Highlights from 2022 Spring Festival Gala

Source: SupChina (2/2/22)
Five highlights from the 2022 Spring Festival Gala: From standup comedy to blessings from outer space
The annual television extravaganza that is China Central Television’s Spring Festival Gala is much derided — some call it a “craptacular.” But it is one of the most-watched TV shows on the planet. This year it featured American style standup comedy for the first time and a live feed from astronauts aboard China’s space station.
By Jiayun Feng

Despite China’s stringent zero-COVID strategy, Omicron and Delta outbreaks have been identified in multiple provinces in the past few months. Efforts have been heightened to minimize the risk of cross-infections at the Beijing Winter Olympics, which will kick off this Friday.

But even amid all the uncertainties surrounding China’s COVID situation, there’s one constant in Chinese people’s cultural life that happens every year no matter what, and that’s Spring Festival Gala (春节联欢晚会 chūnjié liánhuān wǎnhuì, or 春晚 chūnwǎn for short) — an annual event broadcast by China Central Television (CCTV) on Lunar New Year’s Eve.

This year’s program, aired on Monday evening local time, was the 40th edition of the gala and the third one to take place since COVID hit the country. Even with a fully masked audience, the show still managed to feel like old times as a star-studded lineup of pop singers, dance troupes, and comedians took to the stage.

You can watch the entire show on CCTV Chunwan’s official YouTube channel, or look out for these highlights:

First standup comedy in Chunwan’s history

In an obvious attempt to revive its cultural relevance and connect with a younger generation of viewers, Monday’s gala featured Wáng Miǎn王勉, a breakout star on China’s standup comedy scene. With help from a musician friend, Wang combined his guitar skills with his sense of humor — a style of comedy that he’s famous for — in “Happy Vibe Duo,” which was the first standup comedy segment in Chunwan’s decades-long history.

By talking and singing about the anxieties of facing grilling questions at family gatherings, Wang’s musical-comedy was a fresh, relatable piece of entertainment that Chunwan desperately needed.

Chinese astronauts join the celebration from outer space

With China’s Tiangong space station — a centerpiece in the country’s increasingly ambitious space program — welcoming its first crew of habitants in 2021, it came as no surprise that space was a main theme throughout the gala.

During the countdown before ringing in the Year of the Tiger, a trio of astronauts on Tiangong extended their Spring Festival greetings in a video. “I wish you all a Happy New Year, good health, good luck and an auspicious Year of the Tiger,” commander Zhái Zhìgāng 翟志刚 said from Tiangong’s core module, which had been adorned in festive red. Joining Zhai in the festivities were Yè Guāngfù 叶光富 and Wáng Yàpíng 王亚平, China’s first woman to perform a spacewalk.

Wang’s daughter also made a brief appearance during a kids’ dance act called “Stars’ Dreams,” in which she asked her mother to “bring back a star.”

A stunning dance performance inspired by ancient Chinese art

Since Chunwan’s inception in 1983, dance performances highlighting Chinese history and traditional culture have always been an integral part of the show. That ritual lived on this year, although in a way that’s more poetic, creative, and visually pleasing than ever.

In “The Journey of a Legendary Landscape Painting,” an all-female ensemble of young dancers, led by Mèng Qìngyáng 孟庆旸, swayed and whirled their way into the hearts of millions of viewers. Dressed in green-and-blue ancient Chinese clothes, the performers pulled off a sequence of impressive moves — including bending backwards almost 90 degrees in uniform — while maintaining an elegant presentation.

The artistic inspiration for the segment comes from A panorama of rivers and mountains, a 900-year-old Chinese painting masterpiece by Wáng Xīmèng 王希孟, a famous court painter during the Song Dynasty.

Golden oldie Hong Kong band reunites

Formed in 1973, the Wynners is a legendary five-member Hong Kong pop band. In 1978, at the peak of their popularity, members of the group went their separate ways to develop their solo careers. Although the band has never formally disbanded, it performed its last concert in 2014 for charitable purposes.

The five members reunited for a performance on Monday, singing two songs — one in Cantonese and one in English.

For artists from Hong Kong and Taiwan, two regions that Chinese see as its own despite different opinions from pro-democracy advocates, making an appearance in CCTV’s Chunwan is inherently political and usually indicates their support for China’s sovereignty.

The prettiest face at CCTV

Ma Fanshu

Shaking things up is not what Chunwan intends or wishes to do every year, which means that the gala’s host lineup has been largely unchanged throughout the years. So it was no small deal when Mǎ Fánshū 马凡舒, a 29-year-old anchor of a CCTV sports news program, greeted viewers on Monday as the youngest and newest host of this year’s Gala. Her name later trended on Chinese social media, with thousands of viewers praising how “good-looking” and “charming” she is.

Notably missing from the event was Zhū Jūn 朱军, a former host of Chunwan and a household name in China. Since he was accused of sexually assaulting an intern in 2018, the renowend TV presenter has not returned to the gala.

Jiayun Feng was born in Shanghai, where she spent her first 20 years and earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism at Fudan University. Interested in writing for a global audience, she attended the NYU Graduate School of Journalism for its Global & Joint Program Studies, which allowed her to pursue a journalism career along with her interest in international relations. She has previously interned for Sixth Tone and Shanghai Daily.

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