A performance on 2013 CCTV Spring Festival Gala held in Beijing.

CCTV’s Spring Festival Gala line-up draws barrage of criticism online

State broadcaster CCTV finally unveiled its line-up for its annual Spring Festival Gala on Tuesday, just two days ahead of one of China’s most hotly anticipated television pageants, ended months of speculation but drawing criticism online from disappointment viewers.

State broadcaster CCTV finally unveiled its line-up for its annual Spring Festival Gala on Tuesday, just two days ahead of one of China’s most hotly anticipated television pageants.

The move ended months of speculation as to the line-up of stars attending the gala but instead managed to draw widespread criticism, with many voicing disappointment online.

French actress Sophie Marceau, martial arts star Jackie Chan, prominent pianist Lang Lang and popular South Korean actor Lee Min Ho will lead dozens of stars from China and abroad through a total of 42 live stage performances, according to a list recently published on popular microblogging site, Sina Weibo.

Of the performances, 28 will feature songs and dancing, five will be stand-up comedy routines, while a host of magic and acrobatic shows and martial arts performances make up the rest of the run-down.

The five-hour TV extravaganza produced by China’s flagship official broadcaster is one of the most popular ways to spend the New Year’s Eve with family members in China and draws the biggest viewership of any show on the planet. Last year, the gala recorded 750 million viewers in China alone – more than six times the US Super Bowl’s audience.

Given its popularity, the show has generated much heated online discussion and speculation about the line-up of stars attending months ahead of the broadcast.

Rumours that Cui Jian – a rebellious figure generally regarded as the godfather of Chinese rock – would appear on stage years after he fell out of official favour after siding with Tiananmen protesters in 1989, were soon quashed by his manager. Cui’s manager denied the claim, saying the rock star did not appear on the final list of attending stars because the gala organisers rejected his choice of song. 

Another rumour suggested the familiar line-up of established presenters would be replaced by a set of younger rising stars – but this also appeared not to be the case.

Expectations have been high for this year’s Spring Festival Gala, the first to be directed by Feng Xiaogang, China’s most successful commercial filmmaker who gained fame for his popular comedy-dramas in the mainland. His selection was widely viewed as a bid by CCTV to add more commercial and populist elements to the programme's listing and reinvigorate the show amid poor reviews over the last few years.

However, the newly published line-up under Feng’s directorship appears to have disappointed many viewers, prompting a barrage of criticism across Chinese cyberspace. Many lovers of stand-up comedies were upset that the overwhelming share of performances were song-and-dance routines.

“Feng has turned the biggest annual celebration event into a concert”, was one critical comment echoed by online gala fans.

Another inclusion in the gala's set-list that irritated many is a planned performance by Hong Kong-born singer-turned business executive Cheng Ming Man, who is set to sing a new song called “My Chinese Dream”. Echoing closely President Xi Jinping’s “Chinese Dream” political slogan, many suspect the performance has been included in a bid to cosy-up to the ruling Communist Party.

On Sina Weibo, often a source of narrative opposed to the official party line, one microblogger quipped: “Has he [Cheng] joined the Communist Party now?”