The lunar calendar will soon usher in the Year of the Dragon. As a grand cultural celebration always in the limelight and given high anticipation, the Spring Festival Gala is again brought to the center of discussion.

CCTV Spring Festival Gala, or Chunwan (春晚), an annual spectacle produced by China Media Group (CMG), has been a commonly appreciated event all over the country since the 1980s and gradually became an innovative New Year custom in modern China. Nowadays, it is a common scene for a family to sit together around the television after dinner on New Year’s Eve, enjoying a dazzling array of music, dance, comedy, and other artistic showcases. The Gala has captivated the hearts of millions, fostering a sense of togetherness on the special day.

The significance of the Spring Festival Gala is evident not just within China but also on a global scale. According to the Times, the Gala has the largest audience of any entertainment show in the world. Nevertheless, official statistics from CMG show the audience rating of the program in the past year has dropped to 20.61% compared to 38.26% in 2010. Besides the reasons associated with the times and development, such as the shifting landscape of entertainment preferences, the emergence of digital alternatives, and the evolving audience dynamics, a question more and more frequently raised by the public implies a significant aspect not to be overlooked: Does the Spring Festival Gala remain a popular entertainment or is it becoming a nominal gimmick?

“I used to be a fan of language programs such as the skits and cross-talks, and they’ve left me a lot of happy memories,” Jolia, a sophomore student at NYU Shanghai shared, “But in recent years I just find them becoming more and more boring and failed to make people laugh.” Another sophomore student, Chanel, has the same feeling, “Comedies are not amusing anymore because they all seem to follow similar formulas. One can easily tell what they are going to say next.”

One evidence of this trend is a video that recently became popular on Weibo, one of the largest Chinese online platforms. The video shows three college students presenting a short skit resembling the performance at the Gala, however, it is given the name of “digital skit” because there is only a word of two syllabi throughout the script, “jiaozi” (饺子), which means dumpling in English. On its release, the video received a huge amount of exposure and aroused heated discussions. It is widely agreed that the video captures the essence of comedy shows at the Gala so well that one does not need to know the lines to understand its meaning. Some people even summarized an unbreakable rule: the conflict is always settled without reason by the mediation from a “crowd-pleaser” in the name of “maintaining harmony on New Year’s Eve,” but the true problem is never solved.

Digital Skit.”

Not only does the creativity of the performances decrease, but their contents fail to meet people’s expectations. Due to the tightening examination system, more and more topics that are highly connected with public concerns such as unemployment, problems of the isolation policy during the pandemic, social inequity, corruption, and so on are now greatly limited on the stage of the Spring Festival Gala. Instead, performances turn to praise and promote the current policies and achievements, and shun the problems that were revealed in the process.

Another problem is that in order to attract the junior audience, there is a tendency for the Gala to invite young, good-looking but non-professional stars to the stage rather than older, more qualified, and experienced professional actors and actresses. The skit Like You Like Me 《喜欢你喜欢我》 in 2020 was named one of the “worst shows ever” on the internet. Viewers have commented that Xie Na, Xiao Zhan, and other young stars have insufficient skills and perform awkwardly, completely failing to show the quality that comedians should have, and the difference between them and the old actors and actresses that we all enjoy is huge.

In addition, though the Gala strives to make combinations of modern culture and traditional culture, this fusion of old and new does not always present harmony, but rather awkwardness at times. Take the talk show Give Me One Minute 《给我一分钟》 at the 2023 Spring Festival Gala as an example. The program aimed to entertain the audience by employing internet memes, yet after a year of over-popularity, many of these memes had become obsolete and unwelcomed. Ironically, this is quite the opposite of what good programs should be: they should create new popularity, not repeat outdated conventions.

The fashion program, Shanshuinichang 《山水霓裳》, performed in the 2021 Gala showed efforts to unite classical clothes of ancient China and modern fashion, but the clothes on exhibition were not at all traditional Chinese style but modern gowns without reflections of the traditional culture. On the contrary, there are many ornaments deliberately mimicking ancient Western clothing. Therefore, the program is also mockingly called by the audience “an ancient Greek myth cosplay.”

On Dec. 6, the mascot of the 2024 Spring Festival Gala, Long Chenchen, was first shown on the internet. On its entrance on the stage, many people recognized that the picture was AI-generated due to the different number of toes of the dragon – it has five fingers on the front right, but three on the front right, and four on the back left – which is a very common mistake made by AI. Still, this fact has been denied by the CMG till now. As a consequence, the Spring Festival Gala official has lost another promising chance to introduce the convergence of technology and traditions.

As the Spring Festival Gala continues to evolve, it faces the challenge of maintaining its relevance and capturing the hearts of its audience. Balancing innovation with familiarity, addressing societal concerns, and creating fresh and engaging content will be crucial for it to remain a cherished celebration of Chinese culture.

“The Gala has already become a necessary part of the festival nowadays and I really enjoy watching it with my family,” said Jolia. No matter what, the special provides a reason for family members to gather around and a topic for people to talk about at the end of the year. It is a spiritual sustenance of many and holds great significance in Chinese people’s hearts. That’s why it’s so important to shed light on the development and continuity of this cultural event and maintain its essence of uniting families and bringing joy to the New Year.