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).
Liveblog (now closed) :
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
“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).
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?”
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.
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.
This is a compilation of songs, such as “One Generation to Another” (薪火相传), by various Chinese Opera performers and troupes.
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.
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…
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Honouring the Astronauts
Time to honour 11 Chinese astronauts.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
Just immediately after the New Year countdown, here comes a song called “Mother China” (母亲是中华).
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.
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.
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.
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.
Chinese singer Wu Tong sings the song “Deep Feelings” (一片深情) accompanied by a group of male dancers.
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.
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.
That’s a Wrap!
This liveblog will be closing now. We hope you enjoyed the night!
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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.
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Chinese Actor Zhao Lixin Banned from Weibo over Comments on Second Sino-Japanese War
The actor was banned for “downplaying” the Japanese aggression in China during the Second Sino-Japanese War.
The Weibo account of Zhao Lixin (赵立新, 1968) has been closed after the Chinese-Swedish actor made controversial comments on the Second Sino-Japanese War.
On April 2nd, Zhao Lixin, who had more than 7 million followers, posted a message on Weibo that questioned why the Japanese military did not pillage and destroy the Beijing Palace Museum during the Second Sino-Japanese War:
“The Japanese occupied Beijing for eight years. Why didn’t they steal relics from the Palace Museum and burn it down [during that time]? Is this in line with the nature of an invader?”
The actor also commented on the Nanjing Massacre of 1937, suggesting that it was a consequence of Chinese resistance to the Japanese invasion.
Zhao’s post led to much controversy in early April, followed by a lengthy apology statement from the actor on April 3rd, in which he said he did not phrase his comments carefully enough and that he was remorseful over the storm of criticism he had ignited. His controversial Weibo post was soon taken offline.
Many people were mostly angered because they felt Zhao’s comments “defended” the Japanese invaders. “Zhao’s permit to work in China should be terminated forever!”, some commenters posted on Weibo.
The Second Sino-Japanese War is still a highly sensitive topic in China today, with anti-Japanese sentiments often flaring up when Japan-related topics go trending on Chinese social media.
The ‘Nanjing massacre’ or ‘Rape of Nanjing’ is an especially sensitive topic within the history of the Second Sino-Japanese War, also because some Japanese politicians and scholars consistently deny it even happened, heightening the tension between the two countries. For a Chinese celebrity to seemingly ‘downplay’ the aggression and atrocities committed by Japanese invaders in the 1937-1945 period is therefore highly controversial.
Despite Zhao’s apologies, Sina Weibo issued a notice on April 16 “Relating to Harmful Political Information” (关于时政有害信息的处理公告), stating that the account of Zhao Lixin, along with some others, had been closed for spreading this kind of information.
The hashtag relating to Zhao’s social media suspension received more than 57 million views on Weibo today.
“It’s good that his account was taken down,” a popular comment said: “It’s insulting our country.” Others said that Zhao should not have posted something that is “out of line” “considering his position as an actor.”
Zhao Lixin is mainly known for his roles in TV dramas such as The Legend of Mi Yue, Memoirs In China, and In the Silence.
Zhao is not the first KOL (Key Opinion Leader) to have been banned from Weibo after making controversial remarks relating to China’s history. In 2016 the famous entrepreneur Ren Zhiqiang disappeared from Weibo after publishing various posts on his experience with communism in the past, and the status quo of media in China.
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Catharsis on Taobao? Chinese ‘All is Well’ TV Drama Fans Are Paying Up to Scold the ‘Su Family Villains’
Some netizens are getting too worked up over this hit TV drama.
The Chinese TV series All is Well (都挺好) is such a success that some people would even pay to scold the drama’s main ‘villains.’ One Taobao seller had nearly one thousand customers paying a fee this week for a special service to curse the characters they despise so much.
All is Well is a 46-episode urban TV drama that premiered on March 1st of this year on Zhejiang and Jiangsu Television. The series is based on the novel by A’nai (阿耐), who is also known for writing the super popular Ode to Joy TV drama.
All is Well tells the story of white-collar worker Su Mingyu and the conflicts within her family. The role of this daughter is played by Chinese actress Yao Chen (姚晨), one of the most popular celebrities on Weibo.
As the only daughter, Su Mingyu is the black sheep of the family and grows up feeling lonely and unloved. When her mother suddenly passes away, the Su family falls apart. The father becomes selfish and overbearing, while her brothers are also unsuccessful in keeping the family together.
The three men within the Su family have become much-hated characters on Chinese social media for their selfishness and manipulative traits. Su Mingcheng (Li Junting) is Mingyu’s older brother, Su Mingzhe (Gao Xin) is her younger brother, and Su Daqiang (Ni Dahong) is her father.
While the TV drama is a major hit, many fans seem to take pleasure in scolding the main characters. On Weibo, some netizens are changing their names into some of the Su villains, allowing others to scold them.
But there are also people who have turned the collective contempt for the Su men into a small business. On e-commerce site Taobao, one seller set up a service to “curse the Su family father and sons” (怒骂苏家三父子), charging a 0.5 yuan fee, Caijing reports.
Various Chinese media report that the seller has had at least 300 customers over the past week who could “vent their anger” about the drama’s characters. The seller would open a chat window, displaying the photo and name of one of the three despised characters, and pretending to be them. He also displays a counter that shows how many times the characters have been scolded by customers.
Other news sites report that there are at least 40 online shops selling this ‘scolding service’ to customers, with one seller allegedly serving nearly 1000 customers in one day.
The topic, under the hashtag “Online Shop Sells Service to Scold the Su Father and Sons” (#网店出售怒骂苏家三父子服务#), received nearly 100 million views on Weibo this week.
Many netizens are surprised and amused that their favorite TV drama has turned into a business opportunity for Taobao sellers. “I’m a shop seller,” one commenter says: “I give all the money to charity. I work during the day, but in the evenings I’m here for all of you!”
“Is this the rival of the Kua Kua group?”, one commenter wonders. Kua Kua groups, as we recently explained in this article, are online chat groups where people can be complimented or praised, sometimes for money. The current scolding groups, in a way, serve a similar purpose: offering netizens a way to vent their feelings and feel a bit better.
Although the cursing may provide emotional catharsis for some, others just find it really funny. “How about you give me one yuan, and I scold you?”, one commenter suggests: “It’s crazy that these type of services exist.”
- In China’s Kua Kua Groups, People Pay to be Praised
- China’s Top TV Dramas Feb/March 2019
- Classic Chinese TV Drama of All Time
By Manya Koetse
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