Booming Period 1978-2000
Since the late 1970s, the development of television in China has come back to the normal track and entered into a blooming age. China ended its ten-year cultural revolution in 1976 and adopted the economic reform and opening-up policy in the December of 1978, which opened a new chapter in China’s history. By adopting the new policy, China started to open its market to the outside world and began to restore diplomatic relations with other countries (China 2008).
Politically, China started to create a more open and friendly external environment for its development. In 1979, a formal diplomatic relations was restored between China and the United States. In 1989, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev visited China, marking the end of the long-held animosity between Moscow and Beijing. After the 1991 demise of the Soviet Union, China's relations with Russia became even more amicable since the conflicting ideologies of the two vast nations no longer existed.
Economically, China started to introduce market principles in 1978 and carried out the economic reform. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the reform involved the decollectivization of agriculture, the opening up of the country to foreign investment, and the permission for entrepreneurs to start their own businesses. From the late 1980s to the 1990s, the reforms included privatizing, contracting out state-owned industry and lifting government controls over the price in many areas. Due to these policies, many labors in rural areas were greatly mobilized, the market became more automatic and the private sector grew remarkably. (Engardio, 2005).
The new socioeconomic environment has provided large room for the development and promotion of television, and the economic reform has brought greater income for many people and therefore could stimulate the consumption, which was greatly suppressed by planned economy in early years.
During this period, the most commonly used television were cable and satellite television. Cable television is a system that deliver television programming through coaxial cables. This system was first originated in the United States in 1948 to enhance poor reception of television signals in mountainous and remote areas (Connors 1996). During the 1960s, the cable system was widely adopted in large cities where local television reception was weakened by the reflection of signals from tall buildings. Today, even though many cable televisions have been replaced by digital or smart ones, cable can still provide video entertainment, Internet connectivity, and digital telephone service to millions of consumers. (The Cable Center 2018)
Satellite televisions transmit signals by receiving signals from communications satellites orbiting the Earth. The outdoor parabolic antenna, which is commonly known as a satellite dish will receive signals and transmit them to a receiver. The first international satellite television broadcast was launched in 1962 (SBCA 2018). By 1980, satellite television was well established in the USA and Europe. Both cable and satellite television belong to Analog television because they both use analog signals to transmit video and audio and analog television was the common standard in the 20th century.
Since China has opened up to the world since 1978, its television technology also closely followed the international trend. China began to adopted cable and satellite television in a large scale since the early 1980s. Since the 1980s, television in China expanded rapidly, and it gradually became important means of mass communication and popular entertainment rather than mere government news broadcaster. In 1982 television was available only to 350 millions of people among China's 1 billion of population (Link 2000, p208) and at this time television was mostly watched on a communal basis. By 1985, however, television reached two-thirds of the population through more than 104 stations. During this time, the content of the programming changed drastically from the political lectures and statistical lists of the previous period. Typical television shows were entertainment, including feature films, sports, drama, music, dance, and children's programming (Zhu, Keane, and Bai 2008). There are several causes for this phenomenon.
First is the development of television technology and infrastructure. Both cable and satellite television help to diversify television programs and improve the quality of the image on screen. The government started to laying cables all over the country and on April 8, 1984 (Global Security 2018), China launched its first experimental geostationary orbit communications satellite. All these helped to broaden the access to television and enrich television programs. Second, the price of television was much lower than before. After 1978, China ended its isolation status and opened its market to the outside world. On the one hand, the relatively free markets provide more job opportunities for people and helped them to increase their income. On the other hand, since the opening-up, many foreign companies flooded into China’s market and began to sell their television to Chinese consumers at lower price. To combat with foreign competitors, in 1989, Chinese television company Chang Hong began to lower its price to a large extent in order to win a larger share of the market, which led the first price war of television in China. As the result of this price war, television became much more affordable for common consumers than before, which made television no longer a privilege for a small group of people but a mass entertainment for general Chinese audience.
With television becoming much more accessible than before, many mass-oriented television programs and dramas emerged, among them CCTV Chun Wan (Spring Festival Gala) is the most prominent one. Started in 1983, the Gala has the largest audience of any entertainment show in the world. The Gala normally runs for about four hours on the eve of Chinese New Year, which includes different forms of performances. It will also focus on big events and huge achievements that the country has made in the past year. It also aims to strengthen the unity of both the country and family. On every new year’s eve, Chinese families will gather together in front of the television to watch the gala and enjoy the company of the whole family. The Gala not only has added a mood of celebration but also has become an inseparable tradition for Chinese people (People 2013).
The success of the Spring Gala depends on economic development, technology advancement and Chinese culture and tradition. First the economic leap in China made television an affordable piece for most Chinese family and therefore the culture of watching television was gradually cultivated. Second, the technology advancement made television viewing a common and enjoyable experience. Cable television and satellite television could provide Chinese people with higher definition images and offer more diversified television programs. Besides, satellite television made high quality live broadcast possible, which was important for the Spring Gala, a live television program. Last but not the least, the Spring Festival Gala was focused on the unity of family, the harmony of the society and the prosperity of the country, which has always rooted deep in Chinese culture and value, therefore it is no wonder why Chinese audience choose to watch this program to celebrate the coming new year.
During the last two decades of the 20th century, China’s television technology gradually caught up with the world standard and it also has developed its own brand to compete in the global market. However, the development of television faces another pivotal turn in the 21st century.