A former Chinese Culture Minister has sparked a heated public debate by describing the hugely popular television talent show "Super Girls" as vulgar and degrading.
Liu Zhongde, a standing committee member of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, said the show "wrongly preached the concept of instant riches and fame".
The "Super Girls" competition, the first in China to follow the "American Idol" formula, attracted a record 400-million audience. More than 150,000 girls, many of them teenagers, participated in for their chance at stardom under the slogan "Sing as you wish".
The show had no restrictions on age, experience or background.
"Why let these kids make fools of themselves on TV to satisfy some people's desire for novel entertainment?" Liu was quoted as asking in a newspaper.
"It poisons young people's minds, misleading them to believe that one can achieve success with no effort. "
The competition -- often described as "grassroots entertainment" -- kept540,000 people voting by text message or on the Internet. Fans of different contestants quarreled and even fought.
However, Liu reportedly said, "High ratings doesn't mean it's a good product."
Hunan Satellite Television, organizer of the contest,recorded a profit of more than 100 million yuan (12.5 million U.S. dollars) last year. Text message votes generated 30 million yuan (3.75 million U.S. dollars) for telecom operators.
Liu said he had received calls from many parents, complaining their children wasted valuable time following "Super Girls" and their studies suffered as a result. Many teachers called on the TV station to cancel the show and return to "healthier" programs.
Liu and his supporters claimed that contestants dressed "in vulgar fashion" that was socially "harmful", especially to young people's "aesthetic values". China's state Administration of Radio, Film and Television issued a circular before the start of this year's contest, demanding contestants must be over 18, and programs must "avoid vulgarity".
However, Liu still found "a vulgar trend" among candidates this year. "Many young people tried to appeal to the audience by making fools of themselves. Their behavior not only sullied themselves, but also degraded art," he said.
His remarks prompted the show's fans to fight back on the Internet in chat rooms and on message boards. One opponent wrote, "People have the right to do what they want, and young people have the right to judge and choose what they need."
Pu Cunxin, vice-president of the prestigious Beijing People's Art Theater, said young people with talent should be given opportunities to enter professional artistic circles.
Li Shuangjiang, one of China's most renowned singing artists, sent one of his students to enter "Super Girls" this year. "Girls who love singing can express themselves," he said.
The debate prompted a further response from Liu: "Young people need instruction. Cultural products should not be judged only by market value."
In an interview with the China Times, he said he had no intention of stifling popular culture, but wanted to see higher aesthetic values.
"It is not a wise choice for administrative organs to directly interfere as it would violate rules in the cultural industry," a comment by China Youth Daily on Thursday said, indicating no one, including Liu Zhongde, could objectively judge taste.
The article pointed out that young people had high expectations that "Super Girls" could raise them above the mundane realities of life.
Internet commentator Cai Fanghua preferred to looking at the issue in an objective way, saying the show offered a new form of entertainment and triggered a public discussion of social issues.
"Any new product will have problems and need improvement," Cai wrote. The administrations should guide artistic production yet leave space for creativity.
Similar shows with titles such as "Dream China", "Good Men", "Win in China" are all in production.
From April 22, Hunan Satellite Television repeatedly played the regional contests, attracting a large quantity of advertisements.