Monday, February 19, 2007

Chinese New Year's TV Spectacular!

Something I've never been subject to, but hear a lot of complaining about, is the Chinese New Year's TV special. From what I understand, essentially every single person in China with access to a TV will spend New Year's at home with family, watching the show. Everybody tells me it's incredibly stupid, but it's a modern tradition, very strange! Maybe because Chinese New Year's is the one time a year the entire family gets together - nobody knows what else to do?

Anyway, the program takes the form of a four hour variety show. It's a little bit of everything, all done live on one big stage, vaguely like the Muppet Show. It's hosted by a man and a woman, the man apparently stole the Puffy Shirt from that Seinfeld episode, although they change costumes every 10 minutes.

The program mostly consisted of two things. First was Broadyway-like stagings of traditional dances, often from Chinese ethnic minorities. I think these costumes shown underneath are takes on Tibetan clothing:

Musical shows put on by ethnic minorities are wildly popular in China. To me the whole phenomena reeks of minstrel shows, but it's probably a pretty non-destructive way to interact with a minority culture, and I'm guessing the singers are tops of their game. There's 55 official ethnic minorities to China, also including Mongolians, Hmong, Koreans, and Eastern Turks. Here's another, it's some more Tibetan clothing:

The second main element was comedy acts. These scenes dragged on and on, or at least they would if I didn't just skip past them. With no commercial breaks to the program, I suspect that was the time everybody got up to get their snacks.

What else? Well there was even more singing and dancing. I had heard about the big pop stars who had signed up, but there wasn't so much of that actually. Here's one:

There was an umbrella dance done by women in qipaos (think "In the Mood for Love"), with a background that I guess is supposed to represent Suzhou, or maybe Hangzhou? Anyway I thought the dance was pretty impressive, if fairly typical of the rest of the program. Here's a Youtube video:

There was a patriotic song, with a bunch of women in camouflage, and a woman with what I'll call a reverse mullet:

That was one of several patriotic songs, there was also a song with gap-toothed children singing about how great China was. That one sucked, and so did the kid's second song...but the second song left both the announcers and the audience in tears! Huh, from the subtitles the song has to do with going to school, but that doesn't sound all that sad to me. Maybe Chinese people hate school?

I was hoping to catch a glimpse of the infamous Da Shan, this Canadian who supposedly is the standard token white guy trotted out for Holiday Shows like this. I've actually never seen the guy on TV, I've only heard about him second hand. But he wasn't on the show, the only foreigner was from this odd little bit:

At twelve o' clock a clock came on screen, not-so-subtly imposed with the logo for Midea, a Chinese electronics firm.

There was still half an hour left to the program, it was just as inane as the rest of the show! Well, it did have a go at Beijing Opera:

All in all the program didn't seem as bad as I had anticipated. I can't imagine watching it for four hours straight, though. If for some reason this write up has made you curious to see more, you can watch it the same way as me, as a Bittorrent download. BitComet is a program needed to download a Bittorrent stream. Then the file is encoded as a Real Player file (which I find strange, but is common with Chinese downloads), so you need to either have Realplayer or Real Alternative installed on your computer. All in all, it's probably not worth the hassle!

Oh, and finally, here's an amusing video I came across on Youtube, of Shanghai, one hour after New Year's. Be sure to have sound turned up before playing this video!


Micah said...

I think the ethnic performance thing is for the same reason that people used to dress up like cowboys and Indians; it's a patriotic thing to do. "Look at our country, so many different and interesting kinds of people live in it and love it."

The second picture is another Tibetan act. I actually thought they were pretty good and for the most part free of the homogenization of ethnic music that the Communists carried out (no research on that one, just a hunch based on anecdotal evidence and hearsay). That group was also the subject of an after-the-show special where reporters followed some of the performers "home" in the hours after the show to visit their families as they celebrated the New Year together. Of course, they just went back to the hotel for dinner and song/dance. They also mentioned that Tibetans have a different New Years day, which surprised me.

Personally, I thought the comedy acts varied widely in humor level. The internet ones were funny to me especially. The first one, with Hunanese comedian Da Bing was absolutely hilarious: contextual cellphone advertisements a la Google ruin his life when
the people he's talking to think it's his words they are hearing. The other one where a divorced couple happens to hook-up online without being aware that they're talking to their ex was really cute.

Regarding the big stars, I thought it was funny that of the first four singers, three were from Taiwan. In fact, there was a high correlation between lyrical content and the singer's place of birth: Taiwanese sang about feeling (love/hope), and mainlanders sang patriotic songs :)

You're right about the kids, the first song sucked. But the second one really was moving, if a little hypocritical coming from a government that shuts down the schools in question. The kids who did the second "reading" were children of migrant workers talking about their run-down schools, but about how they work hard and how they appreciate their mothers and fathers who are working so hard to build the country, and about how the Olympics are possible because of them. Aw shit, now I'm tearing up. Anyways, good stuff.

I find the Realplayer thing strange too. It may have something to do with netcafes streaming movies from a central server, and Realplayer being free or something. Maybe the server is free too?

Jeff Rutsch said...

Thanks for the insightful comment, that cleared up some questions of mine.

And I think Real Player is used because it's better than MP4 at very low bitrates, in addition to what you mentioned.