Austerity wipes out galas - and that's a good thing

By Raymond Zhou ( China Daily ) Updated: 2014-02-25 08:16:36

Austerity wipes out galas - and that's a good thing

Artists perform at the 2013 Spring Festival gala organized by the Ministry of Culture. The gala was axed during this year's festival amid the central government's austerity drive. Provided to China Daily

Broad view 

| Raymond Zhou

Austerity wipes out galas - and that's a good thing
US political drama tells much about us

Austerity wipes out galas - and that's a good thing

Brainwashed by soaps
Last year, a multibillion-yuan industry was virtually terminated in China, but I did not shed a tear for it. On the contrary, I almost said "Good riddance" out loud.

The variety-show market was said to exceed 100 billion yuan ($16.4 billion). Much of it was underwritten by various levels and departments of the government. It employed high-priced entertainers who charged hefty fees - for example, up to a million yuan to sing a couple of songs, sometimes only lip-syncing to a recording.

We Chinese have a traditional illustration for peace and prosperity called "the staging of singing and dancing". There is nothing like popular entertainment to spruce up the festive mood. But it is essentially a form of seasoning, like salt and pepper. When overused, it spoils the dish.

Before the austerity crackdown, variety shows had reached ludicrous proportions. Whenever there was a social issue waiting to be resolved, someone would propose a lavish show. There's a flood devastating a county? Let's stage a show. The flood receded? Have another one to celebrate.

Almost every jurisdiction in the nation hosts some sort of government-sponsored "festival" with a televised extravaganza as its centerpiece. No wonder big-name entertainers could afford to ask for the moon.

Some local officials were star-chasers who didn't blink at squandering virtually any amount of public money for a photo opportunity with the glitterati.

Lacking a budget, however, they would resort to a form of blackmail, soliciting big businesses for donations that were not exactly voluntary. The businesses found such requests impossible to resist for the sake of maintaining government relations.

But on paper, it all looked rosy and mutually beneficial: A business would donate, say, a million yuan to the event organizer, supposedly in the public interest. A high-profile show, as the theory went, would result in name recognition and public pride. In return, the organizer would provide some tickets to the company for its own use.

Some businesses saw all this as a legal form of bribery. And of course, when tens of millions are spent on an event, there are plenty of opportunities for kickbacks or other corruption.

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