Chinese Hollywood actress Zhang Ziyi was accused of lip-synching during the annual Spring Festival evening gala broadcast live on Wednesday night on the China Central Television (CCTV), a program that enjoys top audience ratings worldwide among Chinese.
Zhang, 29, an internationally recognized Chinese actress, lit up the stage with a pink outfit that drew envious gasps from ordinary girls.
She sang "Fairy Scattering Flowers," which was specially composed for her by leading musician Ji Zhongping. Zhang was alone on stage during the performance.
Comments at Sina.com, a major Chinese news portal, were not too kind. Posters said that her performance was just ordinary and she had no real singing skill; it was just her fame that got her audience attention. The complaints about the program started to appear almost as soon as the show signed off at about 1:00 a.m.
An article in the Modern Express, a newspaper based in Nanjing, capital of eastern Jiangsu Province, said that lip-synching was common during the annual CCTV gala due to "hardware problems".
"Lip-synching at the gala is a tradition," it said, adding Zhang came in for public criticism because "she was an amateur singer who was not well-prepared and even forgot words". The article attributed her poor performance to "a lack of experience".
But Zhang thought she did well. "Fairy Scattering Flowers symbolizes happiness and auspiciousness. 2008 is especially important for Beijing and China and each of us. I wish spring would come earlier so that the snow in disaster areas would melt soon," she told reporters.
The gala's general director, Chen Linchun, suggested that Zhang's performance had actually been live and "was not broadcast from video".
Zhang made her name with the martial arts blockbuster "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" and with "Memoirs of a Geisha", among others. She was once director Zhang Yimou's favored actress. They collaborated on "The Road Home", "Hero" and "House of Flying Daggers".
Every year, CCTV holds a special on Lunar New Year's Eve, featuring dances, songs and short comedies. This year, the gala had another theme: unity and the courage of the people to cope with the snow disaster.
A survey on Sina.com showed that among the performances at this year's gala, "Blue and White Porcelain" by Taiwan singer Jay Chou ranked top among the viewers, with the second and third places taken by girl pop group S.H.E. and Fei Yu-ching, both from Taiwan.
The annual Spring Festival gala celebration started in the 1980s. Since then, it has been the most popular TV event, attracting a major portion of China's 1.3 billion population on Lunar New Year's Eve each year.
Stand-up comedy routines and 'cross-talk' among performers have been among the most popular parts of the program since 2000. However, for some years, audiences have been expressing disappointment at timeworn routines and overly familiar entertainers.
But this year's audience survey showed that young people were excited to see such pop stars as Jay Chou.
The Beijing-based Legal Evening News surveyed 800 Chinese, among whom 153 said they did not watch the gala, as "there are many other means of entertainment".
More than 80 percent of the respondents watched the show with their families, eight percentage points more than in last year's survey by the same newspaper. They believed that "watching the gala had become a habit" and "the snow disaster thwarted travel plans so they had nowhere to go".
The survey found that "about 60 percent of the audience are satisfied with the show" and that "37 percent think it is better than last year". Respondents said the gala had many new components, including the snow disaster, the Olympics and the country's first lunar probe, Chang'e-1.
An epic -- "Warm 2008" -- praising disaster-relief efforts, was penned by leading poets to boost national morale in the wake of the snow disaster. It was expressively recited and movingly performed by famous artists, TV anchors and entertainment stars.
A lady surnamed Zhu from the northern region of Inner Mongolia said that the poem recital was creative and worth watching a second time, as she found warmth and inspiration in it.
The state television CCTV was expected to earn a lot from commercials at the gala. Last year, it earned around 500 million yuan (68.5 million U.S. dollars) from gala commercials, among which the auction of midnight ad attracted the highest bid of 10 million yuan and the bid for the eight-o'clock ad ushering the gala reached 5.75 million yuan.
Local TV stations stage their own celebration parties as well. Central Hunan's provincial television station and Shanghai's Dragon TV receive top audience ratings domestically, with a powerful lineup of popular entertainers. They also avoid the time clash with CCTV by arranging programs on the day before or after the New Year's Eve.
(Xinhua News Agency February 8, 2008)