CCTV's New Year's Gala (中国中央电视台春节联欢晚会) has become an institution for Chinese viewers, as symbolic of Spring Festival as dumplings and red envelopes. An estimated audience of 700 million tune in to watch the variety show every year on Chinese New Year's Eve. Its popularity may be slowly slipping, especially with the younger generation, but it remains the most talked about TV event in mainland China. Unknown acts can, with an impressive performance on the show, become instant sensations, while established stars vie for guest spots each year.
Two week's after the Gala, on Lantern Festival Day, CCTV hosts another variety program, the My Favourite Spring Festival Evening Show. At this ceremony the favourite acts in a variety of categories from the Gala show are announced. One of the biggest hits of this year's Gala show was the reunion of Taiwan's original boy band, Little Tigers (小虎队, pinyin: Xiǎo Hǔ Duì). The three-member group, made up of Benny Chen, Alec Su and Nicky Wu, formed in 1988 and were an instant success not just in Taiwan but across the Chinese-speaking world. Their career lasted just six years, but their popularity paved the way for a succession of boy bands.
On the New Year's Gala Show Little Tigers performed three of their biggest hits: Love, Fly Butterfly and Green Apple Paradise. They were voted the Favourite Act in the Song and Dance category, finishing ahead of another comeback star, Wang Fei. The wave of nostalgia their act provoked amongst viewers has sparked rumours that the trio may get back together permanently.
The Gala Show is as much about comedy skits as it is about music, and the king of comedy acts for this year, as voted by the viewers, was veteran performer Zhao Benshan (赵本山). It was the Gala Show that gave Zhao his first break back in 1987, and he has been a Gala Show stalwart ever since, appearing every year but one over the past 24 years. Born in 1958 in north-east China - the home of many of China's best comic performers - Zhao has also had a successful acting career. In 2007 he was nominated for Best Actor at Taiwan's Golden Horse awards for his performance in the drama-comedy Getting Home.
A third category awarded at the Lantern Festival show is the "Opera, Folk and Other" category. For the second year in a row Taiwanese magician Lu Chen (刘谦, pinyin: Liú Qiān) was voted the favourite act. The 33 year-old has had his own show on Taiwanese TV since 2003, but really hit the big-time last year on the Gala Show. His appearance launched a craze for magic acts, and magician classes reported a sudden increase in enrolments last year.
This year's performance by Lu Chen was not without its critics, including one of China's most outspoken writers, Han Han. Han criticised Lu's act as "an immense disappointment", "professionally unethical" and put on by "a bunch of swindlers". This outburst in turn provoked a curt but angry response from Lu Chen. The exchange is comprehensively covered by the excellent Danwei blog. To quote from Danwei, it wouldn't be "a proper CCTV Spring Festival Gala without a scandal or two".
(Source, in Chinese: this Yahoo article)