Tea Leaf Nation

China Celebrates Lunar New Year With 540 Disco Robots and 29 Drones

China Celebrates Lunar New Year With 540 Disco Robots and 29 Drones

Nothing says soft power like 540 dancing robots and 29 neon drones.

These were the backup dancers in one of the most notable acts from this year’s Chinese New Year Gala, a marathon variety show with patriotic and cultural themes that aired live on Feb. 7 on state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV). Keyed to China’s Spring Festival holiday, it’s the biggest annual television event in the world: In 2015, an estimated 690 million tuned in to watch, compared with only 114 million viewers for the 2015 Super Bowl, which broke U.S. television records.

The drone and droid army performed flawlessly as Sun Nan, a 47-year-old singer and native of northeastern Liaoning Province, belted out “Rushing Towards the Pinnacle” against a laser-lit skyline in Guangzhou, the massive capital of the southern province of Guangdong. “Rush towards the pinnacle of the world,” sang Sun, the robot legion tapping their feet and pumping their fists in perfect formation. “The world is right in front of me; the future is in my sights; the earth is at my feet.” It was a patriotic moment, by design; a Feb. 8 article in ruling Communist Party mouthpiece People’s Daily boasted that the high-tech sidekicks — with an uncanny though perhaps unintentional resemblance to Storm Troopers — had been designed and produced in Shenzhen, a Guangdong tech hub.

Whiffs of change in China’s political climate can often be detected in the show’s state-approved content. In 2015, amid Chinese President Xi Jinping’s sweeping crackdown on official graft, two comedy skits poked fun at China’s notorious corruption problem — the first time official censors had allowed the gala to feature the once-taboo topic. This year, the Chinese government’s emphasis on state-directed innovation made a cameo. In 2015, as its economic grew more slowly than in previous years and traditional manufacturing industries headed for a possible hard landing, the central government has pushed hard to ramp up the innovation quotient in China’s robotics, computing, and other tech sectors.

Watch the act, below.

Image Credit: CCTV/Fair Use