Paramilitary police officers control a crowd as they line up to enter the Yonghegong Lama Temple in Beijing on the first day of the Lunar New Year on February 19, 2015. Millions of Chinese are celebrating Spring Festival, the most important holiday on the Chinese calendar, which this year marks the beginning of the Year of the Sheep.  PHOTO / Greg BAKER

China’s two-year anti-corruption campaign reached living rooms nationwide with a featured skit in state broadcaster CCTV’s annual new year gala.

The CCTV pageant, a hotch-potch of patriotic ballads, comedy skits, singing and dancing by ethnic minorities, and celebrity performances, reaches more than 700m people in China on lunar new year’s eve. Watching it is a tradition for most families, although the deeply conservative format leaves many young viewers cold.

This year the traditional fare was spiced up by the anti-corruption purge that has accompanied a consolidation of power under Xi Jinping, the Communist party chief.

Hundreds of thousands of officials have been investigated and even the most modest cadres have seen privileges such as bonuses and holiday banquets pruned.

All that might have made this year’s satirical sketch titled “Following your Hobbies” a tad uncomfortable for at least some viewers. Set in a government bureau whose previous director has just been jailed, it featured a female underling telling the newest staffer how to suck up by playing ping pong and otherwise catering to the new boss.

The punchline was a victory for morals over humour, when the underling turned to the applauding audience and shouted, “Don’t think about what the leaders want, think about what the people need!”

For those who didn’t get the message, a second skit focused on a parent using bribes to get a child into a good school — a common practice in cities where places in the best schools are often reserved for the children of officials or employees of state-owned enterprises.

But in many ways, the gala with its theme of family values was less political than last year’s, which relentlessly featured Mr Xi’s “China Dream” mantra.

This year that theme only came up at the end: the hostess, whose hoop skirts made it appear as if Gone with the Wind’s Scarlett O’Hara had wandered into a politburo meeting on patriotic education, belted out a ballad on the China Dream with a backdrop of a video montage of Mr Xi greeting radiantly happy people.

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