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Two Decades of Performances of ‘Rural Migrants’ in CCTV Spring Festival Gala Show


For those who want to experience the power of the media ritual in contemporary China, the best example is China Central TV’s (CCTV) Spring Festival Gala Show, a televised ceremony aired on every Chinese New Year’s Eve since 1983. Previous studies have been focused on how this invented tradition wields its ritual effects to impose a hegemonic national identity and social order as part of the propaganda of the authorities. Very little, however, has been discussed about what made this official TV programme look like a ritual that was integral in the broader festivity of the year turning, and how its ritual authority has been historically constructed. One remarkable phenomenon in the broadcasting history of the Gala Show offered us an interesting angle to addresses this gap. From 1990 to 2011, a social character representing the increasing presence of rural migrants in Chinese cities arose as a central role on the stage of the Gala Show. Content analyses of two decades of performances related to this character demonstrate a four-stage scripting process in the portrayal of this ritual subject, including ‘demon intrusion’, ‘status reversal’, ‘status elevation’, and ‘grassroots celebrity’. Each stage enacted a different ritual mechanism in response to the agenda emerging in the according historical period of the Gala Show. Such a dynamic process exemplifies an important form of ritualised action in the media world: the persistent and strategic casting of the ‘social outsider’ in the ritual centre. By shedding light on this previously less developed domain, the case study reveals another layer of complexity of how the sacred power of the media ritual is constructed, negotiated, and sustained under the entanglement of multiple social forces.  

Dr. Yan Yuan is a graduate of School of Media, Art, and Design at the University of Westminster. She finished her PhD in 2011 with a research titled: ‘A Different Place in the Making - Everyday Practices of Rural Migrants in Chinese Urban Villages’, which presents an ethnographic investigation into the place-making process through everyday life practices of Chinese rural migrants in their urban settlements and its influences on the formation of the migratory identity. Before her PhD, Dr. Yan Yuan was a vice-professor of School of Journalism and Communication at Huazhong University of Science and Technology in China. She also has many years of TV journalistic experience in China, including working as an investigative journalist for CCTV.

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