US billionaire Warren Buffett may have appeared on this year’s chunwan (春晚), CCTV’s Chinese New Year gala show, but even that wasn’t enough to turn around the long-standing decline of the annual affair. Barbara Demick and John Lee of the Los Angeles Times write that increasingly heavy-handed censorship has caused several heavyweight celebrities to drop out of the show and driven viewers away:
The most prominent dropout in this year’s gala is Zhao Benshan, whose announcement Thursday that he was withdrawing from the show after 21 consecutive years made headlines around the country.
Although the 55-year-old actor cited exhaustion, there was widespread speculation in the television industry that the skit he submitted this year didn’t get approval.
“This is the most censored show on Chinese television,” said Wu Renchu, a film critic based in Shanghai. He said the gala acts must go through three rounds of approval.
“There is more and more ideology and less entertainment. It is all about praising the achievements of the party and the nation. With stand-up comedy, you can’t have anything that touches on the reality of life in China.”
Another casualty of the new reign of censorship is popular singer Na Ying.
CCTV refused to let her perform a song with a few words of English (“Always friends. Closest friends. Best friends.”), part of a campaign by the broadcaster to reduce the use of English on television.
Jiang Kun, a master of the Chinese comic art known as crosstalk, is also off the program this year, with columnists speculating it’s because his skit touched on a train crash last year in Wenzhou.
China’s most famous female comic, Song Dandan, protested that she wouldn’t appear on the gala “unless they arrest me, sentence me…. I really don’t want to go.”
To drive home the point, many of the refuseniks appeared this year on a rival show that aired Jan. 17 on Hunan Provincial Television, a feisty regional broadcaster.
Even Xinhua admits that the show this year received “mixed opinion”:
An online survey has revealed that Chinese people have a mixed opinion on Sunday’s Spring Festival TV gala, the 30th of its kind since 1983, albeit many of them agree that there were innovations and improvements in it.
As of 10:00 p.m. Monday, about 48 percent of some 71,000 respondents in the poll held by sina.com.cn, one of China’s major portal websites, said they think the gala fall short of their expectations.
Another 23 percent of them said they think the gala was just fine, and only 10 percent said it was splendid.
The gala, an annual grand celebration broadcast by the China Central Television on the eve of the traditional Spring Festival, China’s lunar New Year, is the most-watched TV event in the country.
Yet more spring festival gala gossip from the not so China-friendly NTD TV: