Sunday, February 14, 2010

Entertainment Extravaganza and/or Propaganda Campaign: The Spring Festival Gala Show's Tough Job

Wang Fei performs at the CCTV Spring Festival Gala

The people, the party, the advertisers, all of them need to be pleased, and that’s the mission of the Spring Festival Gala show.
By the eve of the Year of Tiger, the job for China Central Television (CCTV) has only gotten tougher.

For the past nearly three decades, watching the Spring Festival Gala show on CCTV has become a new custom of Chinese people’s lunar New Year celebration. The show is never pure performing arts, but always carries messages that the ruling party wants to convey to the people, which mostly promotes the legitimacy of the party. But in this year’s show, comparing with those in recent years, the propagandist intention seemed to be more blatant.

Particularly in those group song performances, by singers dressed up in minority outfits, or very old artists dubbed as teenagers, etc., political slogans have been turned into lyrics. A singer in Uyghur costume, for example, sang enthusiastically about the benefits of the newly established rural cooperative health care system. In reality, though, the system is facing all kinds of problems, and exactly how many rural residents are benefiting from it is worth questioning.

In another performance, a group of teenagers expressed loyalty to the party by singing: “without the communist party, there will be no new China”, and “following the community party, let’s build a great China.”

The first line has been the central theme of the party propaganda since the foundation of the People’s Republic, and has become such a cliché that very few young Chinese today would embrace it. But for the purpose of propaganda, sing it anyway. The second line is a relatively new invention, and more or less bears some nationalism sensation, which is gaining popularity among the Chinese youth. In one way or another, the party is trying to fortify its legitimacy in the minds of the entire nation by imposing the message on the performances, rather aggressively.

A show full of political preaching could only annul the intended political messages, of course. So for a better part of the entire gala show, entertainment is still the focus. Super star Wang Fei’s appearance certainly put this year’s show at a high point of China’s pop culture, while the reunion of Xiaohu Dui satisfied the nostalgia of China's rising middle-class: the generation born in the 1970s.

Meanwhile, putting together such entertainment extravaganza has become increasingly expensive, with ever fancier visual effects, better stage equipments, etc. CCTV therefore had to use the show to serve the advertisers, too. Unlike the Super Bowl broadcast in the U.S., CCTV’s five-hour airing of the gala was commercial free, which left the television station with few choice but to weave product promotion into performances. So actors wore aprons printed with the name of Lu Hua cooking oil, magician Liu Qian made a magic with Hui Yuan juice, and an actress in a short drama giving out Guo Jiao 1573, a famous liquor, as gifts.

Overall, it’s a tough job for the gala to appeal to everybody. After all the extravagance was over, however, people would keep talking about those entertaining or nostalgic moments, while forget those propagandist messages pretty quickly. Chances are, people would remember Guo Jiao 1573 better than the success of the rural health care system.

See more of the gala: