China Central Television has prompted controversy once again with its annual Lunar New Year Gala – this time for failing to invite the actor who played Monkey King in Journey to the West to welcome in the Year of the Monkey on Sunday night’s show. When Zhang Jinlai, a Beijing opera actor better known by his stage name Liu Xiao Ling Tong (little 6-year-old boy), arrived at the United Nations headquarters in New York on Friday, he broke the hearts of many mainland fans with a Weibo announcement that he had been invited by a US company to spread his “monkey culture” there. “The Monkey King was always with me as I grew up, I had hoped he could attend the CCTV gala to celebrate the Year of the Monkey with mainland fans. But now I am so disappointed as he travelled to the West again,” said Arrow Li, a Beijinger born in the late 1970s. READ MORE: China rocker Cui Jian quits CCTV New Year gala after protest song rejected Last month, Zhang, famous for his role in the 1986 CCTV series, said he was hoping CCTV would invite him to the gala and that he would wait “until the eve of the New Year”. But his appearance in New York confirmed the worst fears of his fans, as it meant he would not be reprising his role in the gala from 12 years ago, for the last Year of the Monkey. Instead, the state broadcaster plans to offer something very different to audiences this year. The media last month reported the annual gala would invite more than 100 People’s Liberation Army honour guards, who attended the September 3 military parade at Tiananmen Square, to perform. The CCTV website said the performance had been designed by the military servicemen to show how brave and capable the army was. But the idea fell flat with many members of the public. “I am not interested in watching any parade programme during the New Year gala, let it show at Tiananmen Square or at some military barracks,” Li said. “I just want my Monkey King back.” Anger among Monkey King fans hit a zenith last month, when CCTV unveiled its mascot for the Year of the Monkey would be a green, yellow and red animated drawing. READ MORE: CCTV’s Spring Festival Gala line-up draws barrage of criticism online In protesting against the apparent snub to the Monkey King, three young men became internet stars by circulating pictures of them dressed as their hero in three different styles (opera, rock and modern). The decision not to invite Zhang was not politically driven, said Qiao Mu, dean of the Centre for International Communication Studies at Beijing Foreign Studies University. “Zhang is 57-year-old man, he is too old to turn somersaults as he did before. If he failed to meet fans’ expectations, it would make more people disappointed,” Qiao said, adding that CCTV had been criticised in the past for inviting old performers to entertain senior officials. “This time, I think the public just want to use the absence of Monkey King to vent their anger at CCTV’s arbitrariness over the past decades.” Zhang was invited to the CCTV gala in 1988, 1992 and 2004, the last time coinciding with the Year of the Monkey. Last year, the gala’s 4 1 / 2 -hour mix of singing, dancing, magic and comedy attracted an estimated 690 million viewers.