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Talent Shows and Other Music-Related Television Programs


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This section focuses on the PRC.


China Central Television (CCTV) has broadcast the Chinese New Year Gala every year since 1983.

  • This program has become a standard family event on China’s new year’s eve (based on the lunar calender, often late January or early February). It is the PRC’s most densely watched TV program, boasting audience of over 700 million in 2007. Even if this figure may be exaggerated, a performance on the New Year Gala can launch the career of a pop singer.
  • The shows starts at 20:00 and last until after midnight. It contains a wide range of television genres, ranging from ballet to Peking opera and from acrobatics to comical sketches (both xiaopin and crosstalk).
  • The CCTV New Year Gala is an important stage for mass and propaganda music. It has offered twenty years of performances of the official folk singer Song Zuying since 1992.
  • Even though pop music was briefly labeled pornographic and decadent in a campaign in 1983, the gala has in fact featured pop music from the beginning. In 1983 the state-employed singer Li Guyi introduced Teresa Teng-inspired pop songs to the wider nation. The next year the Hong Kong singer Zhang Mingmin performed the patriotic pop song “My Chinese Heart”.
  • Since then the gala has often featured pop music performances of Hong Kong, Taiwanese, Singaporean, Malaysian and (other) overseas Chinese singers. This gives the program an international and cosmopolitan aura, and at the same time suggests that Beijing is the center of Greater China.
  • Jay Chou has performed at the gala in 2006, 2008,  2009 and 2011. In 2008 he performed a duet with Song Zuying.


The CCTV also broadcasts the Young Singers Television Contest, since 1984.

  • Whereas the CCTV Chinese New Year Gala is a yearly four hour variety show, the CCTV Young Singers Television Contest is biannual, spread out over several weeks and dedicated to singing.
  • Candidates are selected across the nation by local state-television stations. There is an opening and a closing ceremony during which artists that compete in different categories together represent their province, in a style modeled on the Olympics and other large-scale sporting events.
  • Since 1986 the show distinguished three main singing styles: bel canto, (official) folk and (officially-sanctioned) popular. It also split professional and amateur singers.
  • In the early 2000s a category for group performers was established. The popular singing style also became increasingly modeled on mainstream pop: whereas candidates in this category first wore military uniforms they now wore more casual and fashionable outfits.
  • However the largest changes were made in the 2006, under the advice of Tian Qing. Because reality television talent shows proved more popular, the Young Singers Television Contest dropped the distinction between professionals and amateurs, and added the category original ecology folksongs (yuanshengtai) to tap into the rich musical traditions of China’s ‘ethnic minorities’.


Reality Television Talent Shows

  • In 2004 and 2005 the PRC was swept by the Mengniu Yoghurt Super Girl Contest. The show was modeled on the British format of Pop Idols. Although it was part of a worldwide hype of this format, the Chinese program attracted especially large numbers of viewers. The final episode of Super Girl had a total of 400 million viewers.
  • Around 800 million text messages were sent during this season. It was possible to vote several times for your favorite candidate. The program popularized new words (such as PK for a battle of live and death) and spawned debates on the democratic potential of voting by SMS. The accessibility of auditions (over 120,000 candidates applied in several cities) and the slogan ‘sing whenever you want’ promoted the idea that anyone can be a star – which is part of the worldwide democratization of celebrity (capitalized upon by media conglomerates).
  • The series was won by Chris Lee with over three million SMS votes. Thanks to her loyal fans (called yumi), Lee became a celebrity singer and actress. Also the numbers two (Bibi Zhou) and three (Jane Zhang) have been able to launch singing careers. This has been much more difficult for the many singers that came out of similar programs that were launched in the years after this tremendous success.  
  • The series was produced by Hunan Satellite TV, which thereby temporarily overtook CCTV as the most watched and most profitable television station. Already during the 2005 season, regulators (i.e. SARFT) issued a series of restrictions of entertainment shows. The rationale behind protecting CCTV’s market share is that CCTV addresses the whole nation (and not just wealthy urbanites) and that it has a educational function (whereas the satellite TV stations are more commercially inclined).
  • Hunan Satellite TV had to drop ‘super’ from the title of the program next year (they produced   Happy Boys), and include more patriotic songs. Showing the wild behavior of fans was another taboo and a few years later voting through SMS briefly became controversial. A number of scandals, including candidates pleading to jury members and controversial remarks in dating shows lead to clamp down on reality television in 2011, dubbed by the media as ‘entertainment-stopping bill’. 
  • Now SARFT permits reality television singing contests on the basis of submissions. Guidelines stipulate for instance the maximum amount of time for commercial breaks (resulting in massive product placement within the programs) and the minimum of time a singing contest should spend on actual singing.  
  • Despite these restrictions, reality television talent shows are a major genre of Chinese television. In 2012 The Voice of China, based on a Dutch format, is all the rage.



  • Taiwanese variety shows such as Kang Xi Lai Le (since 2004) often feature major pop stars and are also hugely popular in the PRC.
  • See Music and Video Websites below.



For a more complete and detailed overview, plerase donwload the enitre chapter in PDF below