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    3 Surprising Things From This Year’s Spring Festival Gala

    Chunwan, China’s biggest TV event of the year, is the country’s most watched and most scrutinized show. This year’s edition largely received praise from the public.
    Feb 10, 2024#Lunar New Year

    From ancient Chinese poetry to a French musical number, this year’s Spring Festival Gala, China’s biggest TV event of the year, once again dominated public discussion on Lunar New Year’s Eve, when families across the country watch the show together.

    Known as chunwan, the show has been broadcast on state broadcaster CCTV since 1983. This year’s four-and-a-half-hour long program featured musical, dance, opera, martial arts, and comedy performances.

    With estimated audiences of more than a billion viewers each year, this year’s gala was better received by the public than in previous years, with netizens noting the relatively more creative segments in contrast to previous years when the shows had greater emphasis on promoting traditional values.

    Here are three surprising things that happened at this year’s gala.

    Bon soir, Beijing

    One of the most discussed topics on social media during the evening’s program was the performance of the hit song “Belle” from the classic French musical “Notre-Dame de Paris.” It was the first time a French musical number has featured in the Spring Festival Gala.

    Marking the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and France, the song was performed by three foreign singers and three Chinese singers, including renowned opera singers Liao Changyong and Zhang Yingxi.

    Xie Tong, a 24-year-old musical fan from Xi’an, capital city of the northwestern Shaanxi province, said she watched this year’s gala just to watch the performance, sung in the original French: “It would have been hard for me to imagine someone singing ‘Belle’ on chunwan just a few years ago.”

    Both homegrown and foreign musicals have become increasingly popular in China in recent years, especially among younger fans, as the reality TV show “Super-Vocal” has brought the genre to mainstream audiences.

    Poetry slam

    Another viral moment of the evening was the projection of an animated version of Tang dynasty poet Li Bai above Xi’an, who delivered stirring renditions of his best-known poems, such as “Bring in the Wine.”

    The segment aired following the unexpected success of the animated film “Chang’an” last year, which tells the stories of some of the period’s most famous poets, including Li Bai, Du Fu, and Gao Shi.

    The grand spectacle was followed by another poetry performance by students from a rural primary school’s poetry class in the central Hunan province, some of whom are “left-behind” children.

    One of the poems penned by a student: “In the twilight, I stretched lazily, lying on grandma’s back. Mimicking me, the dusk also stretched lazily, lying on the mountain.”

    Gala bingo

    Even before the show had begun, discussions about the gala were already dominating the Chinese internet. In a relatively new phenomenon this year, netizens had been busy sharing their predictions about what they expected to see this year on social media in the runup to the show.

    These gala fanatics based their predictions on previous years’ shows as well as the official gala program released six hours before it aired on Friday evening.

    Many netizens expected the gala, long criticized for its dated content, to incorporate trendy internet jokes and challenges from the past year in this year’ official program. These predictions were largely borne out, with several references to recent online buzzwords such as “little potatoes from the south” and the viral “kemusan” dance challenge.

    Younger viewers were also relieved to find fewer lessons about how to live their lives on this year’s show — a common feature of previous years’ editions, such as sketches with increasingly large families as the government looks to encourage having children.

    “We reviewed people’s feedback from previous years and tried our best to avoid disappointing our audience,” a production staff who worked on this year’s gala told Sixth Tone, requesting anonymity as they are not authorized to speak to the media.

    In particular, the lack of a family dumpling-making segment on this year’s edition delighted some southerners. Dumpling making has been a consistent feature of the Spring Festival Gala program, but the depiction of it as the quintessential family activity during Lunar New Year had in recent years begun to draw the ire of southerners, who generally do not make dumplings to celebrate the new year.

    Editor: Vincent Chow.

    (Header image: A screenshot shows singers singing “Belle,” Feb. 10, 2024. From @春晚 on Weibo)