China's Unique Spring Festival Event -- The Online Spring Festival Gala Evening

Feb 22, 2013, 21:39 ET from CNTV

BEIJING, Feb. 22, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- The 2013 online CCTV Spring Festival Gala Evening, a truly unique event, was aired on China Network Television (CNTV) on February 9, 2013, the eve of this year's Spring Festival holiday, drawing an audience cutting across every segment of Chinese society.


This year's Lantern Festival -- the 15th day of the first lunar month and the day of the year's first new moon -- falls on February 24, and marks the official end of this year's holiday.

2013 is the Year of the Snake, according to the Chinese zodiac. Snakes are viewed as symbols of rebirth and longevity. It is a common belief that snakes will bring good luck and health. In a similar way to how Christmas is celebrated in the West, the Spring Festival is the event that welcomes the arrival of the new year. As an important part of traditional Chinese culture, the celebration of Spring Festival is spreading around the world.

An AP reporter noted, "The Chinese New Year is the single most important annual festival for Chinese people." In China, the Lunar New Year means not only eating dumplings and setting off firecrackers, but also a rare opportunity to reunite with family members-husbands with wives and parents with children. Some 700 million people across China make the trek home for the holiday -- it is the world's largest annual human migration. In addition to hanging red lanterns and adorning the doorways and walls of their hometowns with antithetical couplets (two phrases or sentences written as calligraphy on vertical red banners), the Chinese place immense importance on the Spring Festival family reunion dinner, where, besides enjoying the chance to be together with close family members, also provides a strong sense of spiritual satisfaction and enjoyment. The Spring Festival Gala Evening is as important as the reunion dinner, as both are now an integral part of today's Chinese New Year activities. With a very different approach to the parade of movies dubbed the White Christmas Marathon or House Marathon that is broadcast in the US during the Christmas holiday, the first Spring Festival Gala Evening was aired by CCTV in 1983. This year marks the 31st edition of the variety show. As the world's longest variety show with the most extensive roster of performing artists and the largest viewing audience, Spring Festival Gala Evening has become a form of spiritual sustenance to the viewership rather than merely a gala event. Ha Wen, General Director of 2013 CCTV and host of the Spring Festival Gala Evening, said that the show has deep significance as each audience member sees the show as their companion during the important holiday.

Chinese, generally speaking, enjoy large-scale gala vents, just as they take pride in the Great Wall and the Three Gorges Dam. The 2013 Spring Festival Gala Evening featured international superstars including Yanni and Celine Dion in addition to a number of China's household names. As for the stage design, a panorama LED and a multilayer ascending/descending stage helped the show match Hollywood blockbusters in terms of special visual effects. A European reporter said after watching the event, "China indeed holds an opening ceremony on an annual basis that is on par with what they did for the Olympics."

A new trend running counter to the usual display of ostentatious luxury and extravagance is taking hold in China, and one of the most typical examples of the trend is the four-dish, one-soup menu and the increasingly popular "Eat Up All On Your Plate" campaign, both of which highlight the importance of frugality in the consumption of food. People are starting to frown on the display of their riches for no reason. Instead, they have shifted their focus to the quintessential meaning underlying the holiday. In line with traditional Chinese virtues of thrift and frugality, CNTV integrated elements of these virtues into the 2013 online gala, differentiating the televised event from dozens of similar galas aired by other TV stations, and, in doing so, became an element of the event that was quickly noticed and commented on by viewers nationwide.

What made the 2013 online CCTV Spring Festival Gala Evening unique was its high dependence on networking. Most of the show' elements were brought together through the use of networking channels, including the bringing together of the creative components, invitation of the performers, messaging the invitation to the audience and content production. In addition, the show was broadcast live on the most popular social networks and made available on mobile terminals, demonstrating changes not only in the broadcast form, but also in the traditional top-down modality of such events. The grassroots-centric online show offered original content based on the everyday life of the viewership while being broadcast on the most authoritative broadcasting platform, highlighting the "from the bottom up" aspect of the celebration.

The online show invited one hundred families from around the world, with invitees including Olympics champions, rural teachers and electric power workers. During the show, the invited guests sat together and shared their real life stories. The show culminated when hosts, together with guests, held up their drinks and made a "bottoms up" toast, just as family members often do during their reunion dinners. Guangming Daily commented that there have been more than 20 New Year's Eve countdown parties and over 40 Spring Festival Gala Evening events since the beginning of 2013. Spring Festival Gala Evening events have become an excellent opportunity for TV stations to demonstrate their market dominance, ability at self-promotion and strength of their brand. The 2013 online CCTV Spring Festival Gala Evening scrapped the traditional routines and focused on the real life stories of common people: Chang Shitou, a 50-year-old man who had been working as a sweeper cum sanitation worker on the Badaling Great Wall for 26 years, Wang Ran, a 18-year-old young woman with cerebrovascular disease who has never given up her hobby as a singer, military veteran Wang Jicai and his wife, who have patrolled Kaishan Island alone for 27 years and a couple of train attendants who passed each other in moving trains while glimpsing at each other through the train windows that separated them more than 750 times as well as rural teachers, college graduates village officials and electric power workers who still employ horses as the mode of transportation. The real life stories of these common people are quite ordinary, yet at the same time, heart-warming and encouraging.

At the evening gala party, the families had a discussion on the reasons why they love China and gave their interpretation of what the "Chinese Dream" means for them. Without any prompting or guidance from any official government body, these statements from "salt of the earth" members of society resonated deeply with the viewing audience. People's Daily, China's most authoritative print media, highly acclaimed the online Spring Festival Gala Evening. "While it is always a good thing to provide audiences with an increasing number of gala evening events and a wider variety of programming, some evening event organizers only focus on creating an ostentatious and flashy environment that provide excitement but fail to connect with the audience in an intimate way as a result of the meaningless performances and vacuous kits."Despite being less popular than the similar event aired by CCTV, the Spring Festival Gala Evening, and, especially for those working far away from their hometowns, the online Spring Festival Gala Evening truly represent the beginning of a highly distinctive evening culture with their higher rates of participation, levels of interaction, approachability and feeling of intimacy.

From the rush to get home to enjoy Spring Festival with one's family to the Spring Festival Gala Evening, the holiday retains the feeling of nostalgia that has always been associated with the time of the year, and an event enjoyed by everyone. However, the holiday is not just about the purchases for the "big day" and going home for the family reunion, it's also about connecting with one's culture and with the creative elements of that culture.  For this "connectedness" to have true meaning, proper attention needs to be given to the events and qualified guidance needs to support the creation of the events. Just as the Spring Festival Gala Evening, with its programming aimed at the migrant worker community, and the accompanying online Spring Festival Gala Evening revealed, the sense of attachment that is inherent in the cultural vitality of the community is huge and is reflected in the folklore that is still part and parcel of that community. As a result of the active participation of the audience in the "Chorus" part of the program, the traditions and essence of the meaning of the Spring Festival annual holiday can be once again brought to the fore and further rooted in the soul of each and every Chinese individual, helping them reconnect to their cultural roots in the modernization process of China.

CNTV deputy chief editor Wang Yiru said, "Many people were actually touched by their own lives at the evening party." Enlight Media president Wang Changtian added, "People both at home and abroad always demonstrate their deep-felt attachment to their hometown in every aspect of their lives. Today, Chinese people's lives are anchored by the little things of importance that bind them to their place of origin and the vignettes about that place that they can share with others." Hu Xuping, director of large-scale events at CNTV, said, "We broke ranks with the traditional pattern of the Spring Festival Gala Evening and took to heart the concept of hosting the event in a frugal manner. Unlike such events hosted over the past few years, this year's stage design is not so "fabulous" but most definitely quite original in its simplicity."