Which Chinese Ethnic Minorities are Important? Ask the Spring Festival Gala!

The annual CCTV Spring Festival Gala bills itself as the most watched television program on planet Earth. [1] I think this slightly misstates the nature of the program. It may be more accurate to describe the Gala as the most widely tolerated background noise for Mahjong-playing, dumpling eating, and hongbao giving celebrations on planet Earth. 

Notwithstanding the small amount of attention the average Chinese family actually gives to any single performance, twitter and the blogosphere is already alight with commentaries on the Gala’s political overtones. A lot this commentary has focused on the performance of the ballet Red Detachment of Women, but I found the five ‘ethnic minority’ musical performances to be much more revealing:

Of the hundreds of ethnic minorities who live within the People’s Republic of China,  only 56 are “officially” recognized by the Chinese government. Of these 56, only five were considered well known or otherwise important enough to have their own 40 seconds of fame in the 2014 CCTV Spring Gala. In order of their appearance in this video, these were the Uyghurs of Xinjiang, the Zhuang of Guangxi, and the ethnic Mongols, Hui, and Tibetans that live across China’s northern and western reaches. [2]


[1] The South China Morning Post reports that some 750 million people tuned into the 2013 Gala — for those counting, that is six times the size of the audience that watches the SuperBowl every year. Chris Luo. “CCTV’s Spring Autumn Festival Gala Line Up Draws Barrage of Criticism Online.South China Morning Post. 29 January 2013. 

[2] I must thank my friend 嘉源 for helping me track down which ethnic group the author of each song belongs to. Unfortunately, we were unable to find this information for the fourth performance. We assume it is a Hui performance because of Islamic aesthetic veneer of the dancer’s outfits and the performance’s background visuals. We further assumed that even if the performers was not technically Hui, most Chinese would not distinguish between a smaller  Muslim ethnic minority and the Hui anyways. If  readers more knowledgeable than myself can confirm what ethnic group the performance is supposed to reflect, please sound off in the comment section!

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