Meet Li Ziqi. The 29-year-old is one of China’s biggest social media stars. She has 22 million followers on the microblogging site Weibo, 34 million on Douyin, and another 8.3 million on YouTube (which is banned in China).
Ziqi lives in the village of northwestern Pingwu, Mianyang City, Sichuan Province, China. She began posting rustic-chic videos of her life in rural Sichuan province in 2016.
Does China have its own maker’s movement? The Guardian provides context and detail.
Li’s videos reveal as much about the day-to-day labor of most Chinese farmers as the Martha Stewart Show does the American working class. But they do say something about the mindset of her mainland audience – primarily urban millennials, for whom a traditional culture craze known as “fugu” or “hanfu” has been an aesthetic trend for a number of years.
“Fugu”, according to Yang Chunmei, professor of Chinese history and philosophy at Qufu Normal University, reflects the “romanticized, pastoral” desires of youth “disillusioned by today’s ever-changing, industrial, consumerist society.”
A New Form of Propaganda?
According to Professor Ka-Ming Wu, a cultural anthropologist at the Chinese University of Hong Kong: “Li represents a new wave of Chinese soft power in that she’s so creative and aesthetically good, and knows how to appeal to a general audience whether they’re Chinese or not.” And yet, “I don’t think this is some kind of engineered effort by the Chinese state,” she says.
Li’s narrative hinges on her failure to thrive in the city; that failure is antithetical to China’s overarching narrative of progress and urban opportunity. Were she a manufactured agent of propaganda, Wu speculates, “[Her failure] is something the Chinese state would never even mention.
According to her website, before returning to her rural home, Ziqi “starved, slept in a cave under a bridge, worked as a waitress, an electrician, and worked as a DJ at a nightclub. These work experiences helped her develop the ability to think and judge independently.”
More In the Store
Li Ziqi’s online shop features versions of the steel “chopper” knife she uses to dice the vegetables she plucks from her plentiful garden, plus replicas of the old-fashioned shirts she wears while foraging for wild mushrooms and magnolia blossoms in the misty mountainside.
Li Ziqi’s personal brand offers a tranquil space for dreamy viewers. Her videos are quiet and unhurried—the exact opposite of urban life in China and around the globe. In the 1960s, a return to one’s rural roots was a popular form of escape in America, but it’s was not shared on YouTube because there was no such thing.
“The revolution will not be televised,” warned Gil Scott-Heron in the 1970s. He was right, but it’s a new day, and today you can retreat from the madness and turn it into a video series and e-commerce play. I would say it’s the American way, but that would be silly. Entrepreneurs are not constrained by national boundaries, tradition, or repeated failures.