Numerous traditions have emerged to celebrate the Chinese New Year in addition to popular Chinese New Year myths and auspicious Chinese New Year decoration. One of the more prominent recent additions is the Spring Festival Gala.
Every year, China Central Television (CCTV) broadcasts this variety show. The Gala has since become one of the premier television events in the nation.
Locally known as Chūnwǎn (春晚), the Gala is very popular among diaspora Chinese communities. For this reason, they are always recognized in the show. Learn more about the holiday by checking out our list of fascinating Chinese New Year facts and Chinese New Year superstitions.
History of the Spring Festival Gala
Before CCTV aired the program first in 1983, Beijing Television irregularly broadcasted New Year’s Eve shows from 1956. These shows were considered by many to be the predecessors of the Gala. The evolution of the Spring Festival Gala is seen by many as a representation of China’s technological growth.
In 1996, the Gala was broadcasted from three separate studios in Beijing, Shanghai, and Nanjing. This feat was repeated in 2016 when it showed live split-screens in four major cities: Guǎngzhōu (广州), Hū lún bèi ěr (呼伦贝尔), Quánzhōu (泉州), and Xī’ān (西安).
The addition of Light-Emitting Diode (LED) bulbs to the stage in 2009 also significantly enhanced the viewing experience. Currently, the Spring Festival Gala is the most-watched arts and performance event in the world. When families gather for the for New Year’s Eve dinner, they gather in front of the television set to watch the Gala and eat dumplings.
Spring Festival Performances
The Spring Festival Gala is a grand avenue for Chinese performers and entertainers to exhibit their talents. Performances on the show include:
There are two types of Chinese comedic acts performed in the Spring Festival Gala: xiàng shēng or stand-up skits (相声) and xiǎo pǐn or sketches (小品). Stand-up skits are usually performed by two comedians dressed in traditional cheongsam. Sketches give a comedic take on real-life issues. In recent years, popular topics for sketches include fraud, family life, and migrant workers.
Song and Dance
The Spring Festival Gala has been a platform for young celebrities and amateur performers to shine but many old-time favorite acts can be witnessed every year as well!. In 2016, the song Bèi ér Shuǎng (倍儿爽) went viral after it was performed in the Gala.
The genre of the performances ranges from traditional, folk, ethnic, and contemporary acts. Additionally, Chinese pop singers like Leehom Wang (王力宏), Hán Gēng (韩庚), Chris Lee (李宇春) have also been invited to perform in the Gala to appeal to more demographics. The various ethnic groups in China are often the subject of song medleys and dances.
The breath-taking acrobatic show is one of the most awaited performances in the Spring Festival Gala. Hints of Chinese tradition are also incorporated into these performances. You will often see spinning plates, bamboo poles, as well as yo-yo tricks.
At least one magician also performs at the Spring Festival Gala each year and the host of the Gala is often included in the act. Renowned Chinese magician Louis Liu (刘谦) rose to stardom after performing in the Gala. Since then, he has been invited for many consecutive years.
The focus on traditional arts in the Spring Festival Gala has slowly been diminishing over the years. Nevertheless, they still play a significant role in the show.
A Chinese opera medley is usually performed towards the end of the Gala.
It features parts from classic Chinese operas such as Peking opera (京剧), Henan opera (豫剧), and Shaoxing opera (越剧) among others. A special Spring Festival performance exclusively for traditional Chinese opera is also broadcasted by CCTV-3.
Spring Festival Gala Traditions
To start the event, the hosts give out blessings for the New Year and reading Spring Festival couplets. Customarily, the show ends with the singers performing a rendition of “Can’t Forget Tonight” (难忘今宵) by Lǐ Gǔ Yī (李谷). She is still invited to lead the tradition despite being over 70-years-old. In 2012, the song was not performed at the Gala but was reinstated the following year.
Reach and significance
The Spring Festival Gala is also broadcasted internationally by CCTV-4. The network also broadcasts the show in specific regions through CCTV-Español and CCTV-Français. Performers are usually invited by the CCTV production team but there are also televised auditions and competition to encourage amateur talents.
Although the annual viewership of the Gala is disputed, a couple hundred million viewers are said to be a certainty. The acts give viewers an idea of what traditional Chinese culture and also work to promote good ethics and customs. Regardless of where diaspora Chinese are in the world, they would calculate the difference in the time zones to watch the Gala.
New traditions to the Spring Festival Gala have come to light over the years. Nevertheless, the significance and impact of the Spring Festival continue to grow each year. It is a night filled with happiness and hope for Chinese all over the globe.