A gala performance brings in the new year

Updated: 2012-01-28 10:07

By Chen Nan (China Daily)

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A gala performance brings in the new year

The opening performance of the 2004 Spring Festival gala. [Photo by Dong Fang / For China Daily]

Show is more than just entertainment and is now a cultural ritual for millions of families across the land, Chen Nan reports.

For hundreds of millions of families, watching China Central Television's (CCTV) Spring Festival gala, or Chun Wan, has long been a Lunar New Year ritual, along with eating dumplings and setting off fireworks. Broadcast live on Chinese New Year's Eve, the nearly five-hour event features a variety of acts, including dance, music, comedy and magic. It has notched up several world records, such as the largest audience for an annual variety show, most performing artists and longest. The show reportedly draws between 400 million to 700 million viewers. If a comparison had to be made, a distant rival might be the Super Bowl, which usually takes place around the same time of year. Often billed as the most-watched US television broadcast, the Super Bowl draws an average audience of more than 100 million viewers.

But the CCTV gala is not merely entertainment.

"It's part of modern culture for Chinese people," Huang Yihe, director of the first CCTV gala in 1983, said. "The audience gathers in front of the TV and watches the gala with families and friends. They have been working for a whole year and need an outlet to express their emotions, be they happy or sad."

A gala performance brings in the new year
The first CCTV gala was broadcast live, which was a new concept for audiences then. In those days it was considered a luxury to have a TV.

"Everyone wore the same clothes, rode bicycles and made a similar amount of money. The gala, with its colorful stage and beautiful stars, was like a new world for them," Huang said.

As more and more families bought TV sets, the gala became an indispensable part of New Year's Eve, just like traditional food.

"Unlike any other galas in China, the CCTV gala is a comprehensive project. The organizers have to do research on viewers' psychological needs, control each program's tempo and balance the show's variety," 77-year-old Huang said. "The planners have to know the audience and understand what they like."

Huang cited the example of Li Guyi, one of the first really big pop stars. One of Li's hits, Attachment to My Homeland, was, at first, not considered by the organizers, but was demanded by the audience and performed by Li during the gala. It went down a treat with the public.

"Li sang seven songs in the 1983 gala, a record," Huang said.

The 1983 gala used movie stars and comedians as hosts.

"I wrote my lines before the show and practiced in front of the mirror at home," said actress Liu Xiaoqing. She also sang two songs.

"We didn't have stylists and we wore our own clothes. I remember that I wore a bright red shirt that I bought in Hong Kong. After the gala, I saw many women wear similar clothes. That's the power of the gala, it can set a trend," she said.

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