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Spring Festival Gala scandal! Two versions of Lu Chen's magic act

Beijing Times
February 18, 2010

It's not a proper CCTV Spring Festival Gala without a scandal or two.

This year's plagiarism case occurred well before the Gala aired, and began with a report that Ma Weidu, a well-known writer and antiques collector who has appeared on CCTV's popular Lecture Room program, had sought 150,000 yuan for the right to adapt one of his short pieces about an orchard farmer who charges 0.2 yuan per whack at the trunk of one of his almond trees. Facing criticism that he was being greedy and selfish with his unprecedented fee, Ma replied with a blog post that framed it as a punishment to CCTV its total lack of professionalism.

Ma first heard of the adaptation from a friend, who informed him that a newspaper had reported he was writing a Gala skit. Shortly thereafter, CCTV contacted him: they had arranged to adapt a story written published in Stories magazine, but when they learned that Ma had published a suspiciously similar story a year earlier, they wanted to offer him a shared credit for the original work ("We originally adapted Chen Zhihong's story from Stories and never thought that you'd written one, too"). CCTV then sent him a "Letter of Confirmation" to clarify that he granted permission for the adaptation. He refused and asked for a proper contract. The contract they sent over had no details filled in ("She told me 1000 to 2000, the same for everyone and paid after the broadcast").

When happened next was a little mystifying. I told her that I didn't want to sign the contract, mostly because....then she got a little upset and said a little rudely, "Look, this act might not even be on the program, so it's up to you whether you want to sign." Then she hung up. I stood there for a moment before I realized that probably their writers are all aiming for the exposure the Gala brings, and if they don't make it, it's wasted effort. The writers are all angling for something, so the high-handedness of the production crew is somewhat justified. But that move had no effect on me, because I didn't care in the slightest whether the skit went on the Gala.

A few rounds later, the CCTV crew member apologized: "I didn't realize who you were. If I had known, I wouldn't have been like that." This annoyed Ma even more, so he decided that if CCTV really wanted the rights, he'd make them pay through the nose and then donate his fee to charity.

In a second major controversy of this year's Gala, netizens discovered that CCTV-1's broadcast, which went out to a national audience, was slightly different from the one aired on CCTV-9, the international channel. Today's Beijing Times put damning screen captures from Lu "Louis" Chen's magic act on its front page.

In the top shot, taken from CCTV-1's broadcast, host Dong Qing wears a green dress, the man to her left has a scarf, the woman to his left is dressed in yellow, and there's a box of Huiyuan juice on Lu's left.

In the bottom shot, taken from CCTV-9's broadcast, Dong Qing is dressed in pink, the man is missing a scarf, a completely different woman is dressed in red and black, and the Huiyuan container is missing.

The newspaper contacted the CCTV main production office and was given a curiously ambiguous response:

Yesterday, a CCTV production office employee said that ordinarily, to guard against anything unexpected, some Gala acts are pre-recorded. Owing to time restrictions, CCTV-9 had no time to edit once the Gala broadcast started, so it very likely aired a pre-recorded version that differed in certain details. However, the general sequence and content of the act would not have changed very much.

She also said that five or six dress rehearsals are staged prior to the Gala. Out of concern for the overall effect, the live audience present on the night of the Gala may see something different from what TV audiences see. "We broadcast live if we can, but if we can't we insert recordings."

Does "very likely" leave open the possibility that it was just a problem with signal quality?

In a scathing review of Lu Chen's act, Han Han also addressed the state broadcaster's habit of trading the genuine for the comfortably predictable. His blog post (since deleted) drew a biting answer from the performer himself.

Both posts are translated below (don't read them if you dislike your magic explained):

Turning Magic into a Stage Play

by Han Han

I've noticed that some Lu Chen fans are satisfied so long as his magic is shocking enough. They don't think too carefully or know too much about it, and they don't even want to. I actually quite like Lu Chen myself. Still, I'm no defender. I'm one who likes getting to the bottom of things, and I make much stricter demands on those that I like.

When I eventually learned the truth, I felt that rather than shock, Lu had brought an immense disappointment. A first-class magician shouldn't perform magic like this. Maybe the Gala stage was too big and Lu felt that people in front of the TV were his audience. But I've always believed that the real audience for close-up magic ought to be the people sitting around your table. One of those people may be a shill, but they cannot all be. This skit that called itself close-up magic, with its juice cup, made-to-order table, tricked coin — props, all of them — did not follow the rules for close-up magic. Dong Qing, the man with the unwashed hands, and everyone sitting behind Lu were all shills. Even the director and the camera-man were shills who cut at the appropriate moments and shifted angles. This was not in line with professional ethics. When filming magic, television ought to be an accurate narrative rather than a way to help the magician cover things up. Can you still call it magic if you're trading props with a bunch of shills? A magician's duty is to use your skills and techniques to trick the audience, but Lu roped in a bunch of swindlers to put on a stage play. If this is close-up magic, then I, Han Han, could get together six shills for half an hour of practice and put on an even more incredible performance, and if the director and cameraman were just a little more cooperative, I could have turned [singer] Song Zuying into [loudmouth] Song Zude and Dong Qing into [actress] Dong Jie. It is fine to use the methods of entertainment to entertain the audience, but even though entertainment through buffoonery may be enough to amuse an ignorant audience, it is not something that a TV station and a magician ought to be doing. If it continues, will there be more shills next year, or even special effects?

The great strength of CCTV's Network News Broadcast is its use of shills to cheat the national audience. Magic ought to be developed through skill and innovation, not the constant concern with how best to employ shills. On CCTV, the Gala must first of all be politically correct, and second of all be problem-free. So I can understand the problem that led them to arrange a table full of shills: if they had the misfortune to randomly select someone like me from the audience to come on stage, someone who would demand that Lu use a coin from my pocket and a cup I brought with me, someone who at the critical moment shouted, "Hey, why is the table glass revolving?" then it'd be a failure. But I am convinced that Lu possesses the skills to do something that would shock me even without props, although unfortunately, CCTV would find it not shocking enough for the TV audience. For the cause of political correctness and zero problems, the live broadcast has a delay, the crowd is picked, the songs are lip-synched, the acrobatics are pre-recorded, the skits have been castrated, crosstalk has been utterly destroyed, and magic, itself a fraud, has been made even more fake. This is why variety shows in China will never have any accidents during broadcast.

If I've offended Lu Chen's fans, please think about your idol for a moment. Your idol is now the first magician in history to perform close-up magic for a group composed entirely of shills. Do you want your idol to become a world-class magician? Or simply someone who buys a few props off of Taobao at the end of every year to act in a skit at the Spring Festival Gala for a bit of extra cash? Clearly, CCTV wants the second option for your idol, and he seems to agree. Do you?

Han Han

by Lu Chen 刘谦

Master Han Han:

Used to be, I held your ability to think logically and put words together in fairly high esteem.

At the same time, I felt that the line "mastery of one grants mastery of all" more accurately synthesized your artistic gifts and professionalism into a unique pattern of behavior.

At one time, I believed that if we were to meet on some occasion, we would become friends who could talk about anything.

This notion has not changed, but your image in my mind has been transformed every so slightly.

I am a person who can accept all kind of criticism (professional). Criticism shows that I am imperfect and have room to grow. To me, nothing is more important than this.

But while I may still be able to laugh off unprofessional criticism, I cannot accept it coming from your mouth.

1. I believed you were not a person who would pass judgment on the basis of rumors.
2. I believed you were not a person who would loudly show off after only a crude understanding of the principles of magic.
3. I believed you were not a person who would simply repudiate without an understanding of the spirit and process of a magic performance.
4. I believed you were not a person who would be self-righteous without an understanding of the essence of magic and its reason for existing.

If in the future I have the good fortune to become your friend, perhaps we can discuss more profound issues.

But you must pour the water out of your glass first.


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There are currently 6 Comments for Spring Festival Gala scandal! Two versions of Lu Chen's magic act.

Comments on Spring Festival Gala scandal! Two versions of Lu Chen's magic act

So? live recording of the gala only started in the new millennium and all previous gala (except some of the 80's ones) are all recorded. Besides, the only reason for the gala's existence is to create some background noise and a distraction from all the aunts comparing their children during the new years eve meal.

It's a long since Spring Festival Gala was the only major entertainment event on television back in the 80's and I think people are just expect too much from it.

Every gala is so boring damn it

"the only reason for the gala's existence is to create some background noise and a distraction from all the aunts comparing their children during the new years eve meal."

Exactly right, lol.

Psst. It gets even worse. I'm confidentially told that the entire studio audience for the gala comprised of Tibetans and Uighurs masquerading as Han Chinese. See how far we've come since the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony

actually the Tibetans are hanging out at the Tibetan new years gala at xztv celebration year of the iron tiger at the time of Spring Festival Gala.
Uighurs on the other hand follows the Islamic calendar and have no special events on the last day of Safar. (Islamic calendar's first day of the month for the first recent, while Chinese calendar uses the new moon. Hence the 1 day offset)

The magic performance in that CCTV gala I've witnessed here in the USA via digital TV, and I must say, it was most amusing and entertaining magic act.

Good job CCTV.

On the other hand, the post main-gala, the smaller English language gala was a tad less impressive, but the Chinese+laowai youth troupe modernized rendition of West Side Story was most impressive.

i must say that luchen's reply to hanhan is really intelligent and impressive.

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