Celebrating the new year with Celine Dion.

Red lanterns, fireworks and dragon dances have long been traditions associated with the Chinese Lunar New Year, which fell on February 10 this year. A lesser known part of new year customs today is what is possibly the world’s most watched television show — an annual marathon five-hour cultural extravaganza hosted by State broadcaster.

China Central Television (CCTV) which draws an incredible 700 million viewers every year on new year’s eve. The show, for most Chinese, is now as much a fixture of new year’s eve family dinners as traditional dumplings.

The galas have grown grander every year. Once a platform for young talent, organisers now fly in musicians and performers from far corners of the globe. This year, Celine Dion was the star attraction at the CCTV gala. Dion stunned the audience by singing in Chinese, performing an old popular song called “Jasmine Flower” along with Song Zuying, one of China’s most famous singers. Dion expectedly also performed her hit song from Titanic, which has since become ubiquitous in Chinese restaurants and railway stations.

Competing new year shows hosted by provincial television channels reached out to other big names, such as South Korean rapper PSY, of “Gangnam” fame, and the once widely-popular The Backstreet Boys.

The increasingly foreign flavour to the shows, driven by competition for eyeballs and advertising revenues, has become a source of some debate, with critics asking if China would do better to promote its own young talent. “A majority of the Spring Festival evening galas are for the grass-roots class, farmers for example. Will they be interested in such foreign stars?” asked a media critic in the Global Times. “There are plenty of talent artists inside China. Why don’t we bring them out?”