How to decode CCTV’s Spring Festival Gala

At precisely 8 p.m. on Lunar New Year’s Eve in practically every Chinese household, the din of firecrackers and gossiping relatives will be interrupted by a different sound—an assemblage of red-clad TV announcers with overly chirpy voices, proclaiming that “spring has arrived.”

The CCTV Spring Festival Gala, or chunwan, is state media’s annual celebration of the Lunar New Year. When it premiered in 1983, the chunwan was the undisputed television event of the year, since most Chinese had no other chances to see different celebrities and entertainments share the same stage in a four-hour song, dance, and comedy extravaganza. Over the next quarter-century, though, as other amusements appeared, the show developed a reputation for being cheesy, formulaic, and a clunky mix of the political and sentimental.

Whatever one’s thoughts on the gala’s entertainment value—and those thoughts are always aired, passionately, on social media the morning after—its predictability has made the chunwan an immutable Spring Festival tradition. Just like the distinctive teleprompter air of CCTV News, the language and presentation style of chunwan hosts is a key element to the general feel of the show.

This is subscriber exclusive content

Become a subscriber to continue reading

Gala Palaver is a story from our issue, “Home Bound.” To read the entire issue, become a subscriber and receive the full magazine. Alternatively, you can purchase the digital version from the App Store.


author Sun Jiahui (孙佳慧)

Sun Jiahui is a freelance writer and former editor at The World of Chinese. She writes about Chinese language, society and culture, and is especially passionate about sharing stories of China's ancient past with a wider audience. She has been writing for TWOC for over six years, and pens the Choice Chengyu column.

Related Articles