Corruption Takes Center Stage In China's CCTV Lunar New Year Gala

Chinese Lunar New Year - H 2015
AP Images

Chinese Lunar New Year - H 2015

Anti-graft skits feature in show to welcome in the Year of the Goat.

This year's Chinese New Year gala, one of the world's most watched TV shows with around 800 million viewers, featured anti-corruption themes among the sketches, a sign of the growing importance of the campaign to stamp out graft.

A promotional trailer for the show was screened in Times Square in New York, according to the official news agency Xinhua.

Also known as the Spring Festival Gala, over its 30 years of broadcasting the show has become as central to Chinese new year traditions as making jiaozi dumplings and arguing with one's relatives after making the massive trek back to the ancestral home.

This year, for the first time, the Spring Festival Gala was streamed live on the online video site iQIYI, in cooperation with the state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV). Other partners included Tencent Weibo, YouTube and Twitter, even though both YouTube and Twitter are banned in China.

There is some debate going on online about whether this counts as a sheep year or a goat year. Year of the Sheep is more accurate linguistically, but there are historical reasons for referring to both.

The gala generates huge social media traffic -- during the 2014 event, using various messaging services, social media users sent 32.7 million QQ messages and over 10 million WeChat messages per minute. This compares with 3,800 messages per minute about the Super Bowl.

An ongoing corruption crackdown in China, introduced by President Xi in early 2013, featured in the annual Chinese New Year Gala. The campaign has netted some big catches, and appears popular among local people.

The former security czar Zhou Yongkang, who was arrested in December and could be arraigned any time now, is one of the biggest names to fall victim of the dragnet.

One of these was a stand-up routine, "It's not mine," performed by young comedians Miao Fu and Wang Sheng from northwest China's Shaanxi Province, depicting a corrupt official who took bribes including a car, a house and also a mistress.

Miao told the Beijing News that the local branch of the powerful Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) had helped them by feeding them stories of local graft.

At the end of the sketch the cadre in the sketch decided to turn himself in to the authorities.

"The show was widely praised on the Internet with the only complaint being that it was not funny enough," Xinhua reported.

Another sketch looked at the process of "making friends" and paying bribes to get things done.

A total of 71,748 officials were punished in 2014 for breaking anti-corruption rules, the CCDI said.

The Chinese New Year holiday is shaping up to be a slugfest between up to eight Chinese homegrown films which will be shown on the first day of the Lunar New Year, making the seven-day holiday one of the most competitive period ever in China's film industry.

They include Jackie Chan's Dragon Blade, Chow Yun-Fat's The Man from Macao II, Jean-Jacques Annaud's Wolf Totem and fantasy adventure Zhongkui: Snow Girl and the Dark Crystal, all of which opened on Thursday.

Rounding out the competitive slate were two reality TV show-turned movies, an animated feature film and a Hong Kong film.