What does the Spring Festival Evening Gala tell us about China with its popularity of 40 years?
Published: Jan 19, 2023 02:16 PM
Tu Yuan Yuan, the mascot for CCTV's 2023 Spring Festival Gala Photo: VCG

Tu Yuan Yuan, the mascot for CCTV's 2023 Spring Festival Gala Photo: VCG

What makes a Spring Festival for Chinese? Ask 100 Chinese people, you may get more than 80 who would include the Spring Festival Evening Gala, and the more senior their age, the more likely they pick this choice.

Spring Festival Evening Gala has been a mainstay of the festival for four decades. Usually four or more rehearsals are held before its big showtime on China Central Television (CCTV) on the Chinese New Year's Eve, which falls on January 21 in 2023. For Chinese, once the rehearsal starts, the Chinese New Year is coming. 

Since the Spring Festival Evening Gala was premiered in 1983, watching it on TV has become a must-do after every family's New Year's Eve feast, especially those in norther parts of China. The gala is a five-hour-long comprehensive TV art show consisting of singing, dancing, cross talks, short plays, acrobatics, Peking Opera and other kinds of performances, many of which have left indelible memories for generations of the Chinese people. Although the programs in each yearly edition have been different, its style remains festive, joyful and warm. It makes a giant family get-together of all Chinese.

For 40 years, at 8 pm sharp on the eve of every Chinese New Year, the Spring Festival Evening Gala starts on time. Family members who have come back from across the country would sit together to enjoy this visual feast after a big dinner. Many people can boast a witness of this magnificent event as they had hardly skipped any of them. Up till now, many of the wonderful performances from the gala have left deep impressions on people of different generations. In 1984, they were amused by the skit "Eating noodles," which started China's comedy era; and in 1987, Chinese-American singer Fei Xiang (Christian Rand Phillips) stunned the nation by his exciting singing and dancing, and fashionable hairstyle and costume; in 1999, stage play "Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow" reflected changes in the Chinese people's life; in 2005, the dancing "Thousand-hand Goddess of Mercy" presented the audience with a spectacular view by the dancers all with hearing and speaking disabilities; in 2010, the Little Tigers Group of three male singers from the island of Taiwan brought about the vitality of youth; in 2022, the dancing "Poetic Dance: The Journey of a Legendary Landscape Painting" made the images on ancient painting alive. And the gala also includes Peking Opera, martial arts, and acrobatics.  

No matter how much the programs have changed over the past four decades, one has remained the same: the last song "An Unforgettable Night". It sings: "At this unforgettable night, no matter where you are, the great nation of China is celebrating the Spring Festival together and sending the good wishes to the motherland..." It signifies another good time is gone and it's time to expect the next gala again. 

However, recently some people, especially the younger generation seemed to have watched less of the gala. One reason is that there are a lot more variety shows now than more than 20 years ago; second, they have more choices to make such as watching short videos according to their specific interest on their phones.

So how about cancel this "old-fashioned" program as some people have suggested?

According to a survey on a Chinese website Know in 2022, a young audience answered: "No way! Because it is one of the few programs I share with my parents in a year," which had gained the highest number of likes online. And for those who are away from home or live overseas, they always hold nostalgia when watching the gala. An overseas student once said, "Although I have complained about the gala for many times while I was in China, I burst into tears when I was watching it abroad. And this is the first time when I watched it most completely." And for most audiences, no matter what they do or if they pay much attention to it, the gala should always be there as it gives a festive atmosphere for family reunion. 

Therefore, the Spring Festival Evening Gala has become an indispensable activity during the Chinese New Year's Eve, it is a symbol of unity, peace and harmony of all Chinese nationals and those with Chinese origins, and it is more of a Chinese folk custom than a TV show itself.