The mainland public was split yesterday over the staging of Cultural Revolution classics during the official Lunar New Year gala broadcast by CCTV.
Some said the heavy political messages were out of place in what should be a joyful celebration. Others said the "red" pieces were an unsettling reminder of Bo Xilai, who ran Chongqing as Communist Party boss with a heavy hand and extolled the virtues of Maoist culture before being sentenced to life in jail for corruption and abuse of power.
More than 700 million people watched the four-hour show, which featured songs, dance, magic routines and comedy acts, on Thursday night.
The most controversial segment was a section from the ballet opera, The Red Detachment of Women, one of the "eight model plays" endorsed by the wife of Mao Zedong, Jiang Qing, during the Cultural Revolution. Host Zhu Jun came out wearing a Maoist jacket to introduce it. Two revolutionary songs were also performed.
Some leftists said the content was a signal from top leaders about the "right path". Others ridiculed the works as echoing Bo's propaganda campaign.
"That man is in Qincheng," one person wrote on Sina's Weibo, referring to the prison in Beijing where Bo is serving his sentence, "but his red songs are now being staged in Chunwan", the gala's name in Putonghua.
Others took to referring to the gala's director, Feng Xiaogang, one of the most commercially successful directors on the mainland, as Feng Xilai.
Qiao Mu, an associate professor at Beijing Foreign Studies University, said the inclusion of the revolutionary material was meant to emphasis the importance of the military rather than a simple gesture about upholding the leftist path.
"The arrangement of military elements throughout the show was political, and in line with the prevalent conservatism over the past year - to silence public discontent and to appease the army," Qiao said.
But he queried why Zhu wore a Mao suit and spoke in an "obsolete" manner. "The gala is a joyful occasion where people gather for celebrating. These shows with such strong ideological colours simply do not fit in," Qiao said.
Others were more surprised to see the red classics soon followed by French actress Sophie Marceau singing La Vie en Rose. "The most romantic and the most violent on the same stage. This is a bizarre world," one person commented online.
The prominent political cartoonist known by his pseudonym Rebel Pepper said this year's show had the most political preaching in recent years.
"Some comments said we should not bring political discussion to an entertainment TV show, but isn't that what the Communist Party is best at - mixing politics into entertainment?"
The night also featured the patriotic song My Chinese Dream that echoes President Xi Jinping's campaign to promote hard work and collective effort.