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“What’s the point of reciting tricky ancient poems in language classes?” asked one frustrated Chinese netizen.
“Because they are ideal models for elegance,” replied another. “For instance, two discriptions of the same setting sun could be totally different: Those with ancient verse in mind might say, ‘The autumn river shares a scenic hue with the vast sky; The evening glow parallels with a lonely duck to fly.’ Compare that to what someone without education would say: ‘Wow! So many birds! Beautiful! Gorgeous!’”
Such exchanges became common online soon after Chinese Poetry Conference, a game show by CCTV, premiered. Contrasting most reality and variety shows, the program features competitions related to contestants’ understanding and mastery of ancient Chinese poetry. Few expected the show to get such good ratings. Viewers have been awed by the encyclopedic minds of competitors while enjoying the extensiveness and profundity of traditional Chinese culture. The show’s success has inspired an outburst of ancient Chinese poetry recitation across the country.
At 8:00 p.m. on February 7, 2017, the Season 1 finale of Chinese Poetry Conference aired on CCTV. After 90 minutes of fierce competition, 16-year-old high-school student Wu Yishu outlasted the other competitors and took the crown.
The on-screen competition was fierce, and even viewers at home were on the edges of their seats. WeChat users competed simultaneously, and the mobile winner bested over 200,000 rivals.
Statistics testify to the show’s success. Surveys from CoolCloud, a Chinese big data analysis company, show that on February 7, the audience rating of Chinese Poetry Conference finale hit 15.9 percent, 5 percentage points higher than the show behind it. Across two months of air time, the show attracted more than a billion viewers.
Not only has champion Wu Yishu become a celebrity, but 5,000-year-old Chinese culture has been rejuvenated online. “As China embraces the so-called ‘snack culture,' the humor on the internet is worlds away from the profundity of classical poetry,” sighed one netizen. “Readers are too often looking for a quick buck and failing to upgrade and nourish themselves with poetry. Chinese Poetry Conference, however, gave me passion and inspired me to pursue information that is much deeper than the day’s trending topics.”