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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.




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.

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.


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.


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.”


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.


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.


“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.


“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.


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.


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.


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.


“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.


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.


“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.


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!


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!?


“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.


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.


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.


“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!


“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.


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.


“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.


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.


“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).


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.


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.


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.



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!


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.


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.


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).


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.



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 Celebs

China’s Celebrity Weight Craze: Qin Hao’s Viral Diet and Body Anxiety Behind the Weight-Loss Trend

The extreme diet of Chinese actor Qin Hao has sparked a trend of people sharing photos of their corn and egg meals. It’s yet another celebrity weight-loss trend that is more about unrealistic expectations than healthy ways of shedding pounds.

Zilan Qian



Actor Qin Hao’s remarkable weight loss has sparked waves of online excitement over a potential new diet plan. Qin is not the only Chinese celebrity whose weight loss journey has become an online hype. But behind the relentless pursuit of celebrity weight loss plans lies the issue of body anxiety, particularly among young Chinese women.

Why do we see so many photos with one ear of corn on Weibo these days? It has everything to do with Qin Hao (秦昊). The actor, renowned for his role in the highly acclaimed 2020 Chinese drama series “The Bad Kids” (隐秘的角落), has recently garnered significant attention for his appearance in another compelling series titled “The Long Wait” (漫长的等待).

This time, his surge in popularity is not just because of his exceptional acting abilities or the captivating character he portrayed, but mostly because of the remarkable diet plan he followed to lose weight during the filming of the series.

In his latest role, Qin played a middle-aged man with a chubby physique, round cheeks, and a beer belly. He had put on a lot of weight to play this character. However, later on, the director asked him to quickly lose weight and “sharpen up” (“必须瘦出棱角”).

Qin’s wife, Yi Nengjing (@伊能靜), discovered an online diet menu that helped Qin successfully lose over 20 pounds, resulting in a significant transformation in his appearance. Due to numerous inquiries from fans and followers, Yi decided to share the diet plan on her Weibo account.

The five-day diet plan consists of the following meals:

Day 1: Only unsweetened soy milk is consumed throughout the day.
Day 2: Each meal consists of one ear of corn.
Day 3: Breakfast includes dragon fruit, lunch consists of an apple, and dinner consists of blueberries.
Day 4: Breakfast consists of one boiled egg, while lunch and dinner consist of boiled shrimp.
Day 5: Breakfast includes broccoli, lunch consists of spinach, and dinner consists of lettuce.

Qin before (left) and after (right) following the diet plan. Photos from Yi Nengjing’s Weibo post.

On Weibo, many people trying out this diet are posting photos of their daily meals, resulting in dozens of photos of a single ear of corn being posted on the platform these days.

Many Chinese netizens are posting photos of corn – their entire meal according to day 2 of Qin Hao’s diet (images via

Despite the supposed effectiveness of the diet, Yi also issued a warning to her followers. “I want to emphasize once again that I do not recommend this menu to anyone,” she wrote on Weibo. “The entire process is incredibly arduous, and Qin experienced weakness in his legs due to hunger for some days.”

Despite the warning, the menu still managed to attract a significant number of netizens willing to give it a try. With titles like “Challenging Qin Hao’s Diet Plan (挑战秦昊饮食法)” and “Losing 8 Pounds in Five Days (五天瘦八斤),” many people took to platforms such as WeChat, Bilibili, and Weibo to share videos, images and texts documenting their experiences with the same diet plan and the amount of weight they lost each day.

Among those who decided to try the diet plan was the renowned screenwriter and producer Yu Zheng (于正), known for his works such as “The Palace” (宫) and “The Story of Yanxi” (延禧攻略). Yu shared on his Weibo account that he successfully lost 10 pounds in just a few days by following Qin’s diet plan. In doing so, he also inspired others to give it a try.

Bilibili users sharing themselves practising Qin’s diet plan.

While some individuals recognize the extreme nature of Qin Hao’s diet plan, they have made modifications by adding carbohydrates and proteins on certain days or incorporating other “diet foods” like cucumbers or healthy snacks.

A user on Bilibili tried out Qin Hao’s diet plan and shared her experience. Although she admitted feeling “extremely hungry,” she said she lost almost 8 pounds and was “very pleased” with the outcome.

However, many choose to strictly adhere to the original plan, expressing sentiments such as “As long as I’m not starving to death, I’ll push myself to the limit” or “Even though I’m so hungry that I could eat a person, I’m still very happy with my progress.”



“You are truly too fat.”


Qin is not the only celebrity whose weight loss journey has captured widespread attention. Earlier this year, another viral trend emerged among netizens, who urged director Guo Jingming (郭敬明) to establish a weight loss camp due to the noticeable weight loss among actresses who had worked on his film sets. On Weibo, this phenomenon was described as “no one can leave Guo Jingming’s film crew without losing weight” (“没有人能够胖着走出郭敬明剧组”).

Guo later disclosed his diet plan for actors and actresses during a television program. According to Guo, they were required to adhere to a diet that excluded oil, salt, and sugar. Additionally, he admitted that he would tell them “you are truly too fat (你真的太胖了)” on a daily basis, as a form of persuasion for those who were reluctant to follow the diet plan. Despite the extreme nature of this diet and his ‘brainwashing’ methods, many individuals continued to express their desire for Guo to realize an actual weight loss camp for them to join.

Weibo users compared photos of actresses Yu Shuxin and Jin Jing before and after joining Guo’s film crew to illustrate the effectiveness of Guo’s diet plan. The post where the above photos come from simply said: “I want to go! (想去!)” after the hashtag “#Guo Jingming film crew diet camp #郭敬明剧组减肥营#.

Guo reveals his way of helping actors lose weight (source).

The trend of following celebrity diets for weight loss remains popular, with an increasing number of individuals adopting the diet plans promoted by celebrities like Yu Shuxin, IU, Zhang Tianai, and others.

These diets come in various forms, ranging from single-food diets like cucumber and egg or boiled broccoli with plain porridge, to more restrictive approaches that eliminate specific ingredients, such as carbohydrates, or advocate for skipping evening meals. The widespread popularity of these diets is evident on social media, where netizens, mostly female, try them out and document their weight-loss journeys, sharing their progress with a wider audience.

Screenshot of the cover photo of one video on Bilibili introducing Yu Shuxin’s diet plan, which has been played over 150,000 times. The title says “Yu Shuxin’s way of losing 20 pounds’ weight. Revealing the diet plan to make your body easy to slim down! Losing 10 pounds in 10 days!”

The majority of posts and short videos revolving around these diet plans often feature attention-grabbing titles like “losing xx pounds in xx days,” accompanied by celebrities showcasing their slimmed body shapes.



“Let me advise you: never, ever go down this terrible path.”


With the increasing popularity of celebrity diets, concerns about their impact on (mental) health have arisen. Doctors have issued warnings against attempting Qin Hao’s diet plan, cautioning that it can cause significant harm to the body and result in weight gain once discontinued.

Diets that severely restrict calorie intake, like this one, can have detrimental effects such as weakened immunity, decreased bone density, impaired memory, hair loss, and an increased risk of depression. Netizens commenting on posts of people trying these diets often warn others against blindly following their lead. One user offered a stern warning, saying: “To my sisters who haven’t started dieting, let me advise you: never, ever go down this terrible path.”

Despite the prevailing health concerns associated with celebrity diets, not everyone places their well-being above achieving a desired body shape. In response to a diet plan video by Kpop singer IU, one user acknowledged the potential harm it could cause but still said losing weight was their primary goal, as being overweight made them feel miserable: “I don’t care if it’s harmful to my body, as long as I can lose weight.”

Other users argue that everyone has the right to do whatever they want with their body: “We are all adults and responsible for our own affairs. If you want to lose weight, eat less. If you don’t want to lose weight, then continue to be overweight.” 



“For female celebrities, being fat destroys everything.”


Behind the never-ending new celebrity diet plans is the question of why celebrities losing weight garners such significant attention. It appears that shedding pounds has become a convenient method for celebrities to attract public interest and enhance their overall image. Losing weight is often portrayed as a symbol of willpower and dedication to one’s career.

For instance, Yuan Shanshan, who previously faced criticism for her appearance in certain TV series, received applause and positive attention after slimming down and achieving a V-line figure. Media reports frequently associate female celebrities’ dietary practices with the concept of “self-discipline,” utilizing titles such as “How self-disciplined are female celebrities?” to highlight their various weight-loss approaches.

Articles perpetuating body shaming comments towards female celebrities for weight gain. Headlines employing phrases like “the image of you giving up yourself is ugly” and “being fat destroys everything” depict weight gain negatively. The highlighted sentence emphasizes the damaging impact of being fat on a woman’s self-esteem.

On the other hand, when female celebrities gain weight, they are often accused of “betraying” their professional careers or “giving up” on their ambitions.

A quick online search reveals how numerous news articles and blog titles highlight female celebrities’ self-discipline through their successful weight loss. These pieces often showcase extraordinary diet methods, like relying on single strands of noodle as a carbohydrate source or consuming plain, boiled vegetables without any additional ingredients.



“Will your boss promote you because you’re as thin as a celebrity?”


The public’s scrutiny of celebrities’ weight, often using it as a measure of willpower and success, is a common phenomenon, but celebrities themselves also influence the public’s perception of the ‘perfect’ figure. On various variety shows, female celebrities’ heights and weights are increasingly showcased, which inadvertently contributes to viewers’ anxieties about their own bodies.

Articles on social media treat these measurements as if they represent the standard for the majority, presenting titles such as “After looking at the heights and weights of these female celebrities, I swear I will never eat again,” or “The true heights and weights of female celebrities – a reference for weight loss,” and: “How light is thin? Revealing female celebrities’ heights and weights.” These articles contribute to the idolization of specific body shapes and weights as symbols of beauty and perfection.

‘Am I too fat weighing xx pounds?’ ‘What weight is considered “fat” in today’s society?’ ‘Why do people care about women’s weight so much?’ ‘Why am I so obsessed with my own weight?’ As women track and critique the weight fluctuations of female celebrities, many are grappling with questions about body image on social media. They seek answers to their own concerns, shaped by constant exposure to the seemingly ideal body weights of these celebrities.

Amidst all the celebrity weight craze, more critical voices are emerging in the Chinese social media sphere. Witnessing people blindly following celebrities’ weight loss journeys, one Zhihu user recently wondered: “Why should everyone strive to have the same bodies as the ones displayed by celebrities? Is there any tangible benefit for ordinary individuals to achieve the same level of thinness as these celebrities? Will your boss promote you or increase your salary simply because you’re as slim as a celebrity?”

Many individuals also question the connection between weight loss, self-discipline, and professional success. They assert that celebrities’ ability to maintain a slim figure is predominantly driven by financial incentives rather than exceptional personal qualities.

One Weibo user commented on Qin Hao’s diet plan, highlighting the disparities between celebrity lifestyles and those of everyday individuals: “Most people don’t have jobs that demand such extreme measures, nor do they lead a celebrity lifestyle with chauffeured transportation and dedicated services for nutrition and exercise management. Furthermore, everyday individuals don’t need to rely on weight loss as a means to seek public attention or stay in the spotlight.”

Chinese author Mao Li (毛利), in a Zhihu post, shared her perspective on the issue and acknowledged that she also has wasted valuable time on futile body image anxieties. She suggests breaking free from the media’s “perfect body” hype, embracing self-acceptance, and finding joy in living together with our bodies. She encourages people to “accept it, enjoy it, and praise it.”

By Zilan Qian

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China Arts & Entertainment

From Comedy to Controversy: Behind the Li Haoshi Incident

Exploring the dynamics that led to the social storm involving Chinese comedian ‘House’ Li Haoshi.

Manya Koetse



The Li Haoshi scandal sheds light on a complex interplay of factors, including the working conditions within the Chinese comedy industry, the expectations placed on performers in China’s entertainment realm, and the significant role of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in shaping Chinese nationalism. A deep dive by What’s on Weibo.

Humor is no joking matter. While the business of humor can be competitive and challenging no matter where you are in the world, there are some special considerations and implications for working in humor in China.

This week, Chinese comedian Li Haoshi (李昊石), who performs under the name ‘House’, experienced firsthand that there are strict limitations to what can be openly satirized or joked about in China today. When one of his jokes about two stray dogs described them by referencing a famous People’s Liberation Army (PLA) slogan, he found himself at the center of a social media storm. One related hashtag received over 1.1 billion views on social media platform Weibo this week.

The phrases used in the comic skit, with Li saying they came to mind while watching the dogs chasing a squirrel, were: “Forge exemplary conduct, fight to win.” The lines are part of the PLA slogan “Follow the Party! Fight to win! Forge exemplary conduct!” (“听党指挥,能打胜仗,作风优良!”), which was used by Xi Jinping in 2013.

Li Haoshi was not just socially canceled by angry netizens who defended the honor of Chinese soldiers and slammed the comedian for being so unpatriotic, he also saw his career go up in flames. His shows were called off, he was banned from social media, his employer was fined more than $2 million, he was blacklisted under orders of the China Performing Arts Association (CAPA), and he is now under official investigation.

Following the controversy, there were different views on Chinese social media regarding the issue (read more here). Although the majority of commenters argued that the PLA is never to be joked about, some people also lamented that online discussions lacked nuance.

This scandal sheds light on a complex interplay of factors, including the working conditions within the Chinese comedy industry, the expectations placed on performers in the Chinese entertainment world, and the important role played by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in shaping Chinese nationalism.




Humor has played a prominent role in Chinese language and culture for centuries, manifested through a diverse array of jokes and humorous texts. Professional comedians, who served to entertain the aristocrats, have been around since as early as 800 BC.

Although humor has always been there, it has not necessarily always been appreciated. Confucianism has played a significant role in devaluing humor in China, as it formally regarded humor and satire as inferior forms of aesthetic expression. Chinese rulers who did not tolerate criticism or dissent also could not appreciate jokes or comics which, in any way, went against their rule and authority (Sullivan & Sullivan 2021, 102; Yue 2008, 403-413).

In the early days of modern China, following the collapse of the Qing dynasty, there was a notable resurgence of various forms of humor and jokes that spanned two decades, including cross-talk (xiàngsheng 相声) and skits (xiǎopǐn 小品). It was during this period that the Mandarin word “yōumò” (幽默) was introduced, derived from the English term “humor.” This term was coined by the renowned Chinese writer and translator Lin Yutang (林语堂), who faced the challenge of finding an exact Chinese translation for the English word (Hsu 2015, 2).

For decades, from the founding of People’s Republic of China to the Anti-Rightists Movement and the Cultural Revolution and beyond, there was not much yōumò around. As described by David Moser (2004), the constraints imposed by the Party and political sensitivities severely limited the content and topics that comedians could explore.

The comparatively relaxed political atmosphere of the post-Mao era gave rise to novel forms of humor and comedy. In subsequent years, influenced by the United States, “stand-up comedy” (tuōkǒuxiù 脱口秀) also gained popularity. Initially originating in small bars or cafes in major cities such as Shanghai and Beijing, this comedic genre swiftly spread across the nation.

But similar to numerous other performance forms in China, stand-up comedy faces challenges in maintaining its spontaneity and provocative nature. Performers and comedy clubs are required to obtain licenses and gain script approval, while also navigating strict boundaries regarding politically sensitive topics that are strictly off-limits (Sullivan & Sullivan 2021: 102).

This does not mean that stand-up comedy is not thriving in China. On the contrary, the genre has only become more popular over recent years as stand-up comedy performers skillfully navigate the boundaries of what is acceptable by employing different techniques, such as irony, self-deprecation, and surreal humor to offer alternative perspectives within the permitted discourse (see: Chen and Gao 2023). In doing so, Chinese stand-up comedy has evolved beyond its American influences and embraced more traditional Chinese comedic language techniques from xiàngsheng and other performing arts.

In today’s landscape, Chinese comedians face a multitude of boundaries beyond just political ones. Operating within an environment where cultural and commercial factors hold significant sway, it becomes almost inevitable for popular performers to encounter controversy at some point in their careers. Authorities, audiences, sponsors, or companies may take offense at the content of their comedic expressions, adding further complexity to their navigation of these boundaries.

Li Dan, Papi Jiang, and Yang Li previously also faced criticism for their “inappropriate” or “vulgar” jokes.

The online comedian Papi Jiang (Papi酱), for example, saw her videos being taken offline in 2016 for containing “vulgar language and content,” after which she vowed to choose her words more carefully in the future. Female stand-up comedian Yang Li (杨笠), also known as the “punchline queen,” was dismissed as the spokesperson for American tech company Intel in 2021 for her jokes that allegedly insulted men. The popular talk show host and comedian Li Dan (李诞) sparked controversy for promoting female underwear brand Ubras with a slogan that was deemed sexist.

In such a working environment, it is difficult to fathom that the 31-year-old Li Haoshi, who had previously appeared on the immensely popular stand-up comedy competition show “Rock & Roast” Season Four, was unaware that his reference to a PLA slogan would surpass the acceptable boundaries. However, like many comedians, he may simply have been testing the limits.




Another factor that comes into play when exploring the reasons behind the ‘House’ scandal is the special role attributed to Chinese performers.

Although Chinese performers and renowned names in the cultural industries have always been seen as fulfilling an exemplary role, this notion holds even greater significance in the era of social media, where Chinese performers and celebrities wield tremendous influence in an online environment with over one billion internet users. The rapid growth of online entertainment-focused apps and platforms has also created opportunities for unknown performers to achieve overnight fame.

There have been various studies about celebrities in China. One study from 2019 by Sullivan and Kehoe highlights the complexity of China’s celebrity scene. Because while the industry flourishes, it still operates under strict regulations imposed by both the state and industry stakeholders. Additionally, moral values play a significant role in shaping the industry. Sullivan and Kehoe argue that the state, through media and cultural industries, retains control over the symbolic economy within which celebrities operate (2019, 242).

Channeling public opinion and safeguarding social stability are priorities for Chinese authorities, and the influence of Chinese celebrities is often used to promote Party ideology and policies. While authorities encourage Chinese famous performers to act as positive role models, negative news surrounding the country’s popular stars is often perceived as having a “negative social impact” or a “bad influence on public morale.”

There are some some noteworthy instances that exemplify the significance of moral values and the role of Chinese celebrities as role models. One such example occurred in 2019 when Roy Wang (Wang Yuan 王源), a young Chinese singer and actor widely regarded as one of the country’s most influential teenagers, found himself embroiled in controversy after being caught smoking during a restaurant dinner in Beijing.

The incident surrounding Wang’s smoking quickly ignited a firestorm on Chinese social media. The controversy stemmed from two main factors. Firstly, Beijing had implemented a ban on smoking in all public indoor spaces since 2015, making Wang’s actions a violation of the law by lighting up in a restaurant. Additionally, as an influential teen icon, Wang held the responsibility of being a role model to his numerous fans, amplifying the impact of his behavior.

The idea that China should “raise the bar” for becoming a celebrity was widely propagated in 2021. In that same year, the China Association of Performing Arts (CAPA) officially released new guidelines for Chinese performers aimed at promoting adherence to the principles of “social morality.” According to these guidelines, performers could face a permanent ban from their profession if they fail to comply.

The guidelines are meant to “promote the healthy development of the performer industry” and lay out the “practice norms,” which stipulate that performers, among other things, should abide by national laws and regulations, should honor their contracts and comply with copyright laws. But they also stipulate that they should “love the motherland and support the Party’s line and policies” (“热爱祖国,拥护党的路线方针政策”), “persevere in the orientation that literature and art should serve the people and socialism” (“坚持文艺为人民服务、为社会主义服务的方向”), and “actively uphold a positive image” (“积极树立正面形象”).

By joking about the PLA, Li Haoshi violated some of the rules laid out by CAPA. His severe punishment not only demonstrates to the public that Chinese performers/celebrities should abide by the same laws as ordinary citizens – if not be held to even higher moral standards, – it also serves as a cautionary message to other entertainers, urging them not to overstep boundaries and to uphold their responsibility as public figures to positively impact public morale.




In addition to Li Haoshi’s position as a stand-up comedian and his role as a performer/celebrity, another significant aspect of this controversy revolves around the status of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in contemporary China. PLA soldiers are revered as the heroic “soldier sons of the people” who display unwavering loyalty to the Party and the nation.

The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) was founded in 1927, with Mao Zedong counted among its founders. It played a crucial role in the rise of the Chinese Communist Party and the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949.

In addition to its core duty of protecting the country and conducting military operations, the PLA is also involved in other tasks such as peacekeeping efforts and disaster relief. However, its primary and most significant role is to serve as the military branch of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and ensure the CCP’s continued leadership in China. By safeguarding China’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, and unity, the PLA carries both a military and symbolic significance.

The PLA plays a major part in Chinese nationalist discourses, while simultaneously also playing a central role in driving nationalism in China. Whether it is the social media spectacle of China’s Taiwan military exercises or ‘100.000 soldier loving girls‘ during the Wuhan floods, the PLA acts as “a bridge between nationalism as an abstract ideological concept and as an everyday concern of the people for the security of their country” (Ji 2004, 248).

Military propaganda, often disseminated online, is important in reinforcing the image of PLA soldiers as guardians of the nation. When four Chinese PLA soldiers were killed during a border clash with Indian troops in 2020, Chinese state media outlets made noteworthy efforts to shape the ways in which the soldiers are to be remembered, blending political and personal elements while lauding their unwavering patriotism. In doing so, they posted their photos along with phrases such as “The place where I stand is China” and “I will defend the motherland with my life.”

Those insulting the PLA can face serious consequences under the “Heroes and Martyrs Protection Law” which was introduced in 2018. In 2021, former Economic Observer journalist Qiu Ziming (仇子明), along with two other bloggers, were the first persons to be charged under the new law as they were detained for “insulting” the Chinese soldiers. Qiu, who had 2.4 million fans on his Weibo page, made remarks questioning the number of casualties China said it suffered in the India border clash. He was sentenced to eight months in prison.

Li Haoshi’s faux-pas is particularly sensitive because the lines used in his joke indirectly made a comparison between PLA soldiers and stray dogs, while also placing words famously used by Xi Jinping in a ridiculous context. Additionally, as highlighted by Chinese bloggers and China Digital Times editor Alexander Boyd, Li’s joke potentially alludes to a scene from the 1956 Chinese war movie Battle on Shangganling Mountain (上甘岭) during the Korean War, where soldiers were depicted chasing after a squirrel. The intention of the scene was allegedly to showcase the kind-hearted nature of the brave soldiers of the Volunteer Army.

Some people believe that Li Haoshi was purposely alluding to that scene with his joke, and in doing so, insulted China’s Korean War ‘martyrs,’ which is illegal under the martyr defamation law. That would be a serious offense. In 2022, former investigative journalist Luo Changping was sentenced to seven months in prison and ordered to make a public apology for insulting Chinese soldiers portrayed in a blockbuster movie about the Korean War.

Whether or not Li intended to make such a connection or put much thought into his joke remains uncertain. However, many netizens are angry with Li for various reasons. Chinese nationalists defend the honor of their hero soldiers, while others blame Li for not respecting the boundaries within which he should operate.

Furthermore, Li’s colleagues, Chinese stand-up comedians, are also upset that he took the risk of making a politically incorrect joke, which has put the entire industry under scrutiny. This incident has created more tension for other performers in an already challenging work environment.

On Chinese social Q&A platform Zhihu, one experienced stand-up comedian performer from Shandong shared his view on the matter, suggesting that Li has brought harm to their industry:

For commercial performances, our lines have to first have to go through a script reading meeting, they will then go through 4-6 open rounds of ‘polishing,’ and then go through the script polishing of the copywriters working for the show. (..) Moreover, the words and phrases we use in our jokes must have a contextual understanding and source. Therefore, there is no way that Li Haoshi was not aware of the history and origin of the sentences he used.

At the same time, all of our jokes in commercial performances require approval. Therefore, Li Haoshi obviously knew that this particular joke wouldn’t pass the approval, so he intentionally didn’t submit it. This is not a case of ignorance, it is simply being malicious.”

Overall, Li Haoshi’s case serves as a warning to others to be cautious with their words, whether used during performances, talk shows, interviews, or online.

Jokes are not to be taken lightly in a media environment where every line carries weight. When humor becomes such a serious matter, it becomes increasingly challenging to stay funny.

By Manya Koetse

References (other online sources hyperlinked in text)

Chen, Dan, and Gengsong Gao. 2023. “The Transgressive Rhetoric of Standup Comedy in China.” Critical Discourse Studies 20 (1): 1-17.

Hsu, Pi-ching. 2015. Feng Menglong’s Treasury of Laughs. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill.

Ji, You. 2004. “Nationalism, the Chinese Defence Culture and the People’s Liberation Army.” In: Leong H. Liew and and Shaoguang Wang (eds), Nationalism, Democracy and National Integration in China, pp. 247-268. London: RoutledgeCurzon.

Moser, David. 2004. “Stifled Laughter: How the Communist Party Killed Chinese the Chinese Humor Form of Xiangsheng.”, accessed via [20 May 2023].

Sullivan, Lawrence R. and Nancy Sullivan. 2021. Historical Dictionary of Chinese Culture. New York and London: Rowman & Littlefield

Sullivan, Jonathan, and Séagh Kehoe. 2019. “Truth, Good and Beauty: The Politics of Celebrity in China.” The China Quarterly 237 (March): 241–256.

Yue, Xiao Dong. 2008. “Exploration of Chinese Humor.” Humor: International Journal of Humor Research 21 (4): 407-421.

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