Building a Music-Mediated Imagined Chinese Community: A Content Analysis of Music Acts at China Central Television's Chunwan, 1983-2016

Building a Music-Mediated Imagined Chinese Community: A Content Analysis of Music Acts at China Central Television's Chunwan, 1983-2016

Tao Fu (University of International Business and Economics, China) and Xingyu Wang (Renmin University of China, China)
Copyright: © 2017 |Pages: 19
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-1986-7.ch004
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This chapter investigates how music acts performed at China Central Television's (CCTV) annual variety show, Chunwan, are used as an ideological package for political communications in China. The authors argue that the Communist Party of China uses songs as the medium for the grand narrative of a shared identity. Chunwan, this televised event, helps construct an imagined community of mainlanders of different social backgrounds, Chinese from Hong Kong, Macao, and Taiwan, and overseas Chinese. Music, disseminated via China's national TV broadcaster, serves as an ideological state apparatus that consolidates the legitimacy of the Party.
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The Spring Festival, better known as Chinese New Year, usually falling on the new moon between late January and mid-February, is the most important celebration of the year and time for homecoming and family reunion to Chinese. The Spring Festival Gala, or Chunwan in Mandarin, is an annual festive variety show made and broadcast by China Central Television (CCTV), China’s state broadcaster.1 Since its debut in 1983, the show has had a broadcasting history of 34 consecutive years as of 2016. Chunwan has been institutionalized as part of the Chinese New Year celebration culture (Zhang, 2003).

Chunwan runs for about four and a half hours, starting at 8 pm on Chinese New Year’s Eve and running into the Chinese New Year’s Day till about 12:30 am. Chunwan is broadcast live on the Chinese New Year’s Eve to mainlanders, overseas Chinese and other international audience on CCTV-1, the flagship channel, CCTV-4, the international channel and three other channels in English, French and Spanish. It is rerun in the following several days of the New Year. The show is also available online. Chunwan is the most-watched TV event in the world with an audience rating that has remained above 30 percent for years.2 In 2001, about 638 million people watched the live broadcasting of Chunwan compared to 705 million in 2014 (Zheng, 2015). Even though the ratings dropped to 28.37 percent in 2015, Chunwan still reached 690 million TV viewers plus some who watched it online (China Daily, 2015),3 making its viewership popularity similar to CBS’ Super Bowl (Chen, 2013). The age distribution of 2014 Chunwan’s viewers is fairly even although those in the 35-44 age group (19.7%) are slightly more than others (Zheng, 2015). In 2016, a 30-second publicity video featuring acts of traditional operas, acrobatics and martial arts for this year’s Chunwan were run at Times Square in New York City from late January to mid-February (ECNS, 2016).

Considering its wide reach and influence, the Communist Party of China (CPC) also sees Chunwan as an opportunity to “convey central, state-sanctioned, official ideology to the populace” (Liu, 2010, p. 104). Chunwan follows strict procedures in terms of performance and performer selection making it a variety show which promotes dominant ideology with carefully selected ideological discourse (Li, 2008). Top administrators from CPC’s Department of Propaganda and the State Bureau of Radio, Films and Television (SARFT), two agencies supervising ideology and mass communication, were reported to watch the run-up to the show and give instructions about which programs to run (ChinaNews, 2008). The 2016 Chunwan, for example, was themed with new political theories such as “Four Comprehensives”4 and “Core Socialist Values”, according to CNN’s coverage (Lu & Whiteman, 2016). Chinese Internet users made ironic comments on social media because it was overladen with ideological messages and some thought it was even more propagandistic than usual (Tatlow, 2016).

Chunwan is not only the cultural main course for many Chinese, it is also a propaganda package in an entertaining form (Zhao, 1998). Moreover, it is “a happy marriage between an ancient Chinese ideal and a modern western technology, whereby happy family gatherings are turned into grand national reunions, and the Confucian dream of ‘great oneness’ (da yitong) is brought to an atmospheric and symbolic realization on Spring Festive Eve” (Zhao, 1998, p. 46).

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