Zhang Lijia
Zhang Lijia

Author Zhang Lijia looked – at the request of Al Jazeera – back at the history of the famous CCTV New Year gala, attracting each year hundreds of million viewers, with a major impacts on China´s citizens. Her main advice: “de-politicization of the show. The most important thing is to let people to have some fun as they deserve on the special occasion.”

Zhang Lijia:

I find it a fascinating topic. The galla is very significant indeed as it has become part of the New Year celebration ritual. Indeed, it has become a cultural institution in China. Every year on the New Year eve, some 700 million Chinese glue to their TV and watch the show.

It all started in 1983. At that time, urban families started to owe TV sets at home. Traditionally, Chinese families used to get together on the New Year’s Eve to enjoy the ‘Reunion Dinner’ – the most important meal in the whole year. (As a child, I lived for the festival because that was the only time that we could have good meaty dishes without limit.) After dinner, the families would sit around and make dumplings or prepare for the dishes that would last for the rest of the festival. My last impression of the festival was my grandma chopping mince. Slowly few would bother to make dumplings or mince – one can just buy them ready-made. And people need to be entertained, especially during the festival.

The first CCTV galla made a major impact on its citizens. Wow! The variety show presented the best comedy skits, dances, songs, acrobatic shows and such. So it went on year after year.

The first was probably the only one that focused on cultural and entertainment. In 1984, a famous singer from HK sang “I have a Chinese heart”, a patriotic song that soon became a hit in the mainland.

As in most things in China, it is always entwined with politics. Given the large number of viewer, the authorities of course like to make use the opportunity to convey political messages, to inspire people’s patriotic feelings and to project China’s image as a prosperous and rising power.

There’s little surprise that the galla now contains a segment recalling last year’s achievement and looking forward to this year’s upcoming events. Of course, Xi and his “China Dream” were featured.

The rating – still around 90% – is in decline. Some young people chose to spend the New Year Eve with their friends, out and about, drinking and making merry. This new trend might have contributed to the lowering rate.

In recent years, there has been criticism of the galla being lack of creativity and originality. After 31 years, the structure of the show remains largely unchanged. Some also complained that it has been too politicized. Last year, it featured the Detachment of Red Women, a popular ballet during the Cultural Revolution.

I would call for the de-politicization of the show. The most important thing is to let people to have some fun as they deserve on the special occasion.

More at Zhang Lijia´s website.

Zhang Lijia is a speaker at the China Speakers Bureau. Do you need her at your meeting or conference? Do get in touch or fill in our speakers´request form. 

Are you interested in more experts on cultural change in China at the China Speakers Bureau? Check our recent list.


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