Son of peasants challenges CCTV

Plans online new year gala as alternative to state TV

BANGKOK -- As hundreds of millions of Chinese celebrate the dawn of the year of the Ox this Sunday, the China Central Television Spring Festival Gala -- arguably the single most-watched annual TV event anywhere in the world -- is facing fresh competition online.

Touting his alternative China "Shanzhai (copycat) Spring Festival Gala Party" on his China Countryside Television Web site (www.ccstv.cn), Beijing wedding photographer Shi Mengqi told state media that his show, which will feature mostly folk art performers, will stream online for free from a resort outside the capital for three hours.

The often-longer state television gala has been, for 27 years, a focal point of the start of the weeklong national holiday celebrating the Lunar New Year, drawing families together to watch celebrity entertainment and expensive TV advertising.

This year, the CCTV show, titled "Reunion of the Chinese People," will feature guest appearances by the members of China's first space mission, its Olympic gold medalists and the Irish troupe "River Dance." It will likely also remind China of the pain of last May's Sichuan earthquake and this October's 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic.

In keeping with China's recent push to internationalize its state media, CCTV says it expects to draw more than 60 million viewers overseas.

But for 36-year-old Shi, the son of peasants from Sichuan Province, the Spring Festival is a grass roots celebration and not about state accomplishments. It's about individuals and will feature performers from around China, including amateur singers dancing monks and a man who pedals a bicycle with his hands.

Shi told The Wall Street Journal his show's message is: "If you can do it, then I can as well."

Shi, who could not be reached for comment, has promoted plans for the program online for a year. He will bring it off with handheld cameras and computers sponsored by friends, individuals and organizations interested in his idea, the China Daily reported.

He has not yet accepted any offers by TV stations to broadcast his show, but has partnered with Tencent, China's biggest online instant messaging provider.

An online survey conducted by popular Chinese Web portal Tianya showed that more than three-quarters of its 62,835 respondents were looking forward to the CCSTV show.

Meanwhile, CCTV appears unfazed. Qin Xinmin, chief planner for the network's spring festival gala, told Chinese media in December: "They can go ahead and do it if they want. So many people want to use CCTV to become famous. ... We won't bother responding every time."
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