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Watching ‘Chunwan’ 2023: Liveblog CMG Spring Festival Gala by What’s on Weibo

Culture meets commerce, Party propaganda meets pop culture, it’s time for the annual Spring Festival Gala! Watch it with What’s on Weibo.

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As we bid the Year of the Tiger farewell, and welcome the Year of the Rabbit, it is time for the annual CMG Spring Festival show. Watch the Gala together with What’s on Weibo here and follow our liveblog to keep up with what’s happening on screen and the latest on social media.

It is that time of the year again! It is time for the CMG Spring Festival Gala, better known as Chunwan (春晚), one of the world’s most-watched live televised events. Lasting a total of four hours, from 8pm to 1am Beijing time, the Chunwan is annually broadcasted since 1983 and has become a part of the Chinese New Year’s Eve.

The show usually consists of some 30-40 different acts. Although there was a time when the Gala was mostly considered corny and old-fashioned by most young people, the show has now also become ingrained in China’s social media environment. Besides traditionally being broadcasted via CCTV, it can now also be live-streamed through social apps such as WeChat, TikTok, and Kuaishou. This has also helped to boost viewership. The 2021 Gala reached a record 1.14 billion viewers around the globe, and in 2022, another record was broken after some 1.29 billion viewers tuned in at home and abroad.

But while viewer ratings of the Gala in the 21st century have skyrocketed, so has the critique on the show – which seems to be growing year on year. According to many viewers, the spectacle generally is often “way too political” with its display of communist nostalgia and nationalistic songs. This has also led to an increase in censorship. Last year, Weibo issued an indirect warning to netizens criticizing the festive annual Chinese New Year Galas by suspending 21 Weibo users spreading “negativity” regarding broadcasted festival programs and their performances. A few years earlier, Weibo even shut down entire comment sections.

Nevertheless, complaining about the show is part of the tradition now, with the sentence “there will never be a worse, just worse than last year” (中央春晚,没有最烂,只有更烂) always showing up in comment sections. At the same time, many viewers and fans are also looking forward to seeing some of their favorite idols and performers appear on the show.

You might also know the Festival as the ‘CCTV Gala,’ but since 2020, it was rebranded to CMG Gala. CMG stands for China Media Group, which is the predominant state broadcaster in China and was founded in 2018 as a fusion of, among others, CCTV (China Central Television), CNR (China National Radio), and CRI (China Radio International).

CMG is under the direct control of the Central Propaganda Department of the Chinese Communist Party, and the show is an important moment for the Party to communicate its official ideology, highlight traditional culture, and showcase the nation’s top performers. Although the CCTV Gala is also a commercial event, it is still highly political and mixes official propaganda with entertainment.

Since recent years, it has also become a platform to showcase China’s innovative digital technologies. In 2015 the show first featured the exchange of virtual hongbao, red envelopes with money, which WeChat users could obtain while shaking their phones during specific moments in the show. Such marketing strategies have drawn in much younger viewer audiences than before. In 2021, the Gala explicitly presented itself as a “tech innovation event” by using 8K ultra high-tech definition video and AI+VR studio technologies and super high definition cloud communication technology to coordinate performances on stage.

This year, official media also present the event as a “technological innovation” show, which makes extensive use of new technologies such as 5G/4K/8K, AI, VR, and XR to promote China’s digital innovation developments.

The Gala will be broadcast on TV and will be live-streamed via various channels on January 21st, 20.00 pm China Standard Time. So turn on your TV and tune into CCTV or watch on YouTube, or head to the CCTV website. We have also embedded the live stream on this page. We will be live-blogging on this page here and you can scroll & watch at the same time from this page.

This is the 8th time for What’s on Weibo to do a liveblog of the Spring Festival Gala. If you want to know more about the previous editions, we also live-blogged
– 2022: Chunwan 2022: The CMG Spring Festival Gala Liveblog by What’s on Weibo
– 2021: The Chunwan Liveblog: Watching the 2021 CMG Spring Festival Gala
– 2020: CCTV New Year’s Gala 2020
– 2019: The CCTV Spring Festival Gala 2019 Live Blog
– 2018: CCTV Spring Festival Gala 2018 (Live Blog)
– 2017: CCTV New Year’s Gala 2017 Live Blog
– 2016: CCTV’s New Year’s Gala 2016 Liveblog

 

Liveblog CMG Spring Festival Gala 2023

 

Underneath here you will see our liveblog being updated. Leave the page open and you’ll see the new posts coming in, there should be a ‘ping’ too with every update.

There will also be some social media updates via Twitter at @manyapan here.

Update: this liveblog is now closed, check below for an overview of the entire show.

 
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The original liveblog was done via a third-party app. The original texts and images are copied below for reference. If there are links to particular segments of the show, they have been added later. The timestamp (in Beijing time) refers to the last moment that post was updated.

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What Can We Expect Tonight?

Jan 21 19:41

So, what can we expect for this 41st edition of the Gala? Although the official program list of the show is always leaked days before the event, it is never 100% correct until just one or two days before the actual show. This year, the program was issued on January 20, just a day before the Gala.

This year, the show’s main director is the female director Yu Lei (于蕾). The Gala has had a male chief director for many consecutive years, so it’s nice to see a female director for a change (and “Change” is actually one of the main themes for the night). Yu Lei has an impressive resume with a lot of experience at CCRV, where she is a senior program producer. She’s been closely involved in the production of the Spring Festival Gala since 2013, and also played a role in the production of the G20 performance in Hangzhou and the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.

Tonight’s show has been completely rehearsed a total of five times before tonight. These rehearsals are recorded and almost nothing ever goes wrong during the live show – perhaps some bad lipsyncing here and there – since the recording is running at the same time so that producers can always switch to a pre-recorded act.

Over the next few hours, we will see a variety of acts, including song and dance, comedy, sketches, opera, martial arts, acrobatics, and more.

● The song “Hello Stranger” (你好,陌生人) will be performed later tonight by Mao Buyi and it was released prior to the show as one of the theme songs about people helping each other out in times of need. The song hints at the difficult times of the past months in which China faced local Covid outbreaks before a major Covid wave hit the country after the ‘zero Covid’ policy was let go in early December of 2022.
● There’s also a Belt and Road Song – a classic Spring Festival Gala element to highlight China’s importance in the world today.
● There will also be a “mini-film” (微电影), which is the first time this genre appears on the show.
● We will see loads of young people tonight. Last year there were also quite some young performers, but there was actually more focus on honoring China’s recognized, elderly performers at the time. We’re gonna see a lot more singers and performers born after the 1990s and 2000s tonight, which suits the Gala’s “New China” theme.

Also: the show’s ending will be different this year as the super famous singer Li Guyi (李谷一) won’t be there. Her absence has gone trending on Weibo, where one related hashtag received 360 million views at time of writing (#李谷一回应缺席春晚#). Li is at the hospital, recovering from Covid.

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Tu Yuanyuan, the Mascot

Jan 21 20:02

Ah, what a cute start to the show. The mascot of the show this year is Tu Yuanyuan (兔圆圆). The mascot was created by a special visual arts team, and it took a total of four months to make Tu Yuanyuan come to life through 3D technology.

The rabbit’s chief designer is Mr. Chen Xiangbo, the director of Guan Shanyue Art Museum, and it’s been well-received on Chinese social media.

That is actually quite special at a time when so many rabbits got roasted over their design. Perhaps you read about the Chongqing rabbit lantern getting so much criticism that it was taken down before the New Year even started.

China’s Post blue rabbit stamp was also deemed ugly, and a dedicated mascot was thrown out.

But the Nanning rabbit probably got the most criticism. “You can’t please everyone,” some commenters wrote: “But it is possible to displease everyone.”

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Opening Act

Jan 21 20:07

We’ve officially started now! Tonight, so many famous people appear on stage.

First and foremost, Jackie Chan will return to the stage. Jackie Chan (成龙) has become an annually returning performer at the Spring Festival Gala. The last time he performed at the Gala, in 2021, he sang “Tomorrow Will Be Better” (明天会更好), which was about the epidemic situation. Last year, Jackie Chan wasn’t in the show, so it’s good to see he’s still alive & kicking because it’s become tradition to have him at the Gala.

We will then see some of China’s celebrated Olympic athletes. There’s short track speed skater Wu Dajing (武大靖) who won gold for the 2000m mixed relay at the Winter Olympics in Beijing in 2022; there’s Xu Mengtao (徐梦桃), who won China’s first Olympic gold medal in the women’s freestyle skiing aerials; there’s also Gao Tingyu (高停宇) who won the men’s 500m speed skating gold medal with an Olympic record of 34.32 seconds at the Beijing Winter Olympics (he became China’s first-ever male Olympic gold medalist in speed skating).

But Gu Ailing (Eileen Gu) wasn’t listed, despite being one of the stars of the Beijing Olympics in 2022. Despite her popularity, she also triggered some controversy after the Olympics after some online discussions focused on her alleged privileged position. At the time of the Gala, Gu is competing at the Freestyle Ski World Cup in Calgary.

We will also see a bunch of very famous actors and actresses on stage. We see Qin Hailu (秦海璐), Taiwanese actor Alec Su (苏有朋), Chinese actress Yang Zi (杨紫 aka Andy Yang), actor Sha Yi (沙溢), Wu Lei (吴磊), Zhao Liying (赵丽颖), Bai Yu (白宇), Oho Ou (欧豪), Song Zu’er (宋祖儿), Song Yi (宋轶)Wan Qian (万茜), Wang Baoqiang (王宝强), Rayzha Alimjan (熱依扎), Qin Lan (秦岚) and Josie Ho (祖丝), and many others, accompanied by different choir and dance groups, who are all from various places, from Beijing to Nanjing and beyond.

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Tonight’s Hosts

Jan 21 20:08

The line-up of hosts was previously released.

Ren Luyu 任鲁豫 (1978)
Chinese television host from Henan, who has also presented the Gala multiple times (2010, 2016, 2018, 2019, 2021). Familiar face to the show.

Sa Beining 撒贝宁 (1976)
Also known as Benny Sa, Sa presented the Gala in 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016 and in 2022. He is a famous Chinese television host known for his work for CCTV.

Nëghmet Raxman尼格买提 (1983)
Nëghmet is a Chinese television host of Uyghur heritage who also is not a newcomer; he hosted the Gala since 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, and in 2021.

Long Yang 龙洋(1989)
She was the youngest presenter hosting the CCTV Gala in 2021. Born in Hunan’s Chenzhou, she’s been working in Chinese state media for years. As a host, she’s done various big events before, but 2021 was the first time for her to host the CMG Spring Festival Gala.

Ma Fanshu 马凡舒 (1993)
Ma Fanshu was the youngest and newest host in the 2022 Gala. She is a sports program host who has also been called “the most beautiful host of CCTV.”

Wang Jianing 王嘉宁 (1992)
The Beijing-born Wang Jianing, born in Beijing, is a Chinese actress and, unless we’re mistaken, this is the first time she is a host at the Gala. She graduated from the New York Film Academy with a performance and directing major and has since starred in many Chinese television dramas, movies, and TV shows.

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“Let’s Eat, Let’s Have Fun”

Jan 21 20:12

This song (“开饭!开FUN!”) has some happy vibes. Uncoincidentally, Da Zhangwei (大张伟) – better known as Wowkie Zhang – also performed a song titled “Happy Vibes” in 2022. Singing with him is the TV star and singer Zhang Ruoyun (张若昀).

On stage with them are four different dance troupes, including the China Post Art Troupe.

Meanwhile, on social media, some wonder if everyone on stage had agreed to wear red without Yang Zi being informed about it.

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“Hundred Birds Return to the Nest”

Jan 21 20:14

This song is titled “Homing Birds” (百鸟归巢) and it’s sung by Tan Weiwei (谭维维) who is also known as Sitar Tan. She is a singer from Sichuan who rose to fame when she became a runner-up in the Super Girl talent show.

This is her third appearance on the show, as she also performed at the Spring Festival Gala in both 2016 and in 2022. In 2020, she released a noteworthy album titled 3811 which focused on the struggles women in China are facing, with each of the eleven songs on the album telling the different stories of women from diverse backgrounds.

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No More Masks!

Jan 21 20:19

Something we already wondered about: would the audience be wearing masks for this year’s Gala or not? They are not! Last year’s Gala in 2022 was the second year the audience was wearing a face mask. In 2020, when Wuhan was first facing the Covid19 outbreak, the audience was not wearing face masks yet. 2021 was the first year.

By the way, something unrelated; it’s noteworthy that renowned CCTV host Zhu Jun (朱军) still has not returned to the Gala. The presenter was accused of sexually assaulting an intern in 2018 and hasn’t been a host at the Gala since. Although the intern lost the sexual harassment lawsuit against Zhu Jun, he still hasn’t reappeared and it seems he has really lost his spot on the show now.

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Time for Some Crosstalk

Jan 21 20:22

This is the first xiangsheng (相声) act or crosstalk act of the night. Xiangsheng is a traditional Chinese comedic performance that involves a dialogue between two performers, using rich language and many puns.

This act is performed by Yue Yunpeng (岳云鹏, 1985), who is particularly known for his xiangsheng performances. He is part of a famous duo together with well-known Beijing-born comedian Sun Yue (孙越1979). They’ve previously also performed together at the Gala in 2020 and 2021.

The participating poker magician is Jian Lunting (简纶廷) from Taiwan.

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Theme: “China’s New Era and a Better Life”

Jan 21 20:28

Every year, the Gala has a special theme or a recurring narrative. This year’s theme is not particularly original, but it does make sense in the context of what happened over the past year. After previous themes such as “New China”, “Chinese Dream”, “National Unity”, “Family Affinity”, and “Chinese values, Chinese power,” this 2023 year’s theme is all about “China’s Flourishing New Era” and “A Better Life amid Rapid Changes” (“欣欣向荣的新时代中国,日新月异的更美好生活”).

“China’s New Era and a Better Life” should be seen in the context of China’s reopening, rapid changes over the past months, and the continuance of China’s road to rejuvenation, which was also strongly reiterated during the 20th Party Congress in October 2022. The themes that were highlighted there (read more here) also play an important part during the Gala, such as Chinese-style modernization, building a strong socialist modern country, being united in struggle, and building beautiful China with a focus on green development. We’ll see these themes come up throughout the show.

Another clear theme is homecoming, as this year will be the first time many families can finally reunite since the start of the Covid outbreak (people were previously discouraged from traveling home, doing a ‘staycation’ instead for the new year).

As noted by Andrew Methven @ Slow Chinese, the language and visuals used throughout the show are also a lot about flowers and blossoming, with some of these titles purposely sounding like “growing flowers”, which sounds the same as “China” (种花 / 中华 / 中华民族 / 以花为名). This resonates with the theme of a New China.

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“Good Luck Will Come”

Jan 21 20:31

Popsong with traditional influences. On stage, we see Deng Chao (邓超, 1979), who is a Chinese actor, comedian, director, and singer. He is known for his work in multiple box-office hit films such as The Mermaid (2016) and Duckweed (2017). He also appeared as a singer in last year’s Gala, when he performed together with Jackson Yee and Li Yuchun.

Tonight, Deng is on stage with Wang Erni (王二妮, 1985), the famous singer from Shaanxi who had her major breakthrough in 2007 with her Northern Shaanxi folk songs.

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Acrobatics (“龙跃神州”)

Jan 21 20:33

Yang Hao (杨浩), Li Yifan (李一凡), and Zhang Haozheng (张浩正) perform in tonight’s fist acrobatics act with, among others, the Cangzhou Acrobatics Troupe.

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“Clear waters and green mountains” (“绿水青山”)

Jan 21 20:40

“Clear Waters and Green Mountains” (绿水青山) is the title of this song, which refers to a political slogan on environmental policy formulated by Xi Jinping and is all about emphasizing the harmony between people and nature.

This song is sung by Huang Xiaoyun (黄霄雲, 1998), a singer/actress of Bouyei ethnicity who mostly became known due to the talent show The Voice of China in 2015. Also on stage is Shan Yichun (单依纯), who was the Voice of China winner in 2020.

Song Yi (宋轶, 1989) and Song Zu’er (宋祖儿, 1998) are both well-known actresses, mostly known for starring in various hit TV dramas.

This performance includes Chinese traditional Huangmei opera, one of the five major opera genres in China, by performers Pan Ningjing (潘柠静) and Zhang Xiaowei (张小威).

See a link to this performance here.

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Zhang Ruoyun eating the chicken

Jan 21 20:44

During an earlier performance (the xiangsheng one), actor Zhang Ruoyun (张若昀) got the roasted chicken that magically appeared during the magic trick performed by magician Jian Lunting. The fact that he actually ATE the chicken while sitting in the audience is something that is causing some giggles on social media.

Maybe he was just really hungry!

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Xiaopin: “First Look Photo Studio”

Jan 21 20:57

This is the first sketch comedy or short play of the night, called xiaopin 小品 in Chinese. Traditionally, the xiaopin is both the best-received and most-condemned type of performance of the Gala for evoking laughter among the audiences or triggering controversies for reinforcing (gender) stereotypes.

In 2017, for example, the sketch “Long Last Love” was about a woman who wanted to divorce her husband because she was not able to conceive children and wanted her husband to move on to another wife. The show was criticized for depicting women as “breeding machines” and viewers later demanded an apology from CCTV via social media.

Xiaopin sketches are usually not so deep though – they’re filled with puns, funny lines, and plot twists to entertain the viewers.

In this sketch, titled “First Look Photo Studio” (初见照相馆) we see Yu Zhen (于震), Sun Xi (孙茜), Bai Yufan (白宇帆), Zhang Jianing (张佳宁), Ma Xudong (马旭东), Lu Tengfei (吕腾飞), Li Hongjia (李红佳).

It’s about a couple who lost their marriage certificate and came to make new photos. Two couples meet in the photo studio, showing the contrast between the older and the younger generation. The younger couple still has some natural innocence and cuteness about them as a couple (all dressed in matching outfits), while the older couple has a lot of complaints about their marriage. In the end, the older couple also turns out to be very loving and encourage the younger generation to pull through, even if times are hard. The message of this sketch seems to be: get married, stay married – an important message at a time of falling marriage and birth rates!?

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“Hello Stranger”

Jan 21 21:01

“Hello Stranger” (“你好, 陌生人”) is a song that was released prior to the Gala by CMG as one of the theme songs for the night. Performed by the 28-year-old Chinese singer-songwriter Mao Buyi (毛不易), the song is all about helping each other and it already received some praise on Weibo prior to the show (hashtag: #毛不易春晚唱你好陌生人#).

Mao Buyi rose to fame in 2017 thanks to the all-male singing competition “The Coming One” show. At the time, he was a 23-year-old nursing graduate. As previously described by Sixth Tone, Mao stood out in the show due to his “sheer normality.”

We also spotted the first creepy rabbit of the night, although online opinions vary on this.

Another rabbit that is attracting attention is actually very cute; it’s the one on the jacket of Ren Luyu, one of the hosts.

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Martial Arts Spectacle!

Jan 21 21:06

This spectacular martial arts show is performed by Vincent Zhao Wenzhuo, the Shaolin Martial Arts Group, and the Shaolin Tagou Martial Arts School from Henan.

Vincent Zhao Wenzhuo (1972) is a famous Chinese actor and martial artist, best known for starring in the Once Upon a Time in China action film and television series.

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Me and My Grandpa

Jan 21 21:11

We just saw the first public service ad of the night; these are short videos in between the show containing a propaganda message. The title of this video was “Village Night” (“村晚”), a word play on the Chunwan, the Spring Festival Gala Night, as it sounds similar.

This next act is a performance for the kids, titled “Me and my Granddad Walk on Stilts” (我和爷爷踩高跷). There’s a special kid’s show every year, and they’re often quite popular for being so cute.

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“Give Me A Minute”

Jan 21 21:16

This is a stand-up comedy-like part of the show titled “Give Me a Minute” featuring Zhao Xiaohui (赵晓卉), Qiu Rui (邱 瑞), He Yanzhi (何广智), and Xu Zhisheng (徐志胜).

Last year, a similar performance (which came as a new kind of performance genre) received a lot of criticism, as people do not find the format of the ‘talk show + singing’ suitable for the Chunwan.

By the way, did you notice that the rabbit in the background interacts with the content of the show? It is displayed at all times and laughs about jokes and looks around in the audience. It is the first time for the Gala to have such a mascot, and if you see its 3D design and how interactive it is, you can understand why the development project of ‘Tu Yuanyuan’ (the rabbit’s name) took four months in total, involving an entire team!

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“Toast to the Past”

Jan 21 21:22

This song, performed by Taiwan singers Chiang Yu-Heng (姜育e) and Alec Su (苏有朋), together with Reno Wang (王铮亮) and Silence Wang (汪苏拢), is meant as a romantic, nostalgic “Toast to the Past” (跟往事干了好几杯).

Silence Wang (Wang Sulong) is an ethnic Manchu, whose first album came out in 2010 when he was 20 years old.

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Beautiful Dance

Jan 21 21:29

In this dance performance (碗步桥), we see Shanghai Dance School’s Zhu Jiejing (朱洁静, 1985).

Zhu was selected from a group of 3,000 applicants to attend the Shanghai Dance School at the age of nine. She later rose to fame with her roles in productions such as Farewell My Concubine, and became the vice chairman of the Shanghai Dancers’ Association.

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“Mini Film” – “Me and My Chunwan”

Jan 21 21:37

This ‘mini-film’ features some of China’s super famous actors, such as Jacky Wu, Huang Bo, Sandra Ma Sichun, Fan Wei, and others. It is the first time for the Gala to introduce such a film, which is different from the short public service ads that pop up two or three times during the show.

This mini film, titled “Me and my Spring Festival Night” (我和我的春晚) is meant to highlight the personal stories of ordinary people watching the Gala and was inspired by actual letters sent in by viewers. The presenter just mentioned that even in these digital times, people still write letters to the show.

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Goodmorning Sunshine

Jan 21 21:43

Multiple people from all kinds of professions and social groups are represented in “Good Morning, Sunshine,” including medical workers.

What is really remarkable is that the topic of the epidemic and Covid have not been explicitly mentioned at all yet. There’s been some hinting at “difficult times” and “change”, but Covid and the many infections throughout the country have not been addressed. This song is an indirect reference to the epidemic situation, singing about sunshine always coming after rainstorms.

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“I’m Coming”

Jan 21 21:52

Another xiaopin, a comical skit, this time featuring Chinese celebrity performers Wang Baoqian, Yang Zi, and Wang Ning.

Yang Zi is also known as Andy Yang, and she is a well-known Chinese actress and singer. She was previously named one of the ‘Four Dan Actresses’ (top actresses) of the post-90s Generation.

Wang Baoqiang is also very popular, perhaps also due to his humble background. At the age of 8, the actor left his family to study kung fu and later went to Beijing to play small roles as an actor in film and TV while doing construction jobs on the side. Wang made his big break when major director Feng Xiaogang chose him to play in A World Without Thieves (2003). Wang later became a critically acclaimed actor, known for his roles in films like Blind Shaft (2003) and A Touch of Sin (2013).

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Little Brother

Jan 21 22:01

This song, performed by Huang Bo, is about all those delivery drivers across China. It suits the comical sketch that just preceded it, as the message was also to have more understanding for other people in tough jobs like the delivery staff.

The host Nëghmet Raxman 尼格买提 also just mentioned the epidemic for the first time when introducing this song, as he said that especially the ‘kuaidi’ and food delivery drivers have been struggling and working a lot to keep society going in Covid times.

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Garden Full of Flowers

Jan 21 22:04

This stunning performance is called “Garden Full of Flowers/”National Colors”(满庭芳·国色) [translated by CCTV as C”ourtyard of Beauty, Colors of A Nation”], performed by Chinese actress Zhao Liying (赵丽颖) and others. It uses a lot of the special technologies (VR, XR) that were already promoted by the show’s directors beforehand.

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Forget Your Worries

Jan 21 22:10

After a second public service ad of the night, we’ve already arrived at the 20th performance of the night.

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). As previously mentioned in another post here, flowers are really a recurring theme throughout the night as they represent blossoming (main theme is “flourishing new China”) and new beginnings.

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Treadmill

Jan 21 22:14

Some netizens have noticed how during the performance of the “Little Brother” song, an actual treadmill appeared on stage to make the performers walk. Some people find it funny: Huang Bo didn’t come to the Gala to perform, he came there to work out!

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Beautiful Pear Garden (华彩梨园)

Jan 21 22:21

The first major Chinese opera performance of the night! These kinds of performances are generally well-liked among viewers, much more than comical sketches, which many people do not find that funny.

The actors on stage are all of different ages: the youngest performer is only 4 years old!

In this performance, you can also see the use of some cool effects made possible by the show’s integration of new technologies such as 4K/8K, AI, and XR.

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How’s this show different from other years thus far?

Jan 21 22:35

There are some ways in which this show is different thus far. Over previous years, the Gala partnered with Tencent, Kuaishou, Baidu, Bytedance, JD, etc to allow various ‘media moments’ during which viewers can ‘catch’ red envelopes. Actually, the Gala became especially linked to social media since it first featured this kind of exchange of ‘hongbao’, red envelopes with money, which is a Chinese New Year’s tradition. In 2015, for the first time, viewers were able to receive virtual ‘hongbao’ as part of a cooperation between CCTV and WeChat. WeChat users shook their phones 11 billion times that night in order to ‘grab’ the money. These kinds of campaigns drew in many more young viewers – the Gala was previously viewed as something for older audiences (– although it still might be, social media has helped get the younger viewers involved, too).This year, we haven’t seen any kind of ‘shake your phone’ or ‘grab hongbao’ media activities.

Another difference is that the show is normally held across several locations besides the main studio in Beijing, which is a great opportunity for other places to boost tourism and attract attention to their region or city. In light of Covid, the Gala was also only held in Beijing’s CCTV studio 1 in 2021 and 2022. Perhaps the choice to again have just one location for the Gala is also related to the current Covid situation. This also still makes the Gala a bit less ‘spectacular’ and festive than the earlier versions before 2020, probably because it would not be appropriate at this time.

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Local authorities not doing their job

Jan 21 22:48

The name of the comical skit we just saw was “Hole” or “Pit” (抗), and it was about local authorities not properly doing their job to fix a hole in the street, despite it being dangerous for people.

This skit is among the most well-received ones tonight, as many people recognize the scene as part of everyday realities. The actors in this skit are Shen Teng (沈腾), Ma Li (马丽), Ai Lun (艾伦), Chang Yuan (常远), Song Yuan (宋阳), and Yu Jian (于健).

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Mother and Daughter

Jan 21 22:50

This is a really sweet song about the bond between mother and daughter. Perhaps this is the influence of having a female director? Huang Qishan (Susan Huang) is a 54-year-old Chinese musician who has also been referred to as the “number one female voice in Asia.”

The song is also performed by the Beijing-born Curley Gao (希林娜依·高). 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.

This song is striking a chord among the people in the audience, and a little boy and an older woman were filmed as they got a bit teary-eyed.

——–
 

High-tech song

Jan 21 22:52

This act, focused on kids, uses new VR + 3D technologies to let the mystic animals of the ancient past meet with Chinese children the present-day.

——–
 

Future, I’m Coming

Jan 21 22:58

The future is always an important topic during the Gala, and this song is comparable to songs that were featured on previous Gala nights. It’s titled “Future I’m Coming” and it is performed by Ou Hao, Bai Yu, Wei Chen, and Wu Lei. It even includes some rap..

——–
 

“I Made It to the Hot Search List!”

Jan 21 23:08

This sketch is about a social media video unexpectedly going viral and causing problems between husband and wife as the husband said things he did not mean in order to get more clicks.

One discussion that has come up prior to this show is that the popular Chinese comedian actress Jia Ling is not performing today. She is known for her annual Spring Festival Gala performances together with Zhang Xiaofei.

——–
 

Everything is going to be ok

Jan 21 23:18

The hosts just addressed Covid for the first time this show. It also looked as if Ren Luyu was tearing up.

The song that follows is a classic pop song performed by a group of artists (Xiao Ke, Sha Yi, Qin Hailu, Hu Xia, Hui Yuanmeng, and Li Guangjie), and they are bringing a positive message about things taking a change for the better.

——–
 

As Beautiful as Brocade (锦绣)

Jan 21 23:23

This beautiful dance featuring main dancer Li Qian (李倩) and the Beijing Art Troupe is inspired by the Han Dynasty.

See a link to this performance here.

——–
 

“One Belt, One Beautiful Road Song” (一带繁花一路歌)

Jan 21 23:29

In this most international song of the night, we see a compilation of songs and performers from Indonesia, Greece, Serbia, Egypt Pakistan, New Zealand, Tanzania, Argentina, Kazakhstan, and then the last song, the famous Chinese “Mo Li Hua” [Jasmine Flower] song, is sung by a group of singers from various ‘Belt and Road’ countries.

Lang Lang is on stage playing the piano!

Over the past few years, the Belt and Road Initiative wasn’t really featured very much at the Gala during the closed, Covid era. Now that the borders have reopened, there is room for more international focus again, even if the performers are joining via video.

——–
 

“My Hometown”

Jan 21 23:37

After the third public service announcement of the night, we’re on to the song “Hometown,” performed by Tibetan singer Alan Dawa Dolma (阿兰·达瓦卓玛), ethnic Mongol singer Daiqing Tana (黛青塔娜), Kashgar singer Air (艾热), Gansu singer Zhang Gasong (张尕怂), and Wu Tong (吴彤) from Liaoning. There’s always a song during the Gala that has different minorities from all over the country. This time, this is it, and they tried to do it a bit different this time by also integrating some modern rock and pop music.

——–
 

Exemplary Persons

Jan 21 23:40

Like every year, this is the part of the show where some ‘exemplary persons’ get honored for their accomplishments. This special segment recognizes people for their exceptional service and contributions to the Party and the country.

——–
 

“Youth to the Sun” (青春向太阳)

Jan 21 23:44

Ah, here’s Jackie Chan again after being absent during last year’s performance. Jackie Chan (成龙) has become an annually returning performer at the CCTV Gala. Although his performances are always much-anticipated, they’ve sometimes also been pretty cringe-worthy. In 2017, the song performed by Jackie was simply titled “Nation” and was met with criticism for being overly political. In 2018, the Hong Kong martial artist sang a song that was called “China” and in 2019 he performed ‘My Struggle, My Happiness.’ In 2021 he sang “Tomorrow Will Be Better” (明天会更好) which was about the epidemic situation and that song was actually received very well and made many viewers tear up.

He is now performing a song dedicated to China’s youth, together with Peng Yuchang (1994), Jiang Yiyi (2001), Guo Junchen (1997), Chen Linong (2000, from Taiwan), Yan Mingxi (2005, from Hong Kong) and Josie Ho (1989, from Macao).

——–
 

A Song for All My Friends

Jan 21 23:46

Sun Nan is here! Sun Nan (孙楠) is a famous Chinese Mandopop singer who performed at the Gala multiple times over the past year, including the iconic 2016 performance where he danced together with 540 robots. In 2022 he was on stage with Tan Weiwei.

This time he is on stage with Hacken Lee (李克勤).

Just before this song started, the host addressed the difficulties so many in China faced over the past year. Although Covid is barely mentioned, the Gala has definitely hinted at the epidemic several times. Instead of some sad songs, the program is mostly filled with songs that are about positivity, hope, friendship, and “better times” – which is also one of the show’s main themes.

——–
 

Homeland

Jan 21 23:52

We actually thought the main “minority song” was already featured, but “Homeland” (家园) turns out to be the true “minority song” of the night, featuring dancers and singers from various minority groups, holding hands together in unity and singing about love.

——–
 

Nearing Countdown, Expedition

Jan 21 23:55

It’s almost time for the countdown! First, we are seeing the song “Expedition” (远征) performed by Liao Changyong, Wu Bixia, Wang Kai, and Yisa Yu.

——–
 

Countdown! Happy New Year!

Jan 21 0:05

Countdown! Happy New Year to you! All the hosts have just expressed their well-wishes to the viewers, wishing everybody blessings for the Year of the Rabbit. The countdown was started with everybody on stage, and there were even some well-wishes from out of space! [Added comment: although we didn’t immediately notice during the show, many social media users later commented that the countdown moment saw some delay and was not exactly times at 0:00.]

“New Year Hopping” (新春蹦蹦) is performed by Phoenix Legend, Chinese rapper Dong Baoshi, and Chinese actress/singer Angel Zhao. Phoenix Legend is a Chinese popular music duo of female vocalist Yangwei Linghua and male rapper Zeng Yi. The duo was also part of the CCTV Gala in 2016 and in 2018.

All the performers are joined on stage by Tu Yuanyuan, the little rabbit that undoubtedly is the star of the 2023 Gala. It danced right there with them.

——–
 

Last Performances of the Night

Jan 21 0:20

After the comical skit performed by Jin Jing, Zhou Tienan, Yan Peirun (a romantic one about couples), we are now moving on to the “Group Photo” song.

This song is performed by Xu Song aka Vae, an independent musician from Hefei who is super popular on social media.

——–
 

“To Advance Bravely”

Jan 21 0:22

This is the 38th act of tonight and also the last acrobatics one featuring performers Shi Renqi, Li Songlin, and Yang Jinhao together with the China Acrobatic Group.

——–
 

Our Field and Dreams in Spring

Jan 21 0:28

The final dance of the night, titled “Our Field” (我们的田野) is a beautiful performance by the Liaoning Ballet.

The performance, all set in golden colors, is about harvesting wheat.

The performance is followed up by “Dreams in Spring.”

“Dreams in Spring” (梦在春天如愿) is performed by Wei Song, Huo Yong, Mo Hong, and Wang Li – among so many young performers this night, they represent the older generation of artists.

——–
 

Unforgettable Night

Jan 21 0:35

This is a very unusual ending to the Gala. Ever since the 1980s, the last song of the night was “Unforgettable Night” (难忘今宵) sung by Li Guyi (李谷一). As Li is now recovering from Covid at the hospital, all the performers are gathered on stage and sing the song together.

The song was composed in 1984 when CCTV was preparing for its second Spring Festival Gala.

That’s a wrap! Thank you so much for joining, and we wish you a very happy Year of the Rabbit.

By Manya Koetse , with contributions by Miranda Barnes, and Zilan Qian

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China Arts & Entertainment

Chinese Social Media Reactions to The New York Times Bad Review of ‘Wandering Earth 2’

A New York Times bad review of ‘Wandering Earth II’ has triggered online discussions: “China’s gonna save the world, the US can’t stand it.”

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This Chinese Spring Festival, it’s all about going to the movies. After sluggish years for China’s movie market during the pandemic, Chinese cinemas welcomed millions of visitors back to the theaters during the weeklong Spring Festival holiday.

Much-anticipated new movies attracted Chinese moviegoers this festive season, including Full River Red by Zhang Yimou, the suspenseful Hidden Blade, or the animated Deep Sea by Tian Xiaopeng.

But the undisputed Spring Festival box office champion of 2023 is Frant Gwo’s Wandering Earth II (流浪地球II), the sequel to China’s all-time highest-grossing sci-fi epic Wandering Earth (2019), which also became the fifth highest-grossing non-English film of all time.

The narrative of the follow-up movie Wandering Earth II actually takes place before the events of the first film and focuses on the efforts by the United Earth Government (UEG) to propel the Earth out of the solar system to avoid planetary disaster. This so-called Moving Mountain Project – which later becomes the Wandering Earth Project – is not just met with protest (the majority of Americans don’t believe in it), it also bans the Digital Life Project, which supports the idea that the future of humanity can be saved by preserving human consciousness on computers (backed by an American majority). The film is all about hope and resilience, human destiny, and geopolitics at a time of apocalyptic chaos.

Outside of China, the sequel was also released in, among others, North American, Australian, and UK cinemas.

Although the film, featuring movie stars Wu Jing and Andy Lau, received an 8.2 on the Chinese rating & review platform Douban, a 9.4 on movie ticketing app Maoyan, dozens of positive reviews on Bilibili, and was overall very well-received among Chinese viewers, a bad review by The New York Times triggered discussions on Chinese social media this weekend.

Chinese media outlet The Observer (观察者网) initiated a Weibo hashtag about “The New York Times‘s completely sour review of Wandering Earth II” (#纽约时报酸味拉满差评流浪地球2#, 6.2 million views at time of writing).

The New York Times review of Wandering Earth II, titled “The Wandering Earth II Review: It Wanders Too Far,” was written by Brandon Yu and published in print on January 27, 2023.

Yu does not have a lot of good things to say about China’s latest blockbuster. Although he calls the 2019 The Wandering Earth “entertaining enough,” he writes that the sequel is a movie that is “audaciously messy” and has lost “all of the glee” its predecessor had:

“(..) the movie instead offers nearly three hours of convoluted storylines, undercooked themes and a tangle of confused, glaringly state-approved political subtext.”

The topic was discussed on Chinese social media using various hashtags, including “The New York Times Gave Wandering Earth II a 3″ (#纽约时报给流浪地球打30分#, #纽约时报给流浪地球2打30分#).

Instead of triggering anger, the bad review actually instilled a sense of pride among many Chinese, who argued that the review showed the impact the movie has made. Some commenters pointed out that the movie is a new milestone in Chinese cinema, not just threatening America’s domination of the movie industry but also setting a narrative in which China leads the way.

“We’re gonna save the world, and America just can’t stand it,” one commenter replied.

That same view was also reiterated by other bloggers. The author and history blogger Zhang Yi’an (@张忆安-龙战于野) argued that The New York Times review was not necessarily bad; it actually shows that Americans feel threatened by the idea of China’s important role in a new international world order, and by the fact that China actually will have the capacity to lead the way when it comes to, for example, space technology innovation, robotics, and artificial intelligence.

Zhang argues that if a similar movie had been made by India as a Bollywood blockbuster – including exploding suns and wandering earths – The New York Times would have been more forgiving and might have even called it cute or silly.

But because this is China, the film’s success and its narrative plays into existing fears over China’s rise, and it clashes with American values about what the international community should look like.

Zhang writes: “The China in the movie doesn’t boast itself as the savior of the world, but in reality, China really is capable of saving the world. The United States is no longer able to do so (电影里的中国没有把自己吹嘘成救世主,现实中的中国真的有能力做救世主。而美国却已经不能了).”

One popular Film & TV account (@影视综艺君) also summarized the general online reaction to the bad review in the American newspaper: “Whenever the enemy gets scared, it must mean we’re doing it right. Our cultural export has succeeded.” That post received over 120,000 likes.

On Zhihu.com, some commenters also attached little value to the review and showed how the overseas reviews of Wandering Earth II widely varied in their verdict.

Meanwhile, a state media-initiated hashtag on Weibo claimed on January 28 that Wandering Earth II has actually “captured the hearts of many overseas audiences” (#流浪地球2海外上映获好评#), and that the film’s “imaginative” and “wonderful” visuals combined with its strong storyline were being praised by moviegoers outside of China.

On IMDB, the movie has received 5.9/10; it has gotten a 70% Rotten Tomatoes score. The Guardian gave it 2/5. Meanwhile, on Weibo, one reviewer after the other gives the film 5/5 stars.

Weibo blogger Lang Yanzhi (@郎言志) writes: “Recently, we’ve seen a lot of attacks and slander directed at the China-made science fiction movie Wandering Earth 2, especially coming from Western media and pro-Western forces, because the film’s “Chinese salvation” narrative made them uncomfortable. This was already the case when the first film in the series was released. It is very clear that Wandering Earth is not just a movie: it is a symbol of great influence.”

By Manya Koetse , with contributions by Zilan Qian

 

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China Arts & Entertainment

Behind the Short Feature Film of the Spring Festival Gala

The first-ever ‘mini film’ of the Spring Festival Gala struck a chord with viewers for its strong storytelling and authentic production.

Manya Koetse

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This precious and powerful short film by Zhang Dapeng has touched the hearts of Spring Festival Gala viewers. But there is more to the short film than meets the eye. Here’s the noteworthy story behind the 7-minute Spring Festival Mini Film.

On January 21, 2023, China’s Spring Festival Gala, hosted by China Media Group, kicked off the Year of the Rabbit. The annual show, which featured forty different acts and performances, lasted over four hours and attracted millions of viewers worldwide (see our liveblog here, and see a top 5 highlight of the show here).

Traditionally, the Spring Festival Gala always shows several short public service ad films in between the performances, but this year was the first time the Gala featured a “mini-film” or “micro film” (微电影).

Titled Me and My Spring Festival Night (“我和我的春晚”), the 7-minute film was praised among viewers. On Weibo, one hashtag dedicated to the short film received over nine million clicks (#我和我的春晚#).

The film was directed by the Beijing director Zhang Dapeng (张大鹏). Born in 1984, Zhang is a Beijing Film Academy graduate who previously attracted wide attention for directing the Peppa Pig Celebrates Chinese New Year movie and the brilliant ad campaign that came with it. Titled What Is Peppa, that short ad film featured a grandfather living in rural China who goes on a quest to find out what ‘Peppa’ is. The promotional video became an absolute viral hit back in 2019 (see/read more here).

Still from ‘What is Peppa.’ 2019.

This time, Zhang’s latest Chinese New Year film is about a hard-working former military man from China’s countryside named Zhang Jianguo (张建国), for whom coming on the show to play the trumpet has been a dream for many years. By featuring his story, the film takes us from the Chinese 1980s, 90s, 00s – as we see him change jobs, move around, and start a family – up to the present.

The main idea behind the film was to honor all the ordinary viewers who have written – and are still writing – to the Gala ever since it first aired in the early 1980s, and to tell a story inspired by these personal letters and ordinary viewers.

Short Summary of “Me and My Chunwan”

At the start of the film, we see Zhang Jianguo dusting off his military honorary awards (光荣军属), putting on his jacket, grabbing his thermos flask and trumpet, and setting out on a journey in the midst of winter.

Riding an electric tricycle in the icy cold, his driver (actor Huang Bo 黄渤) asks him where he is going. “Can you keep your mouth shut?” Zhang replies (“你嘴严实不严实”). “I can,” the driver says, and Zhang then says: “So can I.”

The voiceover narration, a first-person narrative by Zhang himself, explains that he has always been busy: “I never had time for the Spring Festival Gala. My Spring Festival fate is all because of something my captain said.”

The film jumps to a scene showing Zhang as a young military man during the Chinese New Year’s Eve, working outside while people are watching the Spring Festival Gala on a small black and white television inside. As his commander (played by Wu Jing 吴京) hands him his trumpet, he says: “Go and play your trumpet on the television.”

“If the leader asks me to go on the Spring Festival Gala, it’s a task I must complete,” the voice-over says.

But in the military scene itself, duty calls and Zhang has to blow the trumpet to announce dinner time.

In the years that follow, Zhang is always busy during the Spring Festival Gala. Working in the factory, getting married, working on a train, farming cattle, taking care of his family, and always cooking. His trumpet is still there with him, to announce dinner time or hanging on the wall as a memory of times past.

As the years pass by, Zhang realizes that he has gradually forgotten about his commander’s words. Time moves fast. First, he had a son, then his son grew taller than himself, and then his son had his own son. “And I still had never been to the Spring Festival Gala.”

With his captain’s words back on his mind, Zhang, now an older man, sets out on his journey without telling anyone. By foot, by electric tricycle, by bus, and by train, Zhang travels all the way to the famous Beijing Studio 1 to perform at the Spring Festival Gala after being “too busy” for forty years.

Backstage at the Spring Festival Gala, Zhang sits down with famous Chinese Spring Festival Gala performers (Ma Li 马丽 and Shen Teng 沈腾). While unpacking his lunchbox, he tells them he was finally not too busy to come on the show: “I wrote a letter and here I am.” “It’s that simple?” Ma Li wonders.

The producer then rushes to come and get Zhang, who bravely walks towards the stage with his old little trumpet.

A female voice-over then reads out a message, while we see various scenes throughout the years showing Zhang – from young to old – writing letters to CCTV from wherever he is.

The female narrator says: “Dear Uncle Zhang, we’ve received your letter regarding your hopes to realize your cherished stage dream. In this age of emailing, and knowing that you’ve been writing us for 39 years, we’re moved and feel guilty. Our reply may be late, but not our sincerity..

Meanwhile, we see a flashback to a mailman pulling up to old Zhang’s home (the mailman is the actor Wang Baoqiang), and the old Zhang finally receives that much-anticipated letter from CCTV at his remote rural home.

The female narrator continues: “This year, we proudly invite you to be a guest at the Spring Festival Gala and to “ring the dinner bell” [play the sound announcing dinner]. Sincerely, the Spring Festival Director Committee.

In the final shot, we see Zhang blowing the trumpet at the Gala, with flashbacks showing him blowing that trumpet in all those decades before. He has finally made it to the big stage.

A Noteworthy Story

While Me and My Spring Festival Night received a lot of praise on Chinese social media, the story behind the film was not immediately clear to many viewers celebrating the Chinese New Year, but it was explained in several articles and interviews with director Zhang Dapeng.

During the live-televised Spring Festival Gala itself, the airing of Me and My Spring Festival Night was directly followed up by a shot featuring a person (a veteran) in the audience standing up and actually playing the trumpet.

Directly after, the song “Goodmorning Sunshine” began, representing multiple people from all kinds of professions and social groups. About one minute into the song, the camera turns to another audience member: the person who plays ‘Uncle Zhang’ in the mini-film. Later in the song, we can see he is wiping away tears, visibly moved.

Why was he so moved? The older man in the audience, the main ‘Uncle Zhang’ actor in the film, is Jin Changyong (金长勇), and he actually is not a professional actor.

Somewhat similar to the character Zhang Jianguo, Jin Changyong or “Uncle Jin” (金叔) is a hardworking veteran from Hebei’s Huailai County in Zhangjiakou.

Jin Changyong is a 63-year-old farmer who is also active at the Hebei Tianmo Film and TV Park doing security and logistics-related jobs. He served in the army for four years from the age of 19, as, among others, a military chef.

Director Zhang Dapdeng came across ‘Uncle Jin’ one day while shooting another film at the studio. While Jin was busy doing kitchen work, director Zhang saw him and, as he later recounts, was struck by his face that showed he had “lived through many changes” (“这种饱经沧桑的脸”).

Zhang later invited Uncle Jin to star in the movie, and he also made sure Jin’s own story played a role in the script.

Director Zhang Dapeng, image via CCTV.

This makes this short movie all the more special, something which has since been discussed on Chinese social media (#春晚微电影的主演是普通农民#).

The surprising twist in the story is how Zhang Jianguo tells other people he has just always been “too busy” to attend the Gala, while he had in fact already written to the show for 39 years with the hope of one day being invited.

Another noteworthy aspect of the film is how Zhang Dapeng chose to cast some of China’s most celebrated actors as supporting roles to lift up the main character and actor, Jin, who was inexperienced and learnt from his fellow players.

In an interview, Jin expressed that the entire experience of playing in this short film left his overcome with emotion. After the filming had ended, he told reporters that he had sleepless nights because he had not received an actual invitation to the Spring Festival Gala yet, something which he so very much hoped for. Just one week before the show, that invitation finally came.

The fact that Jin, in a way, played a man like himself in the short movie has added to the film’s popularity.

“I was sincerely moved by this film,” one commenter wrote, with others saying: “This was the best program I’ve seen on the Gala over the past decade.”

While some people also remarked that the short film seemed to have been influenced by The Grand Budapest Hotel by Wes Anderson, others praised it for its originality.

“This was just the best part of the night,” several commenters said: “It made me cry.”

“Zhang Pengda – a name to remember,” others wrote.

You can watch the short film on Youtube here.

By Manya Koetse 

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