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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.* [Premium content]

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 founder and editor-in-chief of whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer, public speaker, and researcher (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends, digital developments, and new media in an ever-changing China, with a focus on Chinese society, pop culture, and gender issues. She shares her love for hotpot on hotpotambassador.com. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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4 Comments

4 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

Gu’s Year: How Eileen Gu Became a Beloved Icon and Controversial Role Model in China

Patriotic, privileged, perfect? A year after Eileen Gu became an online sensation in China, she is still generating discussions.

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Eileen Gu, the American-born freestyle skier and gold medallist who represented China in the 2022 Beijing Olympics, has made headlines again for her excellent halfpipe World Cup performance during the Chinese New Year. One year after Gu first became an internet sensation, she is, once again, receiving praise and triggering discussions on Chinese social media.

This Chinese Lunar New Year, the three Chinese Winter Olympic athletes Wu Dajing, Xu Mengtao, and Gao Tingyu, were widely discussed on Chinese social media after their debut at the CGM Spring Festival Gala.

Over 8000 kilometers away, another Winter Olympic athlete, Eileen Gu – better known as Gu Ailing 谷爱凌 in China, – also garnered huge attention for her excellent performance at the Calgary halfpipe World Cup. Just as people were celebrating the Chinese New Year, Eileen Gu claimed her second gold medal at the FIS Freeski World Cup.

It has almost been a year since the then-18-year-old Chinese-American freestyle skier grabbed gold at the Olympics and became front-page news in China.

Although Gu already garnered attention online when she announced in June of 2019 that she would switch national affiliation and compete for China, it wasn’t until the Olympics that she appeared all over social media, was featured in dozens of ad campaigns, and practically became a household name in China.

Now, in light of the FIS Snowboard World Cup and the X Games in Aspen, Gu is back in the limelight.

On January 21st, the first day of the Year of the Rabbit, Chinese state broadcaster CCTV celebrated Gu’s victory on social media using the hashtag “Eileen Gu Claims Two Golds within Three Days during the New Year Celebrations” (#谷爱凌过年3天2金#), with a two- minute video clip recording the highlights of her recent race. The hashtag has since received over 180 million views.

Gu herself also shared her victory on Weibo and wished people a prosperous New Year. That post attracted over 110,000 likes.

Many Chinese people celebrated Gu’s new achievements with words of admiration, praising her capabilities and determination. One Weibo user commented: “I have to say, Gu Ailing is truly excellent. Three days, two medals. She has an indisputable talent.”

Another user posted a video of Gu practicing while waiting for her flight and commented: “A healthy, energetic, diligent, excellent Gu Ailing who even continues training while waiting for boarding. Success doesn’t come overnight.”

Others also view Gu as a national icon for her gold medal wins for China. The phrase “wèi guó zhēngguāng” (“为国争光”), “winning glory for the country,” appeared in many posts under the hashtag related to Gu’s win.

But over the past year, since Gu’s Olympic success, she has not always merely been viewed as a patriotic hero. Despite her popularity, Gu also triggered controversy and sometimes came under fire, with some wondering if she truly was patriotic and others blaming her for being privileged.

 

PATRIOTIC

Everybody knows Eileen Gu is Chinese

 

During the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, the fact that Gu had switched her international allegiance and represented China instead of the US instilled pride among many Chinese. Chinese media flooded with stories on Gu that focused on the narrative of the multi-talented “mixed kid” who gave up her United States citizenship to represent the People’s Republic of China.

However, when being asked about her citizenship in interviews, Gu’s replies left many people wondering about the facts of the matter; they wanted to know whether or not Gu actually gave up her American passport, as China does not recognize dual nationality. Gu’s response “I’m American when in the US and Chinese when in China” triggered dissatisfaction among Chinese audiences.

“I have stopped liking her since she said that,” one Weibo user reflected in December 2022, and the post received 35,000 likes. To this day, there are many social media comments bringing up Gu’s comment: “You’re in America, so now you’re American, right?”

Others also attacked Gu after Forbes listed her as the third highest-paid female athlete in the world in 2022 (#谷爱凌年收入1.4亿#). Some commenters argued that she had earned her money in China and was spending it in the US, and that she was unpatriotic for doing so.

However, some netizens defended Gu by stressing what she had done for China. In Weibo posts and comment threads, users supporting Gu wrote: “She won two gold medals and more for China, what did your patriotism contribute to China?” Others also said Gu had shown her love for China through her performances, and that it would be impossible to expect her to distance herself from the country she grew up in.

Meanwhile, Western media outlets described how the bi-lingual Gu had been “dodging” explicit questions about her US citizenship status. This also led to Gu getting attacked by Americans. When Gu returned to the US and enrolled in Stanford University, there was even an online petition about getting Gu’s admittance to Stanford revoked due to Gu’s supposed “lack of integrity about her nationality” and indifference to “the human rights violations” in China.

Among Chinese netizens, questions also rose about whether Gu had only represented China during the Olympics and if her return to the US might mean that she would give up her Chinese nationality and play for the US team instead.

But with Gu’s debut at the FIS Freeski World Cup in the Year of the Rabbit, Chinese bloggers pointed out that Gu’s nationality was still listed as Chinese.

“No matter where she is, Gu Ailing still has the Chinese nationality,” one Weibo blogger wrote, with others also saying: “She is still representing China, we should all support her! The rumors about her changing nationalities are false!”

“Everybody knows Eileen Gu is Chinese,” another social media user wrote.

But not everybody is convinced: “Don’t fool yourself. I’m happy she helped China win gold, but dual citizenship is dual citizenship, there’s no point in covering it up.”

 

PRIVILEGED

Gu’s success is unrelated to normal people

 

Another discussion that has flared up during Eileen Gu’s past year of success is focused on her alleged privileged status, especially within the context of her being praised as a role model for Chinese (female) younger generations.

In February of 2022, an Instagram comment made by Gu regarding the use of VPNs in China caused some controversy. At the time, one person asked Gu about “internet freedom” in China and how it was possible for her to use Instagram while she was in China, where the platform is blocked. Gu then replied: “Anyone can download a vpn its literally free on the App Store [thumbs up]”

A screenshot of the exchange then circulated on Weibo, where many netizens were surprised about Gu’s statement. VPNs are generally not available on app stores in mainland China, as there are numerous restrictions on virtual private networks (VPNs) which are commonly used to browse websites or apps that are otherwise blocked in China.

Gu was then criticized over the fact that she seemed unaware of the restrictions on VPNs along with her suggestion that ‘internet freedom’ only referred to the accessibility of foreign platforms, allegedly showing her privileged position.

After Gu enrolled in Stanford University and posted her all-A transcript of the first semester at the end of 2022, many praised her hard work but there was also criticism about her “showing off” and strategically choosing a supposedly easier curriculum.

“She posted it to impress Chinese people who do not understand the system,” one person commented, with others replying that an “S” grade does not equal full points and that she had no A+ grades. Others claimed that Gu probably received help with her schoolwork.

Gu’s Weibo post at the end of 2022 reviewing her achievement of the year, including her transcript of the first semester at Stanford University.

As online discussions intensified (#谷爱凌斯坦福所有课程全部满分#), Gu herself responded to online criticism, stressing that she – without anybody’s help – had worked hard for her grades and that only 5% of students can get an A at Stanford.

The idea that Gu comes from a very privileged background and that it is not just her diligence that brought her success is a recurring one on social media.

Gu was raised by her Chinese mother, a molecular biology graduate who studied at Peking University and Stanford University and who used to be a speed skating athlete as well as a part-time coach at Peking University. She allegedly worked at Wall Street and later became a CEO of a risk investment company. Her grandmother, a former official at China’s Ministry of Transport, was a university basketball player, while her grandfather was a soccer player at school who was also good at swimming, skiing, and skating. Her family members’ background is exceptional. University students were rare among Gu’s grandparents’ generation, and studying abroad was also uncommon for her mother’s generation.

As people believe that this family background has largely contributed to Gu’s success, Gu’s position as a “role model” is questioned.

“Gu’s success is unrelated to normal people,” one Weibo user wrote. “What is the meaning of having this kind of role model? I have no parents from the Ivy League, no pretty face of mixed race, no elite education from the mix of Chinese and American cultures, no exceptional family background, and even no talent,” one Zhihu user wrote.

“Gu started skiing at three years old, and practiced running, basketball, piano, and ballet soon after; I started playing in the mud at three years old and I can still only play in the mud,” another user wrote. “Gu’s mother meticulously planned Gu’s life, but my mother could hardly spare any time for me while she was working.”

 

PERFECT

Congratulations, Little Gu, you’re the greatest!

 

Amid all the online discussions surrounding Eileen Gu, there is the view that people have not necessarily grown tired of Gu herself but of the (online) media narratives surrounding her which present her as the perfect daughter, the perfect athlete, or the perfect role model.

Some people admit that they feel jealous or say that they feel it is unfair because they feel they could never reach that standard.

One article published by The Paper in 2022 reiterated the popular view that Gu’s success “has nothing to do with ordinary people” (“谷爱凌的成功与普通人没啥关系”), but argued that people should draw inspiration from her story rather than focusing on all the aspects of her life that are unattainable to them.

A commentary by PLA Daily also argued that Olympic athletes should not be turned into “gods” for their overnight success; neither should they be vilified because of their shortcomings. It’s not about the pursuit of perfection, the author wrote, but about facing up to one’s own shortcomings.

There are also those who remind others that Gu is still a teenager. Not only have some of the controversies over the past year shown that Gu is not “perfect,” they also showed that fame is a double-edged sword.

As one netizen put it: “Success can be magnified to an extreme, and mistakes can be enlarged without boundaries (..) She’ll be carefully walking on the sharp edge of the sword because if she does something that does not conform to what people expect of her, the same people who praise you today will step on you tomorrow.”

Meanwhile, many Chinese fans of Eileen Gu have had it with those leaving “sour comments.” “She is representing China, she snatched gold, your empty ‘patriotism’ is contributing nothing!”

“Congratulations, Little Gu, you’re the greatest!” some say: “You did a good job, and we’re proud of you.”

By Zilan Qian and Manya Koetse

 

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China Arts & Entertainment

Top 5: The Highlights of China’s 2023 CGM Spring Festival Gala

From satire to tear-jerking songs, these are five favorite performances of the 2023 Chinese ‘Chunwan’ Spring Festival Gala.

Manya Koetse

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On January 21, China’s annual Spring Festival Gala was aired, welcoming the Year of the Rabbit. Better known as the ‘Chunwan’ (春晚, short for 春节联欢晚会), the annual Chinese New Year’s show hosted by the China Media Group has a massive viewership and plays an important role in China’s media landscape and the Chinese New Year tradition.

The show lasted for more than four hours and included forty different acts, from songs to comical plays and acrobatic performances.

As every year, the show became a top trending topic on Chinese social media and afterward, with people discussing their most favorite and least favorite acts of the night in various threads on Weibo (#你最喜欢哪个春晚节目#).

What is noteworthy is that the parts of the show many expressed they loved the most were not necessarily the most spectacular acts, like the acrobatic or martial arts ones, but the most relatable and traditional ones.

Overall, this year’s Gala was also less focused on enormous spectacles such as those we’ve seen in the past (like the 540 dancing robots one), but instead focused on themes such as family, flowers, classical culture and common people, while using various innovative technologies to bring a super-modern and festive vibe to the more traditional performances. Instead of showing performances from various venues across the country, as in previous pre-Covid years, the entire show took place at the main CCTV Studio in Beijing.

For an overview of the entire show, check out our liveblog here. The following five performances/programs are among those that are mentioned the most by social media users as their favorite parts of the show.

 

#1 Comical Skit “Pit” (坑)

The comical skit that received the most attention on Chinese social media was one titled “Hole” or “Pit” (坑). The act featured Chinese comedian Shen Teng (沈腾), actress Ma Li (马丽), the multi-talented Chang Yuan (常远), and actors Ai Lun (艾伦), Song Yuan (宋阳), and Yu Jian (于健).

The short comical play is about a local authority office and their delay in fixing a hole in the road that has been there for months without anybody doing anything about it, despite it forming a danger to children, the elderly, and everybody else.

The skit is about the local official Mr. Hao (郝主任) of the transport office who has been evading his responsibilities and is shifting the blame to others. When Ms. Ma comes to the office to complain about the hole in the street, Hao does not realize she is actually the new office director until it is too late.

The skit was praised for being in sync with the times, and many commenters felt it was a “real” and “bold” way to criticize local officials who care more about their own positions than looking after people. One hashtag about the comical skit received over 97 million views on Weibo (#沈腾马丽小品坑完整版#).

See this performance here.

 

#2 Garden Full of Flowers (满庭芳·国色)

This stunning performance is called “Courtyard of Beauty, Colors of A Nation” (满庭芳·国色). Chinese actress Zhao Liying (赵丽颖) is the main singer, and she was joined on stage by the talented performers Tang Shiyi (唐诗逸), Wang Nianci (王念慈), Jiang Aidong (姜爱东), Li Yiran (李祎然), and Su Hailu (苏海陆).

The power of this performance mostly lies in how it combines Chinese traditional culture with modern technologies (such as VR, XR), which were a major part of the Gala’s stage this year. Chinese traditional instruments, melodies, customs, ink painting, and colors are combined with modern lights, shadow technology, and an innovative virtual presentation.

The performance is very popular on Chinese social media, where most agreed that the color explosions on screen (pink, cream, yellow/orange, blue, brown) were just really beautiful.

See this performance here.

 

#3 It’s Mother and Daughter (是妈妈是女儿)

Some people in the audience teared up during this song titled “It’s Mother and Daughter” (是妈妈是女儿), and many netizens also wrote that the song struck a chord with them. The song was composed by Qian Lei (钱雷) and the lyrics are by Tang Tian (唐恬).

The song tells the story of a mother and a daughter, and it starts with Chongqing-born singer Huang Qishan (aka Susan Huang 黄绮珊) as the mother, seated in the family home kitchen area, singing about how the process of being a mother also means learning to let go, and how she cried the first time her daughter went to school. Huang Qishan is a 54-year-old Chinese musician who has won several ‘best female singer’ awards.

The next “dear mum” part is then sung by the Beijing-born Curley Gao (希林娜依·高), who is performing as the daughter who is out on a train traveling, and admits she silently cried the first time she left home. The 24-year-old singer has a Uighur first name because her mum is from Xinjiang (her dad is Han Chinese from Beijing). Although she is known as ‘Curley’ in English, her actual first name is transcribed as Shirinay (Xilinnayi). She rose to fame due to her participation in the “Sing! China” talent show.

The song is about the bond between mother and daughter, about how the daughter is learning to find her way in life while the mother is learning how to accept that she cannot always be there to help her, but both really miss each other and want nothing but the best for each other in a life that is constantly changing.

While the song just sticks with you, many commenters also said the lyrics really touched them and the performance by Huang and Gao was convincing and moving.

See this performance here.

 

#4 As Beautiful as Brocade (锦绣)

This beautiful dance featuring main dancer Li Qian (李倩) and the Beijing Art Troupe is actually part of the dance drama Five Stars Rise in the East, which is set in the Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 220) and is inspired by the precious ‘Five Stars Rise in the East’ brocade unearthed in Xinjiang.

On social media, one word keeps coming up when people say this was among their favorite acts of the night: “Breathtaking.”

See this performance here.

 

#5 No Worries when Flowers Blossom (花开忘忧)

Zhou Shen (周深) is singing this song (“花开忘忧”), with performances by Li Guangfu (李光复) and Sun Guitian (孙桂田).

Zhou Shen, also known as Charlie Zhou, is a very popular award-winning Chinese singer who first rose to fame after participating in “The Voice of China,” like many other younger singers who also appeared on the 2023 Spring Festival Gala, and for singing the theme song “Big Fish” for the 2016 Chinese animation film Big Fish and Begonia (大鱼海棠).

During this Gala performance, Zhou was singing the song while in the background we see an elderly loving couple sitting together in their living room, enjoying the flowers and looking through old photo albums. Zhou’s song is about love always finding its way through time and space.

Many people liked this performance because of Zhou’s warm singing voice and the positive message of the song.

See this performance here.

Another very popular part of the show was the mini-movie titled “Me and my Spring Festival Night” (“我和我的春晚”), which we will feature in an upcoming article, so stay tuned!

For more about the show and to see our liveblog, check this link.
For more about the Chinese Spring Festival Gala, see our other articles here.

By Manya Koetse 

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