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CCTV’s New Year’s Gala 2016 Liveblog

It is time for the CCTV New Year’s Gala, Chunwan in short, the special annual evening variety show that captures millions of viewers on the night of Chinese New Year. Read all about the ins and outs of the 2016 edition here.

Manya Koetse

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It is time for the CCTV New Year’s Gala, Chunwan; the special annual evening variety show that captures millions of viewers on the night of Chinese New Year. What’s on Weibo provides you with the ins & outs of the 2016 Gala and its social media frenzy, with updates before, during and after the show. *After the live stream of the Gala, we have added most of the videos of all the show’s acts (yes, also the robots) into this blog so you can (re)watch them. The live blog is now closed.*

CCTV Gala Liveblog Updates Chinese Time Zone UTC+8

17:00 Three hours before the show starts! What can we expect tonight? According to the directors, it will be all about singing and dancing today; about 80% of the show’s performances are music and dance. One of the Gala’s directors, Zou Wei, tells CCTV: “We’ve come up with some innovative approaches for the song and dance numbers. We’ll also be moving and changing the stage a lot. The audience will get a very refreshing take. Ninety percent of the song and dance programs are newly created; the remaining 10 percent are a salute to the gala’s past classics.” Besides dance and music, there will also be acrobatic performances and comedy sketches (‘crosstalk’).

17:30 2,5 hours to go. The theme of this year’s CCTV Gala is “You and Me, Our Chinese Dream – Building a Moderately Prosperous Society”. Every year the Gala has a different theme. Last year’s theme was “Family Harmony Yields Success”. The CCTV Gala is known for its political messages, as it is a way for the government to reach an audience of millions.

18:30 There will be a total of 37 acts in tonight’s gala. Amongst the performers are many veterans who have performed at the Gala before, but there are also newcomers, such as the TFBOYS, one of China’s most popular pop groups – they will be performing at the show for the first time. They have a fanbase of nearly 7.5 million on their official Weibo account.

18:45 The TFboys are in the building! The three boys looked somewhat nervous as they entered the Gala venue earlier today. The popular boy band will perform in tonight’s during the show as the 5th act. They told the host their families have all come to Beijing to celebrate the New Year together, eating and exchanging hongbao (red envelopes). When the host asked them how much money was in the hongbao they received from their parents, they did not really want to answer. They might be the ones giving their parents hongbao now..

tfboys

19:00 One hour to go! This year’s gala will be extra special, because it has four extra venues apart from the main one at the CCTV Beijing studio. The additional venues are in southeast China’s Quanzhou city, northwest China’s Xi’an city, south China’s Guangzhou city and Hulun Buir city in Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, representing the east, west, south and north of China: a gathering of the whole country.

19:30 Just thirty minutes before the start of the show. Tonight’s Gala will be presented by well-known CCTV faces. In the Beijing main venue the gala will be hosted by a total of six presenters, three men and three women, namely: Zhou Tao (周涛), Zhu Jun (朱军), Dong Qing (董卿), Sa Beining (撒贝宁), Li Sisi (李思思) and Nigel Amat. All of them presented the CCTV Gala before, the 51-year-old Mr. Zhu Jun has hosted the gala since 1997. The other venues in Xi’an, Guangzhou, Hulun Buir and Quanzhou will be hosted by, amongst others, Zhu Xun, Ma Yue, Li Jiaming and Ren Luyu, along with some newcomers from local TV stations.

19:50 The biggest show of the year is about to start! The chief director of today’s show is Lu Yitao. Just 38 years old, he is the youngest chief director of the Spring Festival Gala ever.

20:00 Here we go. The opening act is a dance performance called “Spring brings Good Fortune” by, amongst others, actress Yan Ni (闫妮, dressed in blue) and other movie stars. The dancers in the background just formed the shape of ‘fu’, the character for prosperity. The hosts of the night welcome the audiences to CCTV’s 2016 Spring Festival Gala.

20:15 Zhou Tao and Zhu Jun are the first hosts to welcome everybody. They represent the older CCTV generation, having presented the Gala multiple times since 1997.

The CCTV Gala is an annual event since 1983. This year is extra special for the several venues where the Gala is aired: Quanzhou city, Xi’an city, Guangzhou city and Hulun Buir city. Every city has its own hosts, welcoming the audiences in their own local dialect or language.

The second act tonight is a joined act by the two famous bands Phoenix Legend and Jiuye Qiji (玖月奇迹), who sing about “A Beautiful China Rises” (美丽中国走起来). Most of the songs presented tonight are new works made for the CCTV Gala. The performers on the left are the musical performers named ‘Phoenix Legend’, the right band is Jiuye Qiyi.

20.20 Most of the performances tonight are dance and singing, but there will be a total of 7 spoken acts. This short sketch is called ‘Happy grandpa’, performed by Feng Gong (冯巩) who is a familiar face at the CCTV Gala. The sketch is about spending New Year’s Eve, although some netizens seem to have no clue what it was actually about..

20.30 “Let’s Follow the Path of Peace” is a song sung by Chinese singer Zhang Ye (张也, 47 years old). She is especially famous in China for her song “Into a New Era” (走进新时代).

In the meantime, the Gala has become the number one trending topic on Weibo, together with the TFboys, who will soon perform in the show.

20.40 Time to shake your mobile phone! Viewers of the Gala can shake their smartphones to grab a hongbao (red envelope) from CCTV. This is a game that was first introduced last year as a cooperation between WeChat and CCTV.

Here we go for the much-anticipated act of the TFBoys. Aged around 13/14 years old, they are one of China’s most popular acts, often becoming a trending topic on Weibo. They perform together with Yueliang Jiejie, presenter of a children’s show. They are accompanied by dancing cartoons – all China-made.

I am not sure if everybody heard it, but during their act the sound went terribly off during the live broadcast.

20.50 The sixth act of the evening is a short sketch called “Don’t worry” by Sun Tao and other actors about scamming practices per phone in China, and people being oversensitive to being afraid of people cheating you- even when they are not. This act, that is liked by most netizens, is followed by a special performance by different singers from Mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan who sing about the ecological heritage of China in the song “Beautiful mountains and rivers of China” (山水中国美). Some of the singers sing in their local dialect. The woman in yellow is the famous Gigi Leung from Hong Kong.

During the show, there seem to be some problems with the sound system. If things would really go wrong, the 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. We would probably not even know if we were watching the live or the taped version!

21.10 The 8th act of the night will not be performed in the Beijing main location, but in southeast China’s Quanzhou city. It is a song called “Happy Thought of You” (快乐想念). The dancing puppets are typical for the region.

This performance is followed by a quite stunning dance act by the Atlanta Morningstar dance school by overseas Chinese.

21.30 2.5 hours to go until Chinese New Year! We first see a short film followed by the 11th act; one of the few short sketches of the night called “The General and the Soldiers”. The video of marching troops and the sketch about China’s troops and army life in preparation for the 2015 parade show a strong China. One of the actors is the famous actor Hou Yong (Weibo), who has performed at the Gala two times before. In the sketch, roles are reversed as the soldier teaches the general how to do it right – suggesting equality amongst the people of different positions and sending out a clear message to corrupt officials: don’t forget to be a good communist.

Presenter Dong Qing, in a beautiful red dress, honors China’s veterans, with one old veteran being honored on stage.

21.45 Singer Lei Jia (雷佳) performs the song “I want to tell you” (多想对你说). According to the CCTV, it has always been her dream to perform at the Gala. Her dream has already become a reality multiple times, as she has become a familiar face in the show. The song has been specially produced for the Gala. In the background, we see 55 different ethnic minorities of China in traditional dress, a recurring feature of the annual Chunwan.

The 13th act of the night takes place in Xi’an, one of the four alternate locations where the Gala is taking place tonight. Impressive drums, similar to what we saw during the opening act of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, are followed by the song “The Silk Road”, promoting the success of China’s Go West policy.

The only piece of Chinese opera in this year’s show is part of the Journey to the West (act number 14), in which the main character is the Monkey King.

pekingopera

22:00 We have arrived at the 15th act, are you still awake?! Two more hours before New Year’s! This act is shown as a part of showcasing Chinese cultural heritage, introducing the loud Huayin singing style (华阴老腔) at the Gala, with main performances by the pretty Tan Weiwei (谭维维) and Zhang Ximin (张喜民). The 34-year old Tan was the runner-up of the third season of Super Girl, a popular singing contest in China.

22.15 The next act is one of the seven spoken acts of the night, a comical skit about a courier played by several well-known actors.

Meanwhile, complaints about the show are pouring in through social media. 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. One of the current critiques is that Liu Xiao Ling Tong (六小龄童, see photo below), the most famous performer of the Monkey King, was not invited to participate in the Journey to the West act.

monkey

22:25 “Father and Son” (父子) is supposed to strike the audience’s emotional chord tonight. Singer Yang Yang is one of the more popular acts of the night, attracting younger audiences to watch the show, together with the TFboys. Yang Yang has become especially popular over the last two years. Here, he sings together with famous singer Tong Tiexin. The song is followed by a “public welfare commercial” (公益广告) about the bond between father and son.
*FYI: We are supposed to reflect on our lives and cry here*

22:35 This is the only martial arts act of the night by Donnie Yen or Zhen Zidan (甄子丹) and the Shandong martial arts group. Donnie Yen is a famous Hong Kong actor and martial artist.

 

donny

22.45 Amazing display of communist nostalgia during the 20th act of the night, with a performance of different revolutionary songs including the old ‘Without the Communist Party, There is No New China’ (没有共产党就没有新中国), ‘The Bright Red Flowers of Shandan’ (山丹丹花开红艳艳) and ‘The Motherland’ (我祖国). Although the majority of tonight’s compositions are new songs, these are old songs that most Chinese will be very familiar with, especially those growing up during the cultural revolution.

awhatsonweibo

awhatson

22.50 We have moved from Beijing to Guangzhou for the 21st act of the CCTV Gala. Together with Quanzhou city, Xi’an city and Hulun Buir city, Guangzhou is one of the different alternate venues from which the show is broadcasted this year.

Don’t ask me why, but singer Sun Nan (孙楠) is now performing his song together with 540 dancing robots. He sings about the future ahead – this reinforces the image of Guangdong as the home of China’s tech startups.

robot

23.00 While the noise of fireworks and crackers is starting to fill the streets all over China, we are seeing the only acrobatic act of tonight, performed by Li Tong and the Dengfeng Shaolin college.

23.15 In the final hour of the New Year’s Gala, there are some very famous performers on stage. In this comical sketch, we see actor Donglin Guo (郭冬临) – a Chinese actor and xiangsheng (comic dialogue) performer who always performs in the annual Gala. He has made appearances ever since the 1993 edition. The sketch is about 50,000 yuan that has ‘miraculously’ appeared on Donglin’s bank account, after which his wife accuses people of putting it there for favours. But then their daughters friend appears, and it turns out Donglin lend him money as he was setting up a software company, and this is the money he returned to him. This turns Donglin from a possible corrupt official into a good guy government official who believes in the future of China’s youth.

The comic dialogue is followed by one the night’s many dance performances. This one is title “In Your Embrace” by famous Uyghur dancer Mahire Emet (马依热·艾买提江). The dancers are dressed in traditional clothing, showcasing China’s many colorful & cheerful ethnic minority groups. They just seem to always be happy. It sometimes reminds me of Disneyland’s “It’s a small world after all…”

happywhatsonweibo

23.30 The last venue of the night is Inner Mongolia’s Hulun Buir city, where we see the hosts dressed in local traditional clothing and speaking some of the local language. It is interesting to see the contrast between the venue cities tonight, where some, such as Hulun Buit, are portrayed as being very ‘ethnical’ and others, such as Guangzhou (with the robots), is showcased as very modern, trendy and technical.

The act is followed by a performance of the famous Vicky Zhao. She is one of the bigger stars of tonight’s Gala. She is a Chinese actress, pop singer, and film director. An incredibly popular actress in various top TV shows in China, she is considered one of the top four actresses in China and is one of the most famous Weibo celebrities; she has over 73 million followers!

23.40 We have arrived at the 27th act of the night, and there are just twenty minutes left before the Year of the Monkey starts. Chen Sisi (陈思思) sings ‘Snow Love’ with performers from the Beijing Sports Academy – this, according to the hosts, is in honor of Beijing being the first city to host both the Summer and the Winter Olympics (2022).

23.45 This is the last spoken sketch for tonight, only followed by a xiangsheng (comic dialogue) just before the end of the show. This sketch is about internet shopping, and features Chinese skit actor Pan Changjiang. In his early years, he regularly appeared in the Gala.

23.55 Almost time for the New Year! The hosts first list all the country embassies wishing China a happy new year, before Yin Xiumei (殷秀梅) sings the song ‘Honor & Glory’: a moment to reflect on China, the great nation, and its leaders. In the video behind the singer, we see Mao Zedong and other leaders, with special focus on ‘Daddy Xi’.

mao edong

honor

chunyun

0.00 Happy new year! The hosts wish everybody a Happy Year of the Monkey (and so does What’s on Weibo).

0.05 The New Year is welcomed with the song “Meeting Spring” by various famous singers such as the famous baritone Liao Changyong. The song is immediately followed by one of the evening’s “public welfare commercials”, in which the importance of family ties is emphasized – part of the China dream.

0.10 A young man named ‘Yif’ is tonight’s magician. Yif also seems to have done some magic on his own face. He is a professional magician from Taiwan. On his official Weibo account, he told his fans that he was incredibly nervous for tonight’s performance, as it is the first time he appears on the CCTV Gala.

yif

The Gala’s hosts Zhu Jun and Zhou Tao announce the next act, which is a xiangsheng act. Xiangsheng, also known as ‘crosstalk’, is a traditional comic dialogue, which is mostly performed as a dialogue between two performers (in this case, by Li Yinfei 李寅飞 and Li Ding 李丁). The focus is on language jokes, which are sometimes hard to grasp for a laowai like myself. It is one of China’s most popular performing arts, and is typically performed in the Beijing accent. Some Chinese media wrote about the fact that this year’s Gala only features one xiangsheng act, as there previously were more. This year, the focus of the evening clearly is on song and dance.

0.20 We are nearing the end of the show, but not before the show puts more emphasis on the Gala’s theme: “You and Me, Our Chinese Dream – Building a Moderately Prosperous Society”. This song, titled “Small and Big Dreams” is sung by Wang Zineng and Ping An.

0.35 The last two acts of the night are the songs “Lucky Lucky” and “Unforgettable Night”. The first is sung by Sa Dingding 萨顶顶 who is joined by a dancing group from Yunnan.

The last song of the night is performed by various performers, bringing together some of the country’s major celebrities from different generations including the 71-year-old folk singer Li Guyi (李谷一) and the 8-year-old child star Zhou Anxin (周安信). They conclude the night with a song about their good homeland China. The hosts wish you all a happy new year.

child

0.45 That’s a wrap – happy new year 新年快乐!

About the Gala

The CCTV New Year’s Gala (中国中央电视台春节联欢晚会 or Chunwan 春晚) is an annual live television event that is broadcasted by state enterprise CCTV on the evening of Chinese New Year. It has been broadcasted since 1983, and is watched by over 700 million people. It is the most-watched variety shows in the world and is much anticipated every year – somewhat comparable to the Oscars or the Super Bowl. The Gala features different acts, 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. It is also 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 (Wang 2015, 192).

The 2016 Edition

This is the 34th edition of Chunwan (February 7th, 2016). This year the show lasts a total of 4 hours and 18 minutes, starting on 20.00 and ending 00.18.

This year’s show, like last year’s, has its own mascot. As this will be the Year of the Monkey, it is a colorful monkey named Kang Kang. The mascot was revealed on CCTV’s Weibo account on the evening of January 21st. The mascot was ridiculed by netizens, who thought it was ugly. The 3D design (image below, on the right) was different from the original sketch (left). According to the majority of Weibo’s netizens, the designers of the 3D version had mistaken Kang Kang’s paws for balls, resulting in a Kangkang with ‘tumors on his ears’.

whatsonweibokangkang

The current version of Kang Kang as pictured below has been adjusted; he no longer has ‘tumors’ growing from his head.

kangkangwhatsonweibo

Social Media

Chunwan is a hot topic on Sina Weibo and WeChat, as millions of people are watching and share their comments on the show through social media. The Gala’s official Weibo account has over 7,5 million followers. Sina Entertainment (17+ million followers) also writes about the show through their official Weibo account.

One important new feature of the show that links it to social media platforms is the exchange of hongbao, red envelopes with money, which is a Chinese New Year’s tradition (also read our article about Lucky Money). During the show, viewers are able to receive virtual hongbao by shaking their smartphones. This new cooperation between the CCTV Gala and the WeChat app first started in 2015. Last year, when the game was announced during the live broadcast, WeChat users shook their phones 11 billion times. The value of these monetary gifts was around 500 million RMB (76 million US dollar).

The hongbao game attracts more people to watch the show, which is often considered boring or old-fashioned by younger generations. This year the game will start again, increasing the Gala’s viewer ratings. One Weibo netizen comments: “Actually, there are many people who want to watch the Gala now. The reason is simple: it’s not for the show but for the red envelopes.”

The Live Show

Although the Gala is a live broadcast from CCTV’s No.1 Studio, every year’s show has a taped version of the full dress rehearsal. As described by Scocca (2011), 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.

According to the CCTV, the committee members of the Politburo of the Communist Party of China already attended the full dress rehearsal on Friday night.

Please check out this blog on Sunday, February 7th, from 19.00 China Standard Time (CST) +0800 UTC (12.00 CET) for more information about the show and its programme. New updates will be added on the top of this page.

By Manya Koetse

References

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.

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

Featured image from ZZM3.com: http://www.zzm3.com/gear/rs/457.html

©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.

7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Joey

    February 8, 2016 at 12:52 pm

    Is it possible to publish a reverse version of the article? For those who want to read the liveblog after the fact 🙂 Now you have to go all the way down and scroll up.

  2. Manya Koetse

    Manya Koetse

    February 8, 2016 at 12:54 pm

    Ok Joey, check back in about an hour.

  3. Avatar

    Joe

    February 8, 2016 at 5:52 pm

    Thank you so much for this!!!

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China Celebs

Chinese Social Media Users Stand up Against Body Shaming

Manya Koetse

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Recent photos of famous actress Gong Li that showed her curvier figure have gone viral on Sina Weibo, receiving over 850 million clicks. With Gong Li’s weight gain becoming all the talk on Weibo, the public’s focus on her appearance has sparked an online wave of body positivity posts, with web users rejecting the all-too-common phenomenon of body shaming on Chinese social media.

First, there was the ‘A4 Waist‘ hype, then there was the ‘iPhone6 Legs‘ trend, the ‘belly button backhand,’ and the online challenge of putting coins in your collarbone to show off how thin you are (锁骨放硬币). Over the past five years, China has seen multiple social media trends that propagated a thin figure as the ruling beauty standard.

But now a different kind of trend is hitting Weibo’s hotlists: one that rejects body shaming and promotes the acceptance of a greater diversity in body sizes and shapes in China.

On August 26, Weibo user @_HYIII_ from Shanghai posted several pictures, writing:

Reject body shaming! Why should we all have the same figure? Tall or short, thin or fat, all have their own characteristics. Embrace yourself, and show off your own unique beauty!

The post was soon shared over 900 times, receiving more than 32,000 likes, with the “body shame” phrase soon reaching the top keyword trending list of Sina Weibo.

 

Gong Li Weight Gain

 

The body positivity post by ‘_HYIII_’ is going viral on the same day that the apparent weight gain of Chinese actress Gong Li (巩俐) is attracting major attention on Chinese social media platforms such as Weibo and Douyin.

The 54-year-old actress, who is known for starring in famous movies such as Farewell My Concubine, To Live, and Memoirs of a Geisha, was spotted taking a walk with her husband in France on August 24. The photos went viral, with media outlets such as Sina Entertainment noting how Gong Li had become “much rounder” and had put on some “happy fat” (幸福肥).

By now, the hashtag page “Gong Li’s Figure” (#巩俐身材#) has received more than 850 million (!) views on Weibo, with thousands of people commenting on the appearance of the actress. In the comment sections, there were many who lashed out against the focus on Gong Li’s weight gain.

“She just has a regular female body shape. Stop using ‘white / skinny / young’ as the main beauty standard to assess other people,” one commenter said, with another person writing: “Why do you all keep focusing on her figure, did she steal your rice and eat it?!”

 

“Why do you all keep focusing on her figure, did she steal your rice and eat it?”

 

Some people suggested that the COVID19 pandemic might have to do with Gong Li’s weight gain, with others writing: “If she is healthy is what matters, skinny or fat is not the way to assess her beauty.”

What stands out from the discussions flooding social media at this time, is that a majority of web users seem to be fed up with the fact that a skinny body is the common standard of women’s beauty in China today – and that accomplished and talented women such as Gong Li are still judged by the size of their waist.

 

Say No to Body Shaming

 

In light of the controversy surrounding Gong Li’s recent photos and the following discussions, posts on ‘body shaming’ (身材羞辱) are now flooding Weibo, with many Weibo users calling on people to “reject body shaming” (拒绝#body shame#) and to stop imposing strict beauty standards upon Chinese women.

The pressure to be thin, whether it comes from the media or from others within one’s social circle, is very real and can seriously affect one’s self-esteem. Various studies have found an association between body dissatisfaction and social pressure to be thin and body shaming in Chinese adolescents and young adults (Yan et al 2018).

The main message in this recent Weibo grassroots campaign against body shaming, is that there are many ways in which women can be beautiful and that their beauty should not be merely defined by limited views on the ideal weight, height, or skin color.

Over the past decades, women’s beauty ideals have undergone drastic changes in China, where there has been a traditional preference for “round faces” and “plump bodies.” In today’s society, thin bodies, sharp faces, and a pointy chin are usually regarded as the standard of female ideal beauty (Jung 2018, 68). China’s most popular photo apps, such as Meitu or Pitu, often also include features to make one’s face pointier or one’s legs more skinny.

This is not the first time Weibo sees a growing trend of women opposing strict beauty standards. Although the word ‘body shaming’ has not often been included in previous trends, there have been major trends of women opposing popular skinny challenges and even one social media campaign in which young women showed their hairy armpits to trigger discussions on China’s female aesthetics.

Especially in times of a pandemic, many netizens now stress the importance of health: “Skinny or fat, it really doesn’t matter how much you weigh, as long as you’re healthy – that’s what counts.”

Also read:

 

By Manya Koetse

 

References

Jung, Jaehee. 2018. “Young Women’s Perceptions of Traditional and Contemporary Female Beauty Ideals in China.” Family and Consumer Sciences Research Journal 47 (1): 56-72.

Yan, Hanyi ; Wu, Yingru ; Oniffrey, Theresa ; Brinkley, Jason ; Zhang, Rui ; Zhang, Xinge ; Wang, Yueqiao ; Chen, Guoxun ; Li, Rui ; Moore, Justin. 2018. “Body Weight Misperception and Its Association with Unhealthy Eating Behaviors among Adolescents in China.” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 15 (5): 936.

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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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