Shanghai TV station blasted for planning star-studded anti-epidemic gala

Society & Culture

"How did they find time to put together a gala at a time like this?"

Dragon TV, a provincial satellite television station in Shanghai, has postponed the broadcast of a two-hour gala themed around the city’s ongoing battle against China’s largest COVID-19 outbreak after receiving intense backlash online, with many calling it “tone deaf” and “out of touch” as Shanghai’s 26 million residents remain confined to their homes with dwindling stocks of basic supplies.

News of the special program spread across Chinese social media yesterday after Sohu Entertainment posted (in Chinese) an extensive list of mega celebrities and well-known performers. According to its post, the star-studded gala — “With concerted effort, let’s protect Shanghai together,” read the headline — was scheduled to air on April 13, and consisted of four parts, featuring more than 20 performances, including a magic act called “Good luck, Shanghai!” and a song called “Spring is coming,” performed by a children’s choir. Scattered throughout the program were video messages of encouragement from celebrities and interviews with health officials and anti-epidemic workers in the city.

Last month, after a failed experiment to contain the ongoing outbreak through partial closures of housing compounds and workplaces where the virus was spreading, Shanghai entered a two-stage lockdown that later affected its entire population and brought the city to a standstill. Despite the severe measures, Shanghai’s cases continue to rise, with the city reporting 23,000 new coronavirus infections on Tuesday.

Dragon TV meant well by organizing the event intended to raise people’s spirits in a time of crisis, but the problem is that most people in Shanghai are not in the mood, as they struggle to access food, medicine, and other essentials. In the past two weeks, horror stories have circulated online about people dying after being denied medical treatment due to COVID protocols, residents locked inside suffering starvation, and COVID patients enduring shoddy conditions at isolation facilities.

So naturally, after the gala’s lineup was revealed, the internet’s long knives quickly came out: “How did they find time to put together a gala at a time like this?” read the most upvoted comment under Sohu Entertainment’s post. Because Bilibili, one of China’s largest video platforms, was supposed to livestream the gala, some Weibo users proposed that the site should enable its signature feature — real-time comments — during the broadcast. “I will definitely tune in and give my feedback. Don’t be a coward and censor my comments,” wrote one person.

Some of the responses focused on how patronizing it was for a bunch of wealthy celebrities with too much time on their hands to tell ordinary people devastated by the lockdown that things would get better. “What if it turns out that their wishes actually make us stomach full? They’ll have saved us all!” a Weibo user quipped.

Others took issue with the fact that the gala was a “blatant violation” of Shanghai’s lockdown policies, which call for residents to not leave home and organize gatherings. “Is there an outbreak or isn’t there? Why are these famous people allowed to get together indoors while we are imprisoned at home?” wrote another person.

As negative comments piled up, the hashtag “Anti-epidemic gala by Dragon TV” #东方卫视抗疫晚会# started spreading like wildfire on Weibo — to a point where the site decided to make it inaccessible. (Last week, Weibo censored the hashtag “Buying groceries in Shanghai” #上海买菜#, which was used by Shanghai residents to air grievances about food shortages in their households.)

The backlash eventually caused Dragon TV to postpone the broadcast, but a new date has yet to be announced. “Thank everyone for your interest in the program,” Dragon TV wrote (in Chinese) yesterday on Weibo. “We welcome and value your feedback on our work.”

Follow our coverage of the Shanghai lockdown.