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Cross-talk to flay graft on chunwan gala

2015-02-16 11:33 China Daily Web Editor: Wang Fan

Going by a preview on Feb 6, the 2015 Spring Festival (chunwan) gala on China Central Television will include a cross-talk (xiangsheng) performance. This signifies the return of xiangsheng - humorous or sarcastic stories told through dialogues or monologues - to the chunwan gala after years.

The inclusion of xiangsheng in the chunwan gala - telecast on the eve of the Lunar New Year to bid farewell to the passing year and welcome the new - will not only spice up the show, but also manifest the higher authorities' increasing tolerance of critical cultural and entertainment programs.

Miao Fu and Wang Sheng from Shaanxi province will be the two xiangsheng performers in the program. "The leaders have asked us to be straightforward saying there is no need to be evasive," Miao was cited by some media outlets as saying. A special arrangement was made for the two to even meet officials from the local anti-corruption watchdog to discuss real cases which could provide fodder for their program.

Cross-talk, as a traditional art form, used to be a very popular source of entertainment. Some classic sarcastic xiangsheng works, composed by famous artists Ma Sanli and Ma Ji, which deride the malpractices in and dark sides of society are still a great source of entertainment for many even decades after they were first performed.

But the art form is not popular, especially among the youth, because of the advent of films, TV and the Internet. The dearth of good works too has contributed to its decline.

Xiangsheng's vigor lies in its humor and satire; without them, the art form lacks luster. And in recent years, audiences have rarely come across cracking cross-talk performances that criticize dodgy and shady officials. This is not to say that the past years have not seen any humorous xiangsheng work, it's only that scathing social criticisms have been absent. Perhaps the regulators' mistaken idea that artistic works too should transmit "positive energy" to society is to blame for that.

"Eulogizing truth, goodness or virtue can transmit positive energy, but denouncing falsities, badness or vice can also do the same", says Feng Jicai, vice-chairman of China Federation of Literary and Art Circles. "Only by assuring artists that they would not be criticized for their performance can the authorities display their self-confidence and tolerant mind and help art perform its social duty".

Of late, some media outlets have made light of the lackluster programs in the chunwan galas, attributing their insipid nature to their failure to touch upon the happenings in society, including malpractices and corruption.

Eulogistic xiangsheng works can generate laughter in the audience, but such transient amusement cannot last long. Besides, some cross-talk performers generate cheap laughter by telling poor jokes on the physically challenged or other disadvantaged groups. The popular belief is that xiangsheng has to be critical, ironic and sarcastic to create an impact, and true xiangsheng is one that deals with burning social issues.

China's intensifying crackdown on corruption and other malpractices offers many real subjects that can be used for good xiangsheng works. And by allowing such of xiangsheng works to be shown in the Spring Festival Eve gala, the authorities will help restore the lost vigor of xiangsheng.

There should be no political restrictions on xiangsheng works in a healthy, open and tolerant society, and the upcoming chunwan gala will be a good example of that.

The author, Fang Zhou, is a senior writer with China Daily.

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