Chinese state TV taps Uygur star to host new year gala

Negmat Rahman, a rising star at CCTV, will share the stage with other entertainers

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 03 February, 2015, 1:19am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 February, 2015, 2:44am

The mainland's biggest television event of the year will for the first time feature a Uygur as one of its celebrity hosts, the state broadcaster announced on Monday, a decision that comes amid heightened tensions in the ethnic minority's Xinjiang homeland.

The previous Lunar New Year Gala drew more than 700 million viewers from across the country, according to China Central Television. One of the hosts for the upcoming show would be Negmat Rahman, a member of the mostly-Muslim Uygur minority in the western region. He is nationally known as the face of a popular quiz show on CCTV.

He will share the stage on February 18 with seven other figures from entertainment, including Kang Hui, anchor of the CCTV Evening News Bulletin, and Dong Qing, a gala veteran who made headlines last year after it was revealed she gave birth to her child in the United States.

The four-hour show features songs and dances, often performed by ethnic minorities, as well as magic acts and comedy routines.

Last year's offering was criticised by some viewers for carrying an overtly political message that clashed with the celebratory spirit of the night. Dancers performed part of the ballet opera The Red Detachment of Women, one of the eight "model plays" endorsed by the leadership during the Cultural Revolution.

Negmat Rahman, 31, joined CCTV in 2006 after winning a talent show and became the host of Happy Dictionary, a quiz show that resembles the American television hit, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.

He's since become the face of CCTV's arts channel, hosting eight popular programmes, including a game show that recorded the channel's highest viewing ratings in 2013.

Relations between Han and Uygurs have come under strain following attacks in several mainland cities and throughout Xinjiang last year, which the government attributes to terrorists and extremists seeking independence for the region. The ensuing security crackdown has been viewed by some Uygurs as a move to weaken their cultural and Muslim identity.

In December, the Urumqi People's Congress Standing Committee voted in favour of banning people from wearing a burqa in public, according to the local government news website The proposal was approved by the regional people's congress standing committee last month but it has ordered unspecified amendments.