Showering China Central Television’s annual Spring Festival Gala with criticism and invective is a Lunar New Year tradition in China every bit as cherished as wrapping dumplings or lighting off firecrackers.
Despite that, or perhaps because of it, interest appears to have soared in a part of the show set to be broadcast from the picturesque southern city of Guilin.
Spring Festival Gala security teams stationed in Guilin say they have shot down multiple drones as they battled an epidemic of aerial spying over an outdoor set in one of the city’s parks, the state-run Guilin Daily newspaper reported Friday.
As of Tuesday, the paper said, drones had invaded the central staging area in Guilin a total of 24 times. Security forces had managed to shoot down and confiscate six drones, it said.
In order to protect smooth operations in the Guilin venue, “our city’s police forces will maintain security using the highest standards, the strongest deployment of forces, the strictest measures, the greatest effectiveness and the best conditions,” the report said.
Produced by state broadcaster China Central Television, the Spring Festival Gala is an hourslong extravaganza of cheesy comedy routines, stiff musical numbers and paeans to the Communist Party’s greatness that airs every Lunar New Year’s eve. With a reported 700 million viewers each year, it’s the country’s most-watched TV event. Judging by the streams of commentary that typically follow, it’s also among the most derided.
A lineup for this year’s show, posted online by CCTV, lists a bevy of benignly crowd-pleasing acts, including appearances by martial-arts-star-cum-singer Jackie Chan, the Air Force Blue Sky Children’s Art Troupe and virginal “fresh meat” boy-banders TFBoys.
In addition to the main acts in Beijing, this year’s event will also feature shows staged in subvenues in Guilin, Shanghai, the northeastern city of Harbin and Xichang in southwestern China’s Sichuan province. As is customary, organizers stayed tight-lipped about preparations in the various venues until the final week.
According to state media, the Guilin portion will be broadcast from Elephant Trunk Hill, a lush park at the confluence of the Li and Taohua rivers named for a karst formation that looks like an elephant drinking from the water. It will feature 600 mostly ethnic-minority performers, 2000 costumes, 1,800 props and lots of neon lighting, a CCTV report said Friday.
Since Jan. 4, security teams in the area had stepped up vigilance against drones, hang gliders, paragliders, hot-air balloons, model airplanes, floating lanterns and other small, low-flying aircraft, according to Guizhou Daily. They had also set up a no-fly zone within a five-kilometer radius of the stage, and established three “drone-control defensive perimeters,” it said.
Guizhou Daily didn’t say who was operating the drones, or why police were also concerned about the other types of aircraft. Calls to CCTV and Elephant Trunk Hill Park’s management office rang unanswered Friday.
Fu Mingquan, head of the Spring Festival Gala Guilin Subvenue Security Directorate Drone Control Group, told the Guizhou Daily his team had eight jamming devices for taking down drones that it would deploy during Friday night’s performance.
“In areas where there are audience members or that are otherwise not suitable for drones to land, we will take measures to chase the drones to an empty place and then take them down,” he said.
Whether any drones that sneak through the security perimeter will get a peek at something that justifies the effort remains an open question. In an interview with CCTV on Tuesday, the gala’s director Yang Dongsheng set expectations low.
“I just hope everyone doesn’t curse it too harshly,” he said.
– Josh Chin. Follow him on Twitter @joshchin