Sunday, February 20, 2011

Zhao Benshan Spring Festival's "King of Comedy" for 13th Time

Arguably the most watched program on Chinese TV is CCTV's New Year's Gala (中国中央电视台春节联欢晚会). It's broadcast every year on the eve of the Chinese Spring Festival, and attracts an audience of over 700 million people, boasting ratings figures of over 90 percent. The biggest names in Chinese entertainment jostle with starry-eyed newcomers for a chance to appear on the program, and many a successful career has been launched via an appearance on the show.

On the fifteenth day of the Spring Festival, the Lantern Festival Gala is held, also on CCTV, and winners are announced for the most popular comedy, singing, dancing and other performance acts of the Gala show, as voted by viewers. Comedian Zhao Benshan (赵本山), who has been appearing on the New Year's Gala since 1987, this year won his 13th award. The 52 year old veteran (pictured accepting his award) and his co-performer Xiao Shenyang (小沈阳) were awarded for a crosstalk (or stand-up comedy) routine they performed together. Crosstalk is one of the staples of the Gala show - for more information about this uniquely Chinese style of entertainment, see this post.

In the longer comedy sketch category, the award went to another veteran comedian Feng Gong (冯巩) and actress-singer Song Jia (宋佳). The 53 year old Feng, known for his mournful hang-dog face, is another Spring Festival regular. Song Jia, also known as Xiao Song Jia or Little Song Jia to distinguish her from an older actress of the same name, is at 30 years old a newcomer making her New Year's Gala debut this year.

Most popular singer was Song Zuying (宋祖英), arguably China's most-renowned soprano, who sang Deep Blue Sky (天蓝蓝) at the show. A member of the Miao ethnic minority, Song was born in the Miao Autonomous Region in Hunan, central China, in 1966. She began her singing career in the Chinese Navy (she actually holds the rank of Rear Admiral, believe it or not), and has performed several times previously on the New Year's Gala. She has been nominated for a Grammy, performed in concert houses the world over, and sang a duet with Placido Domingo at the Beijing Olympics Closing Ceremony. And for lovers of salacious gossip, she has also long been rumoured to have been the mistress of former Chinese president, Jiang Zemin.

Chinese magician Fu Yandong (傅琰东) won the award in the "Other Performances" category. His magic act was not without controversy; it involved getting half a dozen fish in a tank to swim in formation, seemingly at his command. The act however received complaints from animal rights activists, who contended that to create the illusion the fish were either fed or implanted with magnets.

Finally there were Special Awards given to three acts who represent "grassroot performers", or performers from humble origins who are given their opportunity at the Gala to showcase their talents. This year featured two acts that first came to public attention when videos of them were shown online. Xuri Yanggang (旭日阳刚, roughly translated as Masculine Sunshine) are Wang Xu and Liu Gang, a duo of migrant workers, former farmers that had moved to the city for work. Last year an amateur video of them singing a cover version of the ballad In the Spring became an online sensation. Then at the end of last year they won a reality TV show, I Want to Perform on New Year's Gala (我要上春晚), earning them a spot on the Gala show. Ren Yueli caught the public eye in much the same way. She's better known simply as Xidan Girl (西单女孩), from an online video of her busking at Beijing's Xidan subway station that earned millions of hits when it was posted on the net in 2009. (For comprehensive background on Xidan Girl, see this China Smack post.) A hip hop dance group from Shenzhen also shared the Special Awards with their act, Let the Workers Have the Power.

The award winners are listed here, but in Chinese.

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