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Understanding Chinese Cultural Identity Through Spring Festival Gala


by Xin Ping
On the eve of the Year of the Dragon, as families reunited for their most important festival of the year, millions of homes decorated with red couplets, lanterns, and paper cuttings were filled with the sound of cheers and applause. The Spring Festival Gala that airs globally to celebrate the Chinese New Year has become a must-have seasoning to spice up every family’s new year’s eve dinner since its first edition in 1983.
The 2024 Gala attracted a viewership that equals nearly half of China’s total population of 1.4 billion, hitting a record high. The grand show featured a mix of performances, such as singing, dancing, comedy, magic and acrobatics. It is not only a stocktaking of what was achieved in the past year, but also a window to showcase what the Chinese cultural identity is really about.
Fusion of tradition and innovation
One of the highlights of the Gala is its adept storytelling of traditional Chinese culture, bringing to life unique features of the profound and time-honored civilization, ranging from literature to costume, from music to martial arts. For example, the performance at the sub-venue in Xi’an featuring the ancient poet Li Bai and his legendary work gave me goosebumps.

Following an impressive verse in Qinqiang Opera, a Chinese folk opera genre originating in the Western Zhou Dynasty (1046-771 BC), the ancient figure Li Bai came to life with the help of artificial reality (AR) and extended reality (XR) technologies, and started pouring wine and chanting his masterpiece together with a live actor. The fantastic fusion of the ancient and modern teleported the audience into the poetic world of Li Bai in a mind-blowing way, where classical literature was digitized and revitalized by technological advancement.
I suppose many among the audience sitting in front of the screen couldn’t help but join the chorus of Tang poems like I did. It is a natural reaction as the beautiful verses are deeply imprinted on our memory. The ancient literature, together with the millennia-old traditions, are all our cultural heritage which still exude vitality and make China what it is today.
At the same time, the crowds at the Xi’an show were excited by the beat of hip-hop and the main rapper combined Harlem-style moves with his local dialect of Shaanxi. You can see a much younger China with an open mind that is always ready to embrace novelty.
Warm hearts in icy weather
The 2024 Gala presented the unique charm and vast development potential of China’s icy north, which was once deemed as China’s “rust belt”. The short comedy sketch titled “Welcome to my hometown” staged heartwarming stories of “northeastern hospitality.” Harbin, Changchun and Shenyang, the traditional industrial cities became top tourist destinations this winter attracting droves of domestic and foreign visitors. The show demonstrated the local northeasterners’ generosity, hospitality and sense of humour through the various kinds of tourist-friendly gestures, such as installing a carpet along main shopping streets, creating a floating moon over the 117-year-old St Sophia’s Cathedral, and transporting snow to the southern part of China for children with special needs.
The icy north of China, a once-prosperous region that is now grappling with labour shortages and growth challenges, is described by many as the “eldest son” of New China. This time, the elder brother gave its younger siblings the best it has to offer. The warmheartedness paid off. Harbin’s tourism revenue hit a record high of 16.42 billion yuan during the Chinese New Year break, which once again showed the great potential of a massive domestic market with a population of 1.4 billion. A possible economic transformation focused on tourism and winter sports might revitalize this region once again. And the high-quality development of northeast China, with protection of its rich forestry and arable soil at the core and private enterprises all on board, will benefit everyone living there.
Showcase the real Xinjiang
The beauty of Xinjiang captivated the audience after an eight-minute singing and dancing show staged at the Kashgar sub-venue. Singers and dancers of different ethnic backgrounds from this culturally diverse region presented a snapshot of a thriving and prosperous Xinjiang. After the live broadcast, the video of the stunning Uygur dance performed by Dilraba, the Urumqi-born Chinese actress, went viral on social media.
The annual Gala chose to set its sub-venue in southern Xinjiang this year. It is a good way to display the beauty of the 2,000-year-old city of Kashgar, which has been a cultural center since the times when the ancient Silk Road was in full bloom. It is still a hub nowadays where many ethnic groups live together in harmony, and their cultures and traditions are well preserved. If, like several years ago, this region was threatened by terrorism and radicalism, it would be hard to imagine the local people of Xinjiang, who are blessed with the gift of singing and dancing, having such bright smiles on their faces. The mesmerizing Gala show is yet another powerful piece of evidence to bust the lies surrounding Xinjiang and set the record straight.
Indeed, there are so many take-aways from the Spring Festival Gala. You may feel the happiness of the family reunion in millions of households, share the laughter or tears in people’s successes or regrets in the past year, and see the hope for the spring that is about to come. After being listed as a UN floating holiday, this Lunar New Year will see the core values of harmony, love and peace of the Chinese culture reach more people than ever. To my readers overseas: if you want a closer look at China, don’t miss the Spring Festival Gala.
(The author is a commentator on international affairs, writing regularly for Xinhua News, CGTN, Global Times, China Daily, etc. He can be reached at xinping604@gmail.com.)

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