A 15-year-old dancer who twirled for four hours onstage as part of China’s televised New Year gala has ignited controversy online, with some criticising her performance as “cruel”. Wei Caiqi, the niece of Chinese dancing star Yang Liping, was the designated “time girl” at the annual China Central Television (CCTV) gala, which aired on January 30. Clad in a flowing white gown, Wei spun nonstop on a special stage to represent “the passing of time and the changing of seasons”, the state-run China Daily newspaper reported on Wednesday. Many people took to China’s popular social networks to raise concerns before, during and after the performance. “What else can it be called except cruel?” wrote one user on Sina Weibo, a Chinese version of Twitter. “For me, any sense of beauty has been completely replaced by a feeling of disgust.” “A 15-year-old girl spinning there for four hours, to this I can only say it is sick, a perversion of values,” wrote another. One user wondered: “Who can tell me the point of her four-hour spinning?” Some people say it’s cruel to have me spin for four hours on the gala, but actually it’s a sort of spiritual practice for me Wei Caiqi The programme itself is estimated to have been watched by 704 million viewers and Wei was one of the most-searched topics on the nation’s social networks in the days following the gala. In a message posted on her Weibo account days ahead of the gala, Wei addressed the scepticism of her planned performance, which she described as a type of “meditation”. “Some people say it’s cruel to have me spin for four hours on the gala, but actually it’s a sort of spiritual practice for me,” she wrote, adding: “It’s a way of challenging my limits, like those who climb Mount Everest, just to see if one can do it. I thank God for giving me the gift and offering me a platform to let me clean my soul.” CCTV’s annual gala is a tradition in China, where families have gathered to watch its lineup of dancers, singers and comedians since the programme’s debut in 1983. This year it featured French actress Sophie Marceau, who performed Edith Piaf’s signature song La Vie En Rose in a duet with Chinese pop star Liu Huan. But Chinese rocker Cui Jian, whose music encouraged the 1989 Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protesters and who was in talks to perform on the show, did not feature. The Beijing News daily quoted his manager as saying he had refused to “change the words” of his songs.