China Central Television’s (CCTV’) Spring Festival gala, known as Chunwan, is said to be the world’s most-watched broadcast. An exercise in propaganda as well as entertainment, it reaches more than 800 million viewers — more if you believe the Chinese Communist Party statistics. According to CCTV, more people watch the gala than the NFL’s Super Bowl or the World Cup soccer final. Josh Shin of the Wall Street Journal described it as “a four-hour jumble of songs, skits, lavish costumes and gravity-defying hair-dos piped into living rooms across China every Lunar New Year’s eve.” [Source: Josh Chin, China Real Time, Wall Street Journal, February 19, 2015]

Aired by CCTV since 1983, the four-and-a-half-hour gala features singing by famous artists, comedy sketches, elaborate dancing numbers, , Peking Operas, acrobatic and martial art performances, kitschy song-and-dance acts, often imbued with patriotism and themes emphasizing national harmony. Yiqin Fu wrote in Tea Leaf Nation: “While not generally known for its quality or sophistication, the Gala has become a national tradition as families gather to celebrate the Lunar New Year, China’s biggest holiday.” [Source: Yiqin Fu, Tea Leaf Nation, Foreign Policy, February 20, 2015]

“Even if many viewers only keep it on in the background as they eat dinner or play cards,’ Shin wrote, “such a large audience makes the show an irresistible vehicle for the delivery of political messages. The proportion of political content has waxed and waned over the years, The Spring Festival gala, like the Academy Awards, derives much of its cultural cachet from the joy viewers take in complaining about it. Likely more worrying for CCTV was the greater interest many viewers seemed to show in a promotional give-away the broadcaster organized in conjunction with the WeChat instant messaging service. The campaign — which required users to shake their phones at specific moments during the broadcast for a chance to win virtual packets of Lunar New Year money, or hongbao — left some viewers complaining of elbow pain the day after the broadcast. “This is the Spring Festival Gala in the 21st century,” one friend of China Real Time’s observed. “The show is on the TV, but everyone is looking at their phones.”

In 2017, SupChina reported: “Over the years, China’s Spring Festival Gala has evolved to become more than an officially sanctioned TV extravaganza to celebrate Chinese New Year. It’s hated as much as it’s loved, but it’s so popular that it can make the career of any musician, actor, comedian, or magician who performs in it. The show is a major topic of conversation around the dinner table and on social media during the weeklong Spring Festival holiday. The show in 2017 reached 78.72 percent of China’s 1.35 billion people, or well in excess of 1 billion viewers. Despite its unparalleled ratings, most people like to complain about the Spring Festival Gala, especially the youth. China’s younger generations are close followers of social media and of international TV series and films. They often have strong opinions about the Spring Festival Gala’s extravagant stage settings, dated jokes, and stultifying ideological lessons that the show strives to communicate. The 2017 show's the main propaganda points throughout the show were national unity and the importance of family ties, whereas the 2016 show emphasized Xi Jinping’s “Chinese Dream” by showing off the country’s military prowess. [Source: SUPChina, February 1, 2017]

The marathon event showcases the country’s musical diversity with an extensive lineup of Chinese pop stars performing hit songs .After a big deal was made about lip-synching during the Opening Ceremonies of the Olympics in Beijing in 2008, performers on “CCTV Spring Festival Gala” were ordered not to lip-synch. The galas have often glorified top Communist Party leaders, such as Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao. In 2007 and 2008, the shows went as far as displaying the entire Politburo Standing Committee. In 2017, the Communist Party newspaper the People’s Daily published a commentary before the show, which attributed the show’s failure to win viewers’ hearts to people’s increasingly critical tastes and the fact that competing entertaining options, such as watching movies and playing video games, have reduced the appeal of the show. [Source: SupChina, February 1, 2017]

Good Websites and Sources: Wikipedia article on Chinese New Year; Wikipedia ; History of Chinese New Year ; Chinese Calendar ; Wikipedia article on traditional holidays Wikipedia ; Wikipedia article on Chinese Calendar Wikipedia ; Chinese Astrology Chinatown Connection on Astrology Chinatown Connection ; Chinatown Connection on the Chinese Zodiac Chinatown Connection ; Wikipedia article on Chinese Astrology Wikipedia

CCTV’s Spring Festival Gala as Political Theater

Ying Zhu wrote in on Wall Street Journal’s China Real Time: CCTV’s ’s Spring Festival gala “did not begin as the unabashed political theater that was on display during” the 2015 show. “When the show first aired in 1983, it was an evening of rather apolitical entertainment built around the notion of “family reunion” – a refreshing and popular departure from the preceding decades of brutal political campaigns that had left lives in tatters and society exhausted. But the gala’s immediate success proved too great a temptation for the Communist Party, which saw a golden opportunity to disseminate propaganda to a nation full of people wired directly via television to the central state. Starting in 1984, patriotism and solidarity became the show’s new themes, followed in recent years by national revival. [Source: Ying Zhu, China Real Time, Wall Street Journal, February 21, 2015, Ying Zhu is professor of Chinese Media and Society at the City University of New York |::|]

“As Chinese society has grown more complex, the party’s valuation of the gala as a means of communicating with the masses has increased. Late last year, the gala was accorded “national project” status, a political significance given previously only to the 2008 Beijing Olympics opening ceremony. The elevation translates to stricter party oversight. Programing the gala has now become more hazardous than walking a tightrope. The challenge CCTV, China’s state broadcaster, faces in producing the gala is illustrated by the experience of Feng Xiaogang, an irreverent film director who tried his hand at directing the gala” in 2014. “Feng, one of the most influential figures in Chinese film, was recruited to bring a popular touch to the annual ritual, which had lost its appeal particularly among the sophisticated young urbanites with little loyalty to the tradition or the network. But his talent was straightjacketed by party directives. As he later lamented, the show was made to please party leaders, not ordinary viewers. |::|

“The gala has over the years developed a formula that weaves party sanctioned political directives into an exuberantly festive line-up of songs, dances, comedy skits, martial arts, magic tricks, acrobatics and Chinese traditional opera. The gala promotes a party-sanctioned theme each year. Ethnic harmony is a constant motif, with ethnic minorities performing song and dance numbers in traditional clothing every year. Occasionally, these displays backfire, as when the show was lambasted for trotting out a Uyghur performer to sing “The Party’s Policies are Good” in 2010, less than a year after deadly ethnic riots erupted in the capital of the Uyghur homeland of Xinjiang. The gala producers were savvier this year, giving one of the show’s highly coveted host slots to a Uyghur, Negmat Rahman, a Beijing-educated TV personality who speaks pitch-perfect Mandarin and stands as a shining example of the Chinese model minority. |::|

“In its first year as a national project, the CCTV Spring Festival gala felt tentative, laborious, and somehow both over- and half-baked at the same time. In years past, even when it has disappointed, the gala has managed to play to people’s warm feelings about family and, by extension, the party. The collective ritual of watching gala over a family reunion meal has become one of the most stabilizing forces in Chinese society. No matter how bad things might get, CCTV reassures the country, we will always have the gala, and the party. But it is doubtful, though, that audiences will come to the party’s table for much longer if the gala continues to prize leaders’ satisfaction over viewers’ pleasure. |::|

Spring Festival Gala Fixtures: Censorship, Political Songs and Sexism

At the time of the 2017 show, SupChina reported:“.After the broadcasts, “state authorities appeared to have zero tolerance for negative comments, and little tolerance for even constructive criticism: On the popular knowledge-sharing platform Zhihu (similar to Quora), users are currently prohibited from searching for “Spring Festival Gala.” Meanwhile, users of the messaging app WeChat have found that certain posts regarding the show have been identified as “inappropriate content,” while many Weibo users have complained that their posts about the Spring Festival Gala were taken down without explanation. “Some of the themes from the show that generated discussion this year are explained below:

Sexist Sketches: “Under the main theme of “close family ties,” many comedic sketches touched upon the role of women in the family, yet in a way that triggered outrage from the audience. In a skit titled “Long Last Love”, a divorcing couple came onto the stage and talks about each other’s shortcomings. While the audience anticipated that it would be love that ultimately brought the couple back together as the title indicates, the solution turned out to be in vitro fertilization (IVF), as the real reason behind the couple’s split is that the wife is unable to conceive children. Internet users reacted strongly to the sketch: One commenter wrote, “I don’t know what message this sketch intends to convey. For me, this is the best anti-marriage advertisement.” In response to the sexist themes of many sketches in the Spring Festival Gala, some internet users started a hashtag campaign on Weibo demanding that “CCTV apologize to the nation’s women” . The tag, however, was censored by Weibo after gathering much attention. [Source: SupChina, February 1, 2017]

“Political Song and Dance: Whereas 2016's show was replete with marching soldiers singing songs in praise of the Party and government, the 2017 show, perhaps because of increasingly loud activism for independence for Taiwan and Hong Kong, shifted its focus to national unity. In a song titled “Nation”, Hong Kong movie star Jackie Chan stood in front of a massive Chinese national flag together with students from mainland China (including representatives of ethnic minorities), Hong Kong, and Taiwan. Though many complained about the heavy political flavor of the song and dance routine, some applauded the performance for its use of sign language.

“Old Faces Versus Pop Icons: Once a stage that was only reserved for established artists, the Spring Festival Gala this year featured many young singers and artists in an effort to attract a younger audience. The 2017 show kicked off with TFBOYS, a hit boy band, and the leading cast of the popular TV drama Ode to Joy, sometimes called the Chinese version of Sex and the City. Other pop stars who made it to the stage were Chinese singer Lay from the Korean pop group EXO, Lu Han from the same band, mainland actor Jing Boran, and Hong Kong actor William Chan. This did not please all of its intended audience. Some internet users criticized the show for its overuse of young idols, as many could only perform by lip syncing, and some acts were called childish or strange. A good example is the song “Being Healthy”, performed by Lay and Jing Boran, in which the two grown-up actors were singing and dancing in vegetable costumes.

“High-tech elements: One of the most notable scenes from the 2016 show was when 540 dancing robots and 29 neon drones backed up a song performed by the famous Chinese singer Sun Nan . This year’s show continued to serve as a platform for the nation to show off its latest high-tech achievements. Viewers could use mobile apps to watch a 360-degree panoramic view of some scenes, and many acts featured high-definition 3D projections of colors and lights in the background, notably, a duet by Mao Amin and Zhang Jie .

2021 New Year Gala Criticized for Blackface Dancers and Sexist Jokes

CCTV was criticized for a performance featuring dancers in black face in the 2021 Gala New Year Show, whose theme was celebrating Chinese medical workers and the country's space program. Associated Press reported: “The “African Song and Dance” performance came at start of the Spring Festival Gala. It included Chinese dancers in African-style costumes and dark face makeup beating drums. The five-hour annual program, which state TV has said in the past is seen by as many as 800 million viewers, also included tributes to nurses, doctors and others who fought the coronavirus pandemic that began in central China in late 2019. [Source: Joe McDonald, Associated Press, February 12, 2021]

Reuters reported: “During CCTV's four-hour show performers appeared on stage wearing outfits that approximated African clothing and had darkened their skin with make-up. “The New Year Gala director team is just stupid and vicious," said one of a number of users who took to Weibo, China's Twitter-like social media platform, to criticise the skit. “Is there any difference between Chinese people doing blackface and white people slanting their eyes to make fun of Asians?" The gala sparked similar controversy in 2018 over a skit featuring actress Lou Naiming. She appeared on stage in colourful garb, her face and arms coloured brown, carrying a fruit basket on her head and accompanied by someone costumed as a monkey. [Source: Reuters, February 12, 2021]

“Organisations and advocates for Africans in China also lambasted the show, which aired Thursday evening. “While supporters of the practice allege that blackface centers on empathy & realism, it’s difficult to disassociate it from a long history of minstrelsy & fixation on problematic caricatures," Black China Caucus, an activist group, said on Twitter. “Next year, we hope organizers decide to end this practice & hire some of thousands of Black people living in many parts of China." China's foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a Reuters, request for comment on Friday, a public holiday. A representative for CCTV could not be reached for comment.

Jiayun Feng wrote in SupChina: “CCTV’s annual Spring Festival Gala (chūnw n) comes in for withering criticism nearly every year for poor taste, sexism, and other issues. This year is no different: Five minutes into the gala, a group of Chinese actors adorned in blackface makeup and stereotypical African tribal garments appeared on the stage, dancing joyfully in a segment that also featured flamenco performers, belly dancers, and women dressed like Cleopatra in ancient Egypt. [Source: Jiayun Feng, SupChina, February 11, 2021]

“Aside from racism, this year’s Chunwan also offered up its traditional sexist stereotypes about women and uncomfortable jokes about single people. One sketch, named “Feeling pressure to get married at every festival,” featured a mother relentlessly shaming her daughter for being single, and setting her up on blind dates. “Stop pretending to be happy. You are a single dog,” the woman says to her daughter. In another act, called “A train heading into spring,” a divorced man jokes about his ex-wife looking like Voldemort when she does not have her makeup on. When confronted by his former partner, who blames their split on conflicting work schedules, the man insists that the problem is his modest income, which is not enough to fulfill women’s desires for “fur coats and designer bags.”

Luxury Brands and Fashion on Full Display at China’s 2021 Spring Festival Gala

The Gala is viewed by luxury brands and other companies as chance to showcase their products in front of hundreds of millions of Chinese viewers. Tianwei Zhang of WWD, wrote: In 2021 a sizable number of young performers with huge online followings joined the stage with local showbiz veterans like Li Guyi, Han Hong and Jackie Chan, generating huge online discussions around their performances and, more importantly, their personal style. “Red, a color that symbolizes luck, dominated the fashion choices as usual, with a dash of silver, gold, black, and rhinestones here and there. [Source:Tianwei Zhang, WWD, February 12, 2021]

“Fashion highlights during the gala included a group performance featuring actor Li Xian, who wore a bespoke Ermenegildo Zegna red suit with a black tie and a Cartier watch; actress Liu Haocun in head-to-toe Miu Miu; singer Chen Linong, a member of the popular Chinese boy group Nine Percent, in a gold dotted red blazer from Chinese designer Laurence Xu, and Uyghur actress Dilraba Dilmurat wearing a bespoke puff shoulder Qibao from Shanghai-based label Le Fame.

“Actor Wang Yibo wore a full look from Chanel’s spring 2021 collection while performing a song with Hong Kong singer Andy Lau, while actress Guan Xiaotong wore a Red Valentino dress with Fred Pretty Woman jewelry, and a pair of Rover Vivier heels. Hong Kong actor William Chan donned a red top from Barrie, a Chanel Coco Crush ring and J12 Watch for the warm-up, and a merlot Berluti suit for a group performance with actresses Nana Ouyang and Jiang Shuying, who both wore jewelry from Chaumet.

“Singing along with Jackie Chan, actress Zhou Dongyu wore a pink Alexis Mabille haute couture dress with Boucheron Plume de Paon earrings and ring, while singer Angela Chang and Coco Lee sported a black and red ensemble. Also on the stage, actor Li Yifeng wore a burgundy double-breasted blazer from Hugo Boss’ resort 2021 collection and Zhu Yilong wore Acne Studios.

“Yang Mi, one of the most followed people on Weibo with more than 100 million fans, wears a West and East infused dress by Chinese couturier Guo Pei while singing with a dozen other actors. Popular boy band TF Boys members Jackson Yee donned a full look from Chinese designer Sankuanz, Karry Wang wore a bespoke Zegna suit, and Roy Wang was outfitted in a Koché jacket and Stella McCartney trousers.

“There was also a fashion show during the gala. Top models Sui He, Ming Xi, Zhang Zilin and modeling students from the Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology showcased dresses inspired by Chinese elements, while singer Chris Lee performed. But the fashion show sparked controversy online, as many people questioned whether this kind of nouveau take on Chinese elements represent true Chinese beauty. The local fashion industry also shared its dismay on social media. A fashion editor from Harper’s Bazaar China wrote on Weibo: “This should have been a perfect opportunity to showcase Hanfu. Such a waste.”

“Another influencer even compared the fashion show to “a space odyssey,” as the showcased fashion is far from China’s current aesthetic. In contrast, a white Gucci coat, worn by actress Ni Ni in a comedy sketch, was probably the most well-received fashion choice of the night. The hashtag #Ninocoat went viral on Weibo shortly after she appeared on television.

2019 Spring Festival Gala: A “Huge Success”

Jiayun Feng wrote in Sup China: CCTV claimed the 2019 Spring Festival Gala was a huge success — I call it BS. CCTV released a report on the morning of February 6 [the day after the show] summarizing how the 2019 Spring Festival Gala performed in terms of viewership and audience response. The report gives the official narrative of this year’s rendition of the show, which began in 1983 and has often been the world’s biggest television event by audience numbers. To absolutely no one’s surprise, but in apparent contradiction to much of the snark about it on Chinese social media, the 2019 gala was allegedly “record-breaking” and has received overwhelmingly positive feedback. [Source: Jiayun Feng, Sup China, February 6, 2019]

“According to the report (in Chinese), the show attracted a staggering 1.17 billion viewers across the globe. That’s up around 4 percent compared with the 2016 gala, which had 1.13 billion viewers. Meanwhile, CCTV noted that around 96.98 percent of all the online comments about the show are positive, which made this year’s gala one of the most well received editions in recent years.

“Impressive numbers, huh? Let’s hit pause here to give the 96.98 percent number a closer look. The report actually doesn’t elaborate on how many netizens are surveyed, what counted as positive feedback, or what was the most popular act of the night. For those who need a quick recap on how the gala turned out, all I can say is that the vast majority of the performances were pure garbage, with only a few brights spot buried in there. (We dig this Shaolin act!) The songs, mostly performed by pop stars with no talent, were irredeemably bad. The sketches were nowhere near as funny and sharp as they used to be. Even the magic show was later exposed as an outrageous lie that no real magician would approve of.

“Maybe I’m in the minority. Maybe I haven’t spent enough time online to get a precise sense of the overall reaction. Maybe I’m hanging out with the “wrong” crowd, which has a tendency to complain about the show. But my skepticism of the number’s authenticity seems to echo the sentiments of many other people on the Chinese internet.

“Below is a collection of responses to the news: 1) “They grade themselves every year.” 2) “What’s the source of this number?” 3) “If it’s true, we are witnessing a miracle.” 4) “What a joke.” 5) “Let’s make sure 97 percent of the comments about this news are positive. Let’s work together to make the internet a space of positive energy.” 6) “Every year, they deceive themselves.” 7) “They are leaving some room for improvement next year.” 8) ““Boo!”

In addition, a Weibo account resembling the Onion wrote the following satirical post: ““Clarification: The rumor about 96.98 percent positive feedback has been identified as fake news by us after our careful investigation. The number is 100 percent!” In 2018, , after the show concluded, Sina Weibo banned users from searching for “Spring Festival Gala complaints” chūnw n t cáo). This year, criticism is allowed on the internet, but it’s clear that the institution behind the show has walled itself off from honest feedback. As an old Chinese proverb goes, “You can never wake up a person who is pretending to sleep.” I’d suggest people stop investing in this show altogether. Just let the gala operate in an alternate universe, where its fantasy audience will be pleased at whatever garbage it pulls off.

2016 New Year’s Gala: Viewers Demand More Monkeys and Less Armored Tanks

Eva Dou wrote in the Wall Street Journal’s , China Real Time: “Hate-watching China Central Television’s annual spring festival gala, or chunwan, with its corny stand-up routines, stiff hairdos and outdated music.This year there is one more thing to grouse about: the military parade. “CCTV has announced that this year’s chunwan will include a reenactment of last September’s military parade marking the 70th anniversary of Japan’s defeat in World War II. “We have a responsibility, a duty, to recreate the spectacular event of the great Sept. 3 military parade,” an organizer of this year’s gala said, as quoted in state media. [Source: Eva Dou, China Real Time, Wall Street Journal, February 2, 2016]

“Political propaganda generally plays a role in the annual show. The huge viewership — six times larger than the U.S. Super Bowl’s — naturally makes the gala a prime target for channeling political messages and reminding citizens of the government’s accomplishments. Last year’s chunwan included skits about Beijing’s anti-corruption drive and included a song, “I Give My Heart to You,” that featured video shots of President Xi Jinping meeting with citizens around the country.

“But for some, a military parade goes too far. Many took to Chinese social media platform Weibo to protest ringing in the Year of the Monkey with a review of China’s store of armaments. They also agitated for China’s most famous fictional monkey — the Monkey King, played in the TV show by actor Liu Xiao Ling Tong — to make an appearance instead. “If we watch chunwan to see military parades, should we watch military parades to see monkeys?” asked one Weibo user. “The only thing I want to watch is the Monkey King,” another user wrote under one post about the military parade reenactment, a sentiment echoed by many commenters.

“Millions have threatened to boycott this year’s chunwan after the Monkey King actor (Liu Xiao Ling Tong’s real name is Zhang Jinlai) posted a picture of himself rehearsing for a different show instead of the gala, and CCTV has had to shut off its comment function on Weibo, according to China’s official Xinhua News Agency. It is unclear why the beloved actor was not invited.

Surprises at the 2015 CCTV New Year Gala: an Uyghur Host and Missing Comedian

About two weeks before the 2015 CCTV New Year Gala, Jess Macy Yu of the New York Times wrote: “CCTV has announced the long-awaited names of the eight people who will serve as hosts of this year’s gala. One of the presenters is Zhu Jun, who has held the role for the past 18 galas. He will be joined by Dong Qing, a television hostess who attracted national attention last year for giving birth in the United States, and Kang Hui, a well-known television news anchor. CCTV also announced that for the first time, one of the presenters would be an ethnic Uyghur — Negmat Rahman, the host of the popular television quiz show “Happy Dictionary.” [Source: Jess Macy Yu, Sinosphere, New York Times, February 3, 2105]

“The decision to invite a Uyghur — a member of the Turkic-speaking, mostly Muslim ethnic group native to the western region of Xinjiang — to the Spring Festival Gala stage has drawn considerable comment online. Some have speculated that the choice was made in part to project a smooth relationship with Xinjiang, which has been beset by ethnic tensions and sometimes deadly violence in recent years. The gala’s theme is “Family Harmony Yields Success,” and CCTV said that both family and national unity would be illuminated in dramatic sketches and comedy shorts. But if the national unity narrative is a predictable feature of the annual television event, the selection of hosts in 2015 was far less so.

“Among the surprises in CCTV’s announcement was that Zhou Benshan, a comedian and former gala host, would not appear this year, even though his skits had long been a staple of the show. The state news media has reported that Mr. Zhou, whose flamboyant lifestyle has not fit well with President Xi Jinping’s anticorruption campaign and whose jokes have often targeted farmers and the elderly, has also seen his television programs suspended. Discussing preparations for the gala, Hu Zhanfan, the CCTV director, recently said that the show would avoid displaying a “low style” and would not invite “actors with stains or moral misdeeds” to participate.”

CCTV’s annual Spring Festival Gala was streamed online exclusively on iQiyi This is the first time that CCTV has cooperated with a streaming site in the gala’s 30-year history. “CCTV choose us because of our streaming content and wide coverage among users,” said Ma Dong, chief content officer at iQiyi. “This also marks CCTV’s first attempt to broadcast globally through TV and streaming platforms.” Not only will the gala appear on iQiyi, a series of self-produced videos about the gala will also be available online. [Source: Global Times, February 15, 2015]

2015 Chinese New Year’s Gala: an Exercise of Xi Jinping Propaganda

Ying Zhu wrote in on Wall Street Journal’s China Real Time: The 2015 CCTV Spring Festival gala “ was one of the most unabashedly propagandistic in recent memory, with overt political messages not so much artfully woven in as bluntly shouted out. The broadcast was punctuated throughout by references to the “China Dream,” a key catch phrase in Xi’s campaign to “rejuvenate” China. Also emphasized was the important role national security plays in realizing that dream, as illustrated by images of military forces saluting the party and a profusion of skits portraying altruistic police and soldiers. Significantly, this year’s gala also marked a return to the cult of personality – something China has not witnessed since the end of the Mao Zedong era. In one of the show’s biggest moments, Xi, China’s new great helmsman, was celebrated with a brand new song, “I Give You My Heart,” which was accompanied by a video montage showcasing Xi’s efforts in serving the people. [Source: Ying Zhu, China Real Time, Wall Street Journal, February 21, 2015, Ying Zhu is professor of Chinese Media and Society at the City University of New York |::|]

“The specific political agenda” of the 2015 show “was to propagate Chinese President Xi Jinping’s anti-graft and cultural cleansing campaign. Cross-talks and comedy skits shamed corrupt officials and repudiated morally suspect social practices, though without much success. The first time CCTV’s Spring Festival gala spotlighted corruption was in 1988, when a cross-talk routine satirized a small-time section chief who cooked up a scheme to use public fund for a Peking duck feast. Though equipped with much juicier material for graft offenses,” the 2015 skits fell flat. Particularly tone-deaf was a routine called “Network Circle” that attempted to make fun of the habitual tendency among Chinese people to seek short-cuts through exchanges of favors. Ordinary people in the audience, many of them no doubt victimized by this form of petty corruption, responded with only lukewarm applause.” |::|

In October 2014 Chinese President Xi Jinping convened a meeting of prominent Chinese cultural figures at which he delivered a speech emphasizing that the arts should foster patriotism and correct viewpoints of history, nationality and culture. Jess Macy Yu of the New York Times wrote: “CCTV subsequently announced that it would ban all artists with criminal or drug records from the Spring Festival Gala, despite criticism by some that this would violate Chinese law prohibiting job discrimination against people undergoing treatment for illicit drug use.” Xi Jinping’s anticorruption campaign also had an impact behind the scenes: CCTV indicated that there would be no ads for expensive liquors or gold coins, and that an inspection team would to ensure that no state funds are misappropriated. [Source: Jess Macy Yu, Sinosphere, New York Times, February 3, 2015]

On the 2015 show, Josh Shin of the Wall Street Journal wrote: ““A number of skits and songs addressed the lives of the ordinary people, who were also featured prominently in the studio audience, recalling Mr. Xi’s “mass line” campaign urging officials to better understand regular folk. The gala was also notable for featuring a pair of comedy routines dealing with corruption – an unusually sensitive topic for the show, but one that dovetails with Mr. Xi’s wide-ranging anti-corruption drive. “Some irony or scoffing at corruption cases in an innocuous way would resonate with the public,” the state-run China Daily newspaper quoted Peking University political scientist Yan Jirong as saying. The most overt message, however, was delivered roughly three hours into the program with a soaring political love song titled “I Give My Heart To You,” illustrated with a video montage of Mr. Xi meeting citizens and soldiers in spots around the country. “My motherland, my brothers and sisters/I give my heart to you,” Hong Kong tenor Warren Mok sang as images flashed in the background showing Mr. Xi planting trees, shaking hands with residents in an old Beijing alley and stomping through the snow to greet soldiers on China’s northern border. .[Source: Josh Chin, China Real Time, Wall Street Journal, February 19, 2015 |+|]

“Although the Spring Festival gala is always tightly managed, this year’s edition was even more so, according to state media and CCTV staff. The show was given the status of a “national project,” on par with the Beijing 2008 Olympics, and organizers were quoted as saying the show was being planned according to “three no’s”: No vulgar content, no low-brow content and no artists with histories of drug use or other personal problems. Propaganda officials, who typically sit in only on the last Spring Festival gala rehearsals, monitored every rehearsal for this year’s show and cancelled a number of acts deemed to be “too entertaining,” according to a CCTV staff member with knowledge of the gala’s production. |+|

“Despite, or maybe because of, the heavy hand, the show came in for criticism from viewers, many of whom went online to complain that some of the acts – particularly the anti-corruption comedy routines – were unusually boring. The show also sparked heated criticism on social media sites over skits that many viewers thought were demeaning to women, including one in which two men attempt to educate an unemployed and boyfriend-less “tomboy” by trotting out a leggy “goddess” for her to mimic. “You see?” asks one of the men when the model walks out on stage. “This is what elegance is.” “The moral direction of state media and the party is abundantly clear. Even my father couldn’t watch it,” wrote one user on the Weibo microblogging site. |+|

CCTV’s New Year’s Gala Turns to Misogyny to Boost Ratings

Yiqin Fu wrote in Tea Leaf Nation: “The world’s most-watched television show may be trying to broaden its appeal, but angering the female portion of its 690 million viewers probably isn’t what the directors had in mind...Amid increasing awareness of women’s issues in the country, this year’s production ignited online debate over what many saw as discriminatory and insensitive skits about “secondhand” and “leftover women,” as well as hints that female officials can get promoted by providing sexual favors. [Source: Yiqin Fu, Tea Leaf Nation, Foreign Policy, February 20, 2015]

“Faced with a decline in ratings in recent years, Gala directors have sought to woo new viewers by incorporating youth-driven slang and topics, but their effort to do so this year went over like a lead balloon. Exhibit A: In one skit, a father was waiting to meet his daughter’s boyfriend for the first time, but also, it happened, was trying to pawn off an old coat at a thrift store. (A daughter who is good to her parents is known in one Chinese expression as a “thoughtful cotton coat.”) In a mix-up, the father mistook the thrift store employee for his future son-in-law. The employee proposed a price of around $5, declaring his offer fair because the object of discussion was “used” and “secondhand.” Later, when the father met the boyfriend, who the father thought was the thrift store employee, he said he intended to “donate” the coat (or was that his daughter?) to college students. Both jokes drew loud cheers and applause from the live in-studio audience. But web users were irate. In a widely shared Feb. 19 post on China’s massive microblogging platform, Weibo, one user wrote that the skit reinforced the notion that “women are the property of men,” sold by the father to the husband.

“Then there’s the topic of sheng nu, or so-called “leftover women” who’ve missed the window for matrimony. Women in China face tremendous pressure to wed before age 27; but as Chinese women become more educated, they have tended to marry later, and sometimes not at all. The topic of marriage is especially sensitive during the New Year, when daughters visit their parents back home and often have to defend their love life (or lack thereof). That provided grist for another Gala skit, in which a woman in her late 20s complained to her brothers about not having a job or a boyfriend. The brothers called upon a model to help their beleaguered sister; the model and the daughter then did a dance called “the ‘manly lady’ and the ‘goddess,’” referring to Internet slang terms that describe an unladylike woman and a pretty woman, respectively. The model (“the goddess”) chanted, “I have big eyes, small lips, and a tall nose. I have thin arms and thin legs.” The “manly lady” responded with self-deprecating jokes about her own body and her lack of male suitors. To single women between the ages of 25 or 35, it felt an awful lot like they were the butt of the joke.

“And then there’s corruption: long taboo, but given official blessing this year as a Gala topic amid a nation-wide anti-corruption campaign. In a particularly egregious skit, a female official instructed a subordinate in how to ingratiate herself to the new male boss. “Let me show you how I climbed my way up,” the woman said, pointing to a chart on her laptop detailing all her previous bosses’ penchants. “This boss liked fishing, so I dived into the water and put the bait on the fishhook. This boss liked to play mahjong, so I sacrificed my good tiles to let him win. This one liked me.” She paused and added, “Now you know how I got my position.” The insinuation was clear – that the woman had risen through the ranks by sleeping with her boss. Many believed that the skits stigmatized single women in their late 20s and reinforced a stereotype that female government and corporate leaders in China are more likely to climb the career ladder through sex. “The Gala shamelessly discriminated against and made fun of women,” one user wrote on Weibo. “Are the directors taking us back to imperial times when women had to bind their feet?”

“Some defended the skits in language that feminists the world over might recognize. Netizens accused “overzealous feminists” of being too sensitive, too serious, or incapable of taking a joke. Others seemed perplexed at the online backlash. “Didn’t we all laugh when we were watching?” a Weibo user wrote of one skit. “The show’s creator didn’t mean to [offend women], but some chose to interpret the jokes as discriminatory.” To be sure, the Gala has historically been something of an equal-opportunity offender. Past skits have repeatedly mocked people for their height, weight, looks, and regional accents. But in the past few years, numerous public debates both online and offline have questioned the place of women in Chinese society. Online outrage over this year’s gala partly reflects increasing public awareness of gender inequality in China.

Xi’ Jinping's 2015 New Year Office Chat

On New Year’s Day, it what appears to be a new tradition, Xi Jinping for the second year in a row gave television speech from office. The Wall Street Journal reported: “In a nearly 10-minute speech broadcast at the top of the main China Central Television evening news the president said reform and rule of law would be twin goals for the coming year. “In 2014, we pressed ahead with reform, cracked many hard nuts and introduced a slew of important reform measures, which were closely related to the interests of our citizens,” Mr. Xi said, according to the official Xinhua News Agency. [Source: China Real Time blog, Wall Street Journal, December 31, 2014 ]

“The speech was notable mostly for its location: Mr. Xi’s office. Wearing a burgundy tie and dark suit, Mr. Xi sat behind his large wooden desk and in front of a Chinese flag and a mural of the Great Wall. It appeared to be the latest effort by Mr. Xi to project an all-business image after a year where he has emphasized repeatedly the importance of forthright work styles among Chinese officials. The year before, Mr. Xi also sent a brief new year’s greeting from behind the desk–and in doing so set off a public sensation as Internet users commented on his office photos and seeming lack of a computer. Despite Mr. Xi’s busy year, the desk appeared little disturbed, with its two red phones to his right along with a whitish one. Notebooks were stacked neatly within reach. But at least one photo on the bookshelves behind appeared new: over Mr. Xi’s left shoulder looked like an early shot of his father in the Mao-suit like army uniform of the day.

“Speaking a steady timbre, Mr. Xi turned his head slightly to read each line. “We adapted to the new normal of economic growth; actively promoted economic and social development; and further improved the people’s lives,” he said. Earlier in the day, Mr. Xi also delivered greetings in a speech to top party leaders where he told them to maintain solidarity and listen to the voice of the people. That message doesn’t need much explanation: the party under Mr. Xi this year leveled corruption allegations at three top-level leaders, and the campaign appears popular.

“Top leaders also attended a traditional opera for the new year “featuring martial heroes, righteous and incorrupt officials,” according to Xinhua. Coverage of Mr. Xi’s new-year activities took up nearly 30 minutes in the normally half-hour news roundup. Shortly after the televised speech, Xinhua published a commentary that said Mr. Xi is leading China into a new era of “great rejuvenation” for 2015 and can count on enthusiasm to do it from the nation’s public, as well as foreigners like Mark Zuckerberg. The Facebook chief and co-founder recently instructed his employees to read Mr. Xi’s book, despite the service’s ban in China.”

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Chinese government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated September 2021

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