 18 years.

27/01 18:13
That’s a Wrap!

This liveblog will be closing now. We hope you enjoyed the night!

– By Manya Koetse
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Sources on Chunwan

Kang, Liu. 2010. “Searching for a New Cultural Identity: China’s soft power and media culture today.” In Suijian Guo and Baogang Guo (eds), Thirty Years of China-U.S. Relations: Analytical Approaches and Contemporary Issues, 197-253. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

Scocca, Tom. 2011. Beijing Welcomes You: Unveiling the Capital City of the Future. New York: Riverhead Books.

Wang Ge. 2015. “Popular Spring Festival Gala language: Sociocultural Observations.” In Linda Tsung and Wei Wang, Contemporary Chinese Discourse and Social Practice in China, 185-200. Amsterdam/Philadelpia: John Benjamins Publishing Company.

Ying Zhu. 2012. Two Billion Eyes: The Story of China Central Television. New York: The New Press.

©2016 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Manya Koetse is the editor-in-chief of www.whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer and consultant (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends in China, with a focus on social media and digital developments, popular culture, and gender issues. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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    André Schappo

    January 28, 2017 at 1:18 am

    Actually, 难忘今宵 is growing on me and it is only the second year I have watched the CCTV New Year’s Gala????

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China Arts & Entertainment

Two Hour Time Limit for KTV: China’s Latest Covid-19 Measures Draw Online Criticism

China’s latest COVID-19 infection prevention and control measures are drawing criticism from social media users.

Manya Koetse

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First published

No more never-ending nights filled with singing and drinking at the karaoke bar for now, as new pandemic containment measures put a time limit as to how long people can stay inside entertainment locations and wangba (internet cafes).

On June 22nd, China’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism (文旅部) issued an adjusted version to earlier published guidelines on Covid-19-related prevention and control measures for theaters, internet cafes, and other indoor entertainment venues.

Some of the added regulations have become big news on Chinese social media today.

According to the latest guidelines, it will not be allowed for Chinese consumers to stay at various entertainment locations and wangba for more than two hours.

Singing and dancing entertainment venues, such as KTV bars, can only operate at no greater than 50% maximum occupancy. This also means that private karaoke rooms will be much emptier, as they will also only be able to operate at 50% capacity.

On Weibo, the news drew wide attention today, with the hashtag “KTV, Internet Cafe Time Limit of Two Hours” (#KTV网吧消费时间不得超2小时#) receiving over 220 million views at the time of writing. One news post reporting on the latest measures published on the People’s Daily Weibo account received over 7000 comments and 108,000 likes.

One popular comment, receiving over 9000 likes, criticized the current anti-coronavirus measures for entertainment locations, suggesting that dining venues – that have reopened across the country – actually pose a much greater risk than karaoke rooms due to the groups of people gathering in one space without a mask and the “saliva [drops] flying around.”

The comment, that was posted by popular comic blogger Xuexi, further argues that cinemas – that have suffered greatly from nationwide closures – are much safer, as people could wear masks inside and the maximum amount of seats could be minimized by 50%. Karaoke rooms are even safer, Xuexi writes, as the private rooms are only shared by friends or colleagues – people who don’t wear face masks around each other anyway.

Many people agree with the criticism, arguing that the latest guidelines do not make sense at all and that two hours is not nearly enough for singing songs at the karaoke bar or for playing online games at the internet cafe. Some wonder why (regular) bars are not closed instead, or why there is no two-hour time limit for their work at the office.

Most comments are about China’s cinemas, with Weibo users wondering why a karaoke bar, where people open their mouths to sing and talk, would be allowed to open, while the cinemas, where people sit quietly and watch the screen, remain closed.

Others also suggest that a two-hour limit would actually increase the number of individuals visiting one place in one night, saying that this would only increase the risks of spreading the virus.

“Where’s the scientific evidence?”, some wonder: “What’s the difference between staying there for two hours or one day?”

“As a wangba owner, this really fills me with sorrow,” one commenter writes: “Nobody cares about the financial losses we suffered over the past six months. Our landlord can’t reduce our rent. During the epidemic we fully conformed to the disease prevention measures, we haven’t opened our doors at all, and now there’s this policy. We don’t know what to do anymore.”

Among the more serious worries and fears, there are also some who are concerned about more trivial things: “There’s just no way we can eat all our food at the KTV place within a two-hour time frame!”

By Manya Koetse

*” 餐饮其实才更严重,一群人聚在一起,而且不戴口罩,唾沫横飞的。开了空调一样也是密闭空间。电影院完全可以要求必须戴口罩,而且座位可以只出售一半。KTV其实更安全,都是同事朋友的,本身在一起都不戴口罩了,在包间也无所谓。最危险的餐饮反而都不在意了”

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China Arts & Entertainment

Chinese Idol Survival Shows – The Start of a New ‘Idol Era’

Idol reality survival shows are riding a new wave of popularity in China.

Yin Lin Tan

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China has a vibrant online popular culture media environment, where new trends and genres come and go every single day. Chinese idol survival shows, however, have seen continued success and now seem to go through another major peak in popularity. What’s on Weibo’s Yin Lin explains.

On May 30, the finale of Chinese online video platform iQIYI’s Youth With You 2 (青春有你2) broke the Internet. Official videos on iQIYI’s Youtube channel garnered over 300 million views. At the time of writing, the hashtag “Youth With You 2 Finale” (#青春有你2总决赛#) has 3.15 billion views; the hashtag “Youth With You 2” (#青春有你2#) has 14.5 billion views. 

In recent years, China has produced a slew of so-called ‘idol survival shows.’ They have enjoyed much popularity among local audiences, as well as overseas—more than 393 hashtags related to Youth With You 2 trended in Asia, Europe, South America, and North America. In this overview, we explore the background, status quo, and future of China’s idol survival shows.

 

The Start of The ‘Idol Wave’ in China 

 

In China’s idol survival reality shows, so-called ‘trainees’, or aspiring idols, participate in a series of different challenges to compete for a chance to debut.

The ‘idol culture’ (偶像文化) has been dominating popular culture in Japan and South Korea for many years. An idol is, in short, a heavily commercialized multi-talented entertainer that is marketed – sometimes as a product – for image, attractiveness, and personality, either alone or with a group.

Especially K-pop and the Korean entertainment industry have since long been extremely popular among Chinese youth, heavily influencing pop culture in China today (more about Korean and Japanese idols here and here, and also read our article “Why Korean Idol Groups Got So Big in China and are Conquering the World“).

These kinds of shows are ubiquitous in South Korea’s popular culture, with Produce 101 (2016) becoming one of the most popular and successful South Korean reality series ever. 

The concept is simple. Every week, viewers vote for their favorite contestant. Trainees with insufficient votes during elimination rounds are eliminated from the competition. 

Nine Percent, the group formed from Idol Producer (Source).

The group formed from the final trainees then goes on to ‘promote’ for a period of time, usually one to two years.

This method of creating an idol group, in which the members are basically selected by their own fans, is a major way to bridge existing distances between fans and their idols. Fan participation is a key factor in the success of idol reality shows.

While China has had several idol survival shows, iQIYI’s Idol Producer (青春有你, 2018) was the first to reach levels of popularity similar to that of South Korea’s Produce 101

Idol Producer premiered in January 2018 with Zhang Yixing as the host and Li Ronghao, MC Jin, Cheng Xiao, Zhou Jieqiong, and Jackson Wang serving as mentors.

This first season of Idol Producer brought together a total of hundred trainees. Though most trainees were from China, there were a few from overseas, such as You Zhangjing from Malaysia and Huang Shuhao from Thailand. The younger brother of Chinese actress Fan Bingbing, Fan Chengcheng, also participated in the show.

The first episode of Idol Producer attracted more than 100 million views within the first hour of broadcasting. In the final episode, more than 180 million votes were cast, with first-place winner Cai Xukun raking in more than 47 million votes.  

Trainees performing on Produce 101 China (Source).

Two months after Idol Producer, Tencent launched Produce 101 China (创造101) in March 2018. Both shows marked the start of the ‘idol wave’ in China. 

In the next two years, more idol survival shows would dominate the Chinese entertainment scene. iQIYI released Youth With You 1 (青春有你) and Youth With You 2 (青春有你2) in 2019 and 2020 respectively. Tencent, too, released Produce Camp 2019 (创造营2019) and Produce Camp 2020 (创造营2020), the latter of which is currently airing. 

 

China’s New Idol Survival Show Era 

 

In 2018, both Produce 101 China and Idol Producer enjoyed overwhelming popularity, accumulating more than 4.73 billion views and 3 billion views respectively. Their sequels, however, have failed to achieve the same level of success.

At the time of writing, 150,000 viewers have completed Youth With You 1 on Chinese community site Douban, versus 470,000 viewers for its predecessor, Idol Producer. Additionally, the number of votes cast for the first episode of Youth With You 1 was much lower compared to its Idol Producer equivalent. 

The number of votes for the top 19 trainees on Idol Producer (left) versus Youth With You 1 (right) in the first episode (Source).

As for Produce 101 China, 510,000 viewers have completed the show on Douban, but only 340,000 viewers have finished watching its sequel. 

Groups formed from these shows have met with varying amounts of success and have run into problems regarding scheduling conflicts. 

Nine Percent, the boy group formed from Idol Producer in 2018, was known as a group that rarely met. Their second album was a compilation of tracks from solo members. Members had existing contracts with their own companies while simultaneously promoting with Nine Percent; hence, due to scheduling conflicts, members would often forgo Nine Percent activities for those of their own company. 

Rocket Girls from Produce 101 China. (Source)

Rocket Girls, formed from Produce 101 China, also faced problems after debuting. Due to conflicts between Tencent and their management company, Yuehua Entertainment, Meng Meiqi and Wu Xuanyi, who placed first and second respectively, left the group two months after debut.

Despite the problems faced by groups formed from such shows, some idols were able to ride on the momentum they gained from participating.

For instance, Cai Xukun, first-place winner of Idol Producer, swiftly rose to become one of the most popular trainees on the show, consistently ranking first place in every round of elimination. He was also the host of the recently concluded Youth With You 2.

Liu Yuxin obtained first place in the last episode of Youth With You 2. (Source)

Other trainees have also seen individual success. Liu Yuxin, the first-place winner of Youth With You 2, gained attention for her androgynous look: short hair, a cool personality, and wearing shorts instead of a skirt. Her hashtag “Liu Yuxin” (#刘雨昕#) has been viewed more than 550 million times on Weibo. In the final episode, she received more than 17 million votes.

Despite the lowering audience ratings for other recent idol shows, the success of Youth With You 2 might mark the start of a new ‘idol era’. Even Chinese netizens wondered why the show is so popular compared to Youth With You 1.

Just one day after the finale premiered, the hashtag “Youth With You 2 Finale” had already been viewed more than 2.2 billion times on Weibo. On Douban, 580,000 viewers have finished the show—more than any of the previous idol survival shows by iQIYI and Tencent.

 

The Future of Idol Survival Shows 

 

Chinese idol survival shows were received with much fanfare when they first entered mainstream popular culture in 2018. But the ensuing conflicts that the resulting groups ran into resulted in netizens doubting the success and effectiveness of these shows. 

Trainees from Produce Camp 2020 practicing for the theme song. Source

This year, however, the popularity of both Youth With You 2 and Produce Camp 2020 might signal a comeback for the idol era in China.

And this time around, Chinese idol survival shows are also gaining more traction outside of the PRC, becoming more and more popular among global audiences. Both Youth With You 2 and Produce Camp 2020 have been well-received by viewers from many different countries.

On social media, online commenters praise the two shows – and Chinese idol survival shows in general – for having a more “laid-back atmosphere” between the trainees and mentors. Web users also comment that they enjoy how the shows highlight the friendship between the trainees, rather than the feuds.

It seems that what sets Chinese idol survival shows apart from the South Korean ones is precisely why some viewers prefer them. The longer running times, for example, makes it possible to give more screen time to the different trainees and to give a deeper understanding of the relations between them.

Youtube comment on Episode 1 of Produce Camp 2020. Source

Youtube comment on Episode 1 of Produce Camp 2020. Source

Reddit comment on Episode 9 of Idol Producer. Source

With the popularity of idols like Liu Yuxin and Wang Ju who challenge conventional beauty standards, shows can also look into moving away from the cookie-cutter aesthetic that idols usually adhere to. 

Furthermore, management companies and broadcasting companies have to come to an agreement regarding what scheduling arrangement would benefit all parties and be conducive towards the idols’ physical and mental health. 

Selected trainees from Produce Camp 2020 took part in a photoshoot with Elle. Source

It remains to be seen whether THE9, the newly formed group from Youth With You 2, will be able to flourish in the time to come and avoid the troubles that other groups ran into. 

As for Produce Camp 2020, it seems set to enjoy just as much success as Youth With You 2 did – if not more. Only five episodes have been released, but the show’s hashtag already has 16.1 billion views.

A reviewer on Douban writes: “The trainees are all confident, taking opportunities to express themselves and actively showcase their talents. So much youthful and positive energy!” 

The latest newcomers to the idol reality show genre further consolidate the success of the format. Recently, Mango TV released Sisters Who Make Waves (乘风波浪的姐姐们, 2020), where female celebrities above 30 years old compete to make it into the final five-member girl group. The first episode was viewed more than 370 million times within the first three days of release and immediately became top trending on Weibo.

The number of survival shows in China right now and their growing popularity shows that audiences seemingly can’t get enough of the genre. It is an indication that, despite setbacks in the past, China’s idol survival reality show genre is still going strong and might be here to stay.

You can watch the currently airing Produce Camp 2020 and Sisters Who Make Waves here and here.

By Yin Lin Tan

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