Viya Huang

Internet celebrities — often referred to “wang hong”, meaning “Internet red” — are fixtures of Chinese media. The most famous of them rival the country’s biggest pop singers, and outrank most TV and movie stars, in recognition and earnings. The biggest names become brand ambassadors. The companies of the platforms on which they appear generally take a cut of what they earn— as much as thirty percent in some instances, although no executives and few stars will discuss the exact figures. “The market is competitive and growing more so,” one wang hong told the New Yorker; fans constantly demand more variety, more polish, more beauty. “You must feed them and encourage them and figure out what they like, even before they do,” she went on. “It’s a mad rush when the eyes are on you, but there’s no guarantee they’ll stay there.” [Source: Jiayang Fan, The New Yorker, December 18, 2017]

On why celebrity culture in so big in China Wu Guanjun, a political theorist at a university in Shanghai who also teaches at N.Y.U.’s campus there, told Jiayang Fan of New Yorker that the young not only face a dysfunctional job market but also are bombarded with images of media stars and of the fuerdai, China’s first generation of trust-fund kids. Seeing no connection between hard work and reward, young people increasingly opt for the escapism of celebrity culture.“It fills the emptiness because it provides distraction and stimulation,” he told me, and mentioned that, these days, the only way he can get his students to concentrate in class is by dropping references to the latest celebrities.

On the difference from Kardashian-era America, Wu said that pop culture in the West, having had longer to develop, is more varied. In China, he felt, it is still possible for celebrity worship to capture the entire culture. “Some of my students regard it as the defining feature of their existence, the thing that gives their life meaning when everything else seems out of their control,” he said. “To participate in this culture is to verify your existence.” He recalled a student who spent vast amounts of time pining for a particular celebrity. One day, in a lottery, she won a ticket to see him in person. After agonizing for some time, she decided not to go. “I knew she wouldn’t go,” Wu said. “For her, this celebrity might as well have been a deity. You don’t want to come face-to-face with your god, because it’s frightening to think that you might see a pimple on his chin.”

Influencers in China

The term “Influencers”generally refers to people have large followings on the Internet and social media that impacts culture and social trends. Video spots on sites like YouTube, Instantgram and Tik Tok in the West and Taobao, YY, Weibo and Douyin in China are among the most widely used vehicles. Influencers often use their influence to help sell products by recommending them, using them of having them appear in their videos. Some of them have become quite wealthy from this practice Key opinion leaders (KOLs) is another term for influencers. According to social research sources, a KOL is a person or organization with expert industry knowledge and a reputation within a certain domain. The following are some of the most popular influencers and KOLs in China. [Source: Asia Markets On May 4, 2022]

Papi Jiang, whose real name is Jiang Yilei, is a Beijing Central Academy of Drama graduate who became famous in 2015 after posting a series of home movies on Chinese social media and became so popular that she received US$1.8 million from well-known Chinese talk show hosts. Papi Jiang (@papi) has over 30 million followers on Weibo. Liu Genghong (Will Liu) is a Taiwanese musician and actor who has been in several dramas, and films and has recorded music singles and albums. He is also fitness enthusiast. During the Covid-19 epidemic, Liu went viral live-streaming his training routine from his home, sometimes with his wife.

Big Li is a former migrant laborer turned celebrity host on YY. A pudgy, rough-hewn comedian who rallies China’s diaosi, or self-proclaimed “losers,” he earned about $60,000 a month in the late 2010s. Christina Larson wrote in Slate: He succeeds, in part, by holding out the vague promise that one day even self-proclaimed “losers,” or diaosi, may luck into fortune themselves — in spite of China’s steeply declining social mobility. But Big Li isn’t a happy-ending fairy tale either. While he draws a large fan base of young men, he’s less adept at cultivating wealthy patrons and talent-agency connections. When he loses an important online contest, we watch his mood swing between anger and depression. His wife endures his tantrums for months, and then they separate. She takes their toddler son with her. [Source: Christina Larson, Slate, April 25, 2018]

Yin Shihang, a Chinese social media influencer, caused an uproar when he promised to livestream his proposal to his girlfriend — “a lavish declaration of love that would fulfill their every romantic fantasy.” Many of his eight million followers on Kuaishou, a video-sharing app, tuned. The New York Times reported: On the appointed day last weekend, Yin, 22, dressed in a white suit, rode a pony onto a red carpet lining a room whose walls were festooned with images of pink and white balloons, video from the event showed. Fans held their breath. [Source: Tiffany May, New York Times, May 21, 2021]

“What followed was something other than romance: Mr. Yin proceeded to sell them stuff. In a gravelly half-shout, Mr. Yin began hawking all manner of products — perfume, pajamas, lipstick, necklaces and mobile phones — in a five-hour spectacle on that allows livestreams. His pitch raked in $7.2 million through in-app purchases, according to local news media. But along with the sales, thousands of complaints from viewers came flooding in. Many described tuning into an interminable marriage proposal that drained their phone battery. Some complained of deception and crass product placement. The controversy spurred Kuaishou to say it would begin the process of banning Mr. Yin’s account. Ultimately, he was ousted from the video platform that had brought him fame.

Pioneering Internet Celebrities in China in the 2000s

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Sister Furong, Internet star in the 2000s
One of the most popular sites in China in 2005 was a blog launched by a young woman known as Sister Furong (Sister Lotus). It began as a quest to get advise on which university she should attend and expanded into an effort to find a boyfriend. She provided a few suggestive but not obscene photos of herself in various poses. The site drew millions of hits and started a phenomena that generated in own websites and blogs as well as magazine and newspaper articles. Sister Lotus perhaps could be regarded as China’s first influencer.

The top web celebrities in 2009 according to the People’s Daily Online included Ren Yueli, who became famous for her beautiful, soothing voice. According to the China Daily she was “an ordinary-looking girl who earned her livelihood by singing in an underpass of Xidan area, Beijing. Her voice was enjoyed with great appreciation from passers-by. After a video of her singing was released online, millions of hits made her a sensation. Just as in an inspiring movie, Ren's fate changed as she was recognized for her singing and composing talents as well as her optimism, artlessness and indomitable spirit.

Wang Zifei became dubbed Chinese Obama girl: When U.S. President Barack Obama visited to China in 2009 a young Chinese woman drew more attention than him. The infamous “Obama Girl” — or “Read Coat Girl” Wang Zifei— an MBA student from Shanghai sat behind Obama during a town hall meeting. Images of her removing her red coat vaulted her to fame. After the event incident her blog drew more than 1.3 million hits as she broke her silence to reveal the innocence behind the move. Ironically, this incident turned out to be her self-speculation with the purpose to make a name for herself. She made it to the top of our list for 2009. [Source: People's Daily Online. December 24, 2009]

Zeng Yike was one of top10 Happy Girls on Happy Girls 2009, the successor to Super Girls, a Chinese version of “American Idol”. Zeng's drew controversy because she qualified for the top 10 despite her generally poor singing. On top of that her so-called 'original' composition was of plagiarized.

Meng Kunyu was named the most handsome traffic cop in Beijing: His accurate hand signals and patience while giving directions, as well as his good looks, drew attention. Born in the 1980s, he was traffic police officer from the Guanganmen Team of Xuanwu District Branch under the Traffic Administration Bureau of Beijing. He became an Internet star after a group of admiring students made a video of him and uploaded it on to the web.

Kong Yansong won fame as the long-legged beauty: At 1.78 meters tall, the Beijing Sport University student had pretty face to go along with her super-long legs. After photos of her started to circulate in the web she was selected by netizens as the winner of a beautiful legs competition. The legs were so long and her figure was shapely that some questioned if her height, or the photos, were actually real.

Guo Meimei was a young “netizen” who in 2011 posted pictures of herself living luxuriously — Lamborghinis, Maseratis, Hermès handbags — while apparently working for the Red Cross. According to the The Telegraph: Donations to the charity duly plummeted. This was an era of intense public distrust of major institutions in China, coupled with controls on the internet that were not yet capable of preventing crowdsourced online detective work from exposing them. In the end, Guo was found to be the guilty party — she had misled people about her job. [Source: Christopher Harding, The Telegraph, June 25, 2021]

Milk Tea Girl

In 2009, Zhang Zetian was an ordinary high school student. “One day, as she was leaving school, a friend snapped a picture of her with a Chinese milk tea drink in her hand and backpack slung over one shoulder. Zhang's photo was then posted on, a popular social networking site at the time. Complete strangers then forwarded the photo millions of times, calling the "Milk Tea Girl" with an "adorable!" and "fresh face!" “"A newspaper reporter called me one day and suddenly I realised that people had noticed me on the internet," Zhang told the BBC. All her personal details were posted online.[Source: Celia Hatton, BBC News, January 28, 2014]

Milk Tea Girl

The BBC reported: “Years later, Zhang remains an internet celebrity. Photos of her doe-eyed face are in regular circulation. When she was admitted into Tsinghua, one of China's top universities, her profile rose again. Sitting in a cafe near her campus, Zhang seems embarrassed by her unlikely rise to celebrity status. "No matter where I go, people attempt to take secret photos of me," she says. People follow her with cameraphones on campus and sometimes in class. Admirers have even tried to break into her university dormitory.

Also known as Nancy Zhang, Zhang was born in November 1993 in Nanjing, Jiangsu. After achieving fame as the “Milk-Tea Girl” (Sister Milk Tea she appear in a promotional video supporting the 2014 Summer Youth Olympics in Nanjing but turned down an offer to appear in Zhang Yimou’s film “The Flowers of War.” [Source: Wikipedia]

She attended Barnard College in New York as well as Tsinghua and King's College, Cambridge. In 2015, she married Liu Qiangdong, the CEO of' and one of China’s most famous billionaires. The couple met in New York, when she at Barnard and he was studying at Columbia University. She holds an MBA from Cambridge Judge Business School and has been included in the list of Chinese billionaires by New Frontier. As of 2021, when she was 28, she was considered to be China's youngest female billionaire. She is an investor and the chief fashion adviser of the luxury business of She and Liu have one child — a daughter. Zhang sometimes works as an influencer on social media to promote companies she is involved with. She has an Instagram account and 1.3 million followers on Sina Weibo.

I-Phone Girl Becomes Internet Superstar

PC World reported in 2008: “After a British iPhone 3G customer found pictures of a Foxconn Chinese factory worker giving the “V” sign on his phone, the “iPhone Girl” has become an Internet superstar. The story, and photos, has gone “viral” traveling across the globe seemingly instantaneously reminding us how small the world has become.” [Source: PCWorld, August 29, 2008]

“The story behind “iPhone Girl” is this: A British iPhone customer turned on his new iPhone only to discover a picture of a cute young Chinese factory “girl” assembling iPhones. In the photo she gives the victory (or maybe peace) sign. The iPhone owner reported his finding on along with posting three pictures of the “girl” he found on his phone. Then came the questions — and there were plenty. Some questioned the girl's age, and whether a harmless snapshot may be a small glimpse into child labor abuses. One person snapped up the Internet domain and others have created Facebook and MySpace user accounts under the same name.”

“Meanwhile in China the story captured the attention of Internet users. Interested Chinese Internet users took it upon themselves to track the factory worker down to Shenzhen, China and the company Foxconn, a Taiwanese company that makes iPhones for Apple. There is now a Chinese-language iPhone Girl Web site. Questions swirled on message boardss, would “iPhone Girl” would be fired for the photos” The Internet breathed a sigh of relief when representatives from Foxconn weighed in confirming that “iPhone Girl” was a worker at its plant and declared the photos were a “beautiful mistake.” In an interview with China Daily the company gave assurances she would not be fired.” According to a Washington Post report Foxconn says the young woman in the photo is a migrant worker from Hunan province and is overwhelmed by the media attention and wants to quit her job, go home, and remain anonymous.”

Money Behind Internet Celebrity in 2010

In 2010, the Southern Metropolis Daily reported: ,“’Sister Furong,” “Sister Phoenix” and other ordinary people became Internet celebrities, “Jia Junpeng, your mother wants you to come home for dinner” became a hot Internet phrase ... but netizens may not be aware that these so-called Internet fads which seemed to reflect public opinion were actually the works of certain groups of professional Internet promoter! [Source: Southern Metropolis Daily, EastSouthWestNorth, April 18, 2010]

“Recently, an Internet promoter from Xiamen revealed the money chain behind these Internet celebrities. Inside a non-descript office building in Stage 2 of Software Park in Xiamen city, a certain technology engineering company's Chief Executive Officer He Fei and his Internet promotion team were planning a project.” “Our goal is to find a unique product to build a hot topic, so that the company will gain a reputation in the business to customer (B2C) platform.” He Fei told our reporter with a smile: “This method costs a lot less than traditional advertising, but the results can be even better.”

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shanghai student listening to Obama

“For example, doesn't the currently very hot Sister Phoenix want a cosmetic make-over? If a hospital hires her to make an advertisement for cosmetic make-over, the results would definitely be good. If a bridal salon hires her to make an advertisement, the results just may be astonishing.” In He Fei's view, the Internet promoters who spent so much time to cultivate Sister Phoenix into an Internet celebrity are now ready to “harvest.” “Now that Sister Phoenix has become an 'alternate star,' the Internet promoters behind her are now “star agents'.”

“Several years ago, He Fei represented the unsold sports shoes for an international brand. In order to get rid of this inventory as quickly as possible, they went to some famous forums and made posts to complain as consumers that the company was selling fake shoes without any air cushions inside. They demanded that the company compensate them 10 times their purchase price. Then a “webmaster” interceded in the name of “justice” and said that the shoes were genuine, based upon comparisons with photos taken at the specialty store for the international brand. However, the “consumers” refused to take his word. The story ended with a live “dissection” of a pair of shoes in front of the company representatives and the consumers that confirmed that the shoes were “authentic.” This 'Internet debate' drew a great deal of attention through postings and re-postings.” He Fei said proudly. “The final result was that more than 700 pairs of shoes were sold at the cost of just over 1,000 yuan in expenses.”

Putting Together a Chinese Influencer Video

Jiayang Fan wrote in The New Yorker: One afternoon in Xiamen, on the seventh floor of a residential high-rise, Deng Lanfei, a Meipai star with three million followers, was hunched, as if famine-stricken, over a cup of instant noodles. Next to her, hungrily eying the noodles, was a young man named Fu Yunfeng (a million followers). Both were wearing white shirts and red ties, giving them the appearance of car-rental clerks. A makeshift paper sign behind them — “earn a million advertising company” — suggested that they worked at an ad agency so unsuccessful that its employees were nearing starvation. [Source: Jiayang Fan, The New Yorker, December 18, 2017]

“I had come to a tiny film set, at the headquarters of Zi Yu Zi Le (“self-entertainment, self-enjoyment”), a company that shoots videos for Meipai and a few other platforms. The pair on set really were creating an ad (for a new brand of bottled spring water), but, as in many Meipai videos, there was a playful layer of self-reference. Deng’s business manager, Yang Xiaohong, handed me a copy of the script. On the brink of death, the two workers agree to play rock, paper, scissors for the last cup of noodles. But just then a call comes in from the spring-water company, which wants to commission a commercial capitalizing on Deng’s popularity. “Wait,” I whispered to Yang. “Deng is supposed to be playing herself?” Yang smiled, and said, “Deng is both playing herself and not herself.”

The acting was exaggerated, as in a “Saturday Night Live” skit, and amateurish. Deng’s bangs kept obscuring closeups of her face, and Fu couldn’t decide whether resting his left arm or his right on the table better conveyed “maximum desperation.” Take after take ended with Deng dissolving into giggles. I flipped ahead in the script. Deng had only about fifteen lines, but it seemed possible that the scene would never be finished.

“Yang assured me that the casualness of the acting and the modest production values were an asset. “On social media, traditional ads are no longer effective, because everyone knows they’re just a put-on,” she said. “But if an online influencer can embed a product in scenes that are basically her life, her followers respond: they feel that using what she’s using will bring them closer to her.”

Fashion Influencers in China

1) Zhang Dayi is the founder of a multimillion-dollar beauty and fashion company and one of China’s most popular online celebrities. She has 20 million social media followers and been acclaimed as having “China’s most beautiful face without make-up.” Her Instagram tag is @milksmellbest.

2) Anny Fan who has 5.5 million followers on Weibo. She is regarded as one of the top influencers in China. Hermès, Louis Vuitton and Chanel have worked with her. She is regarded as an expert on Chinese e-commerce and works as an advisor for Western brands looking to break into competitive Chinese marketplace , utilizing her knowledge of

3) Li Jiaqi is the “King of Lipstick”. He is China’s best lipstick seller and one of the most popular Chinese KOLs today. Li gained achieved fame on social media in late 2017 for his two-hour Livestream event on Taobao in which he tried on 380 lipsticks. According to to Asia Marekts: “He has around 40 million followers on Douyin, China’s version of TikTok, where he live-streams his beauty and cosmetic suggestions. Li assesses and promotes lipsticks from a variety of brands, including details on each one’s texture, scent, packaging, and wearability.”

4) Dipsy worked as a graphic designer before being chosen by Chanel to star in their 2018 Valentine’s Day commercial for the Chinese market. This launched his career as an influencer in fashion. He has collaborate with big fashion brands such as Prada, and Jo Malone. He offers vlogs, fashion criticism and live streams on his social media accounts, including his Instagram @dipdipdipsy.

5) Becky Li worked as a journalist before becoming a prominent Chinese influencer who makes big money through her WeChat blog. Li has worked with Dior, Chanel, and Guerlain. After she was able to market 100 Mini Coopers in five minutes, she became known as the Chinese Goddess of Shopping. Check tag address on Instagram is @beckys fantasy.

6) Licheng Ling is well known for her style and flair. Vogue praised her“hyper-focused minimalism.” Licheng has a large number of followers on On Weibo and has worked for Prada and Burberry. @licheng ling is the handle for her social media accounts.

7) Kakakaoo releases daily vlogs and blogs, unboxing videos, and recommendations and reviews of cosmetic products. She has with brands such as MAC and Burberry. In 2017, she was profiled in Vogue magazine. She also sends out her own magazine to her followers. Her Instagram tag is @kakakaoo7.

8) Siva Shen is a well-known Chinese fashion influencer. She worked as a fashion editor for the women’s magazine Grazia China before becoming an influencer. Siva is known for launching trends among the cool and hip and uses her social media sites to pass on her extensive knowledge about fashion.

9) Zola Zhang is a a professional film write and is now one of China’s most prominent fashion bloggers and influencers. She has collaborated with over 300 brands during her influencer career, including Chanel. She was the official stylist for Stuart Weitzman’s Spring fashion presentations in China in April 2019. Her Instagram address is @zola zhang_ on wife use the Xiaohongshu app and Douyin to stream fitness and dance videos five days a week.

10) Tao Liang (Mrbags) has about 5 million Weibo followers, 47,100 Instagram followers, and over 800,000 WeChat followers. He specializes in bags. Ones he recommends can sell out in minutes.

11) Yuwei Zhangzhou (@yuyuzhangzou) is from Xinjiang but lives now in in Shanghai. She posts social media profiles and has collaborated with Kenzo and Yves Saint Laurent


Viya Huang Wei is an internet celebrity had tens of millions of followers before . Described as China's "live-streaming queen," she has used her platform to sell a variety of products, ranging from noodles to a commercial rocket launches on the online shopping platform. Taobao. Her huge platform led to her being named as one of Time magazine's most influential figures in 2021 when se was 36. Up to that time her fame had grown at a blistering pace that matched that of China’s online shopping. [Source: BBC, December 21, 2021]

At her height Viya had over 120 million followers on various platforms, according to TechNode, and is known for her ability to sell almost anything, including a $6 million for a rocket launch service in 2020. At the beginning of the pandemic, Viya hosted a live stream to raise funds for businesses and individuals struggling in COVID-wracked Wuhan and managed to raise around $32 million within a matter of hours. [Source: Huileng Tan, Business Insider, December 21, 2021]

Viya Huang made a name for herself internationally by teaming up with Kim Kardashian to help market Kim’s KKW cologne during 2019 Singles’ Day, a big Alibaba-sponsored shopping event in China. Products connected to Viya, valued ar US$1.3 billion was sold on Singles' Day in 2021, which led to her being dubbed the "queen of livestreaming". Her live streams on Taobao have attracted nearly 19 million followers. In April 2022, a launch on one of her Taobao live streams brought in US$6 million. [Source: Asia Markets On May 4, 2022]

Viya was born on September 7, 1985 into a retailer family in Anhui province, She opened her first store, in Beijing, at the age of 18 and worked in the "front" selling apparel and modeling while her boyfriend (now husband) Dong Haifeng took care of back-end and inventory operations. She performed on Anhui TV's talent show "Super Idol" and became a member of a music group for some time before going back to the shopping business and opening more stores in Xi'an. By 2012, she had left brick-and-mortar behind for e-commerce, signing up for Taobao's livestreaming program in 2016 as one of the first channels. On Taobao, she gained her reputation for being able to sell any product or service. [Source: Wikipedia]

Viya Fined $210 Million for Tax Evasion

In December 2021, as part of a broader crackdown on Internet celebrities and entertainment personalities in China, Viya was fined $210 million for tax evasion and misreported income in 2019 and 2020 in which she payed about $100 million less in taxes that what she owed. It was biggest fine given to an influencer and her social media accounts were taken down. She said she felt "deeply guilty" and would "totally accept" the punishment given her by the tax authority. She also promised to pay the fine on time. [Source: Wikipedia, Business Insider]

The BBC reported: “Authorities in Hangzhou accuse her of hiding her personal income as well as other financial offences between 2019 and 2020. In a post on her Weibo account, she said she was "deeply sorry". I thoroughly accept the punishment made by the tax authorities," the post said. Viya had been due to host a cosmetics sales event on Monday evening before her streaming account went offline, according to Reuters. [Source: Kerry Allen BBC, December 21, 2021]

The tide has very quickly turned against Viya after the tax evasion fine. “One of the top hashtags on China's Twitter-like Sina Weibo is #ViyaCompletelyBlockedOnline as outlets seek to remove her presence. Her Weibo account, where she had 18 million followers, no longer exists and media reports suggest her account on the eBay-like Taobao shopping platform has also been suspended.

The Global Times newspaper says that her penalty serves as a "warning to others". However, there have been signs for the past month that China has been seeking to reform the industry. Two other notable live-streamers, Zhu Chenhui and Lin Shanshan (Cherie and Sunny), were handed US $10.2 million and $4.3 million fines and also had Weibo accounts removed. The China Daily newspaper said at the time that "the investigation and punishment of those who evade taxes [would] be intensified to create a fair tax environment".

After Viya was fined thousands of Chinese influencers rushed to settle their back taxes before 2021 ended. Business Insider reported: “According to the state-owned China News Service (CNS), more than 1,000 live streamers have stepped forward to pay back taxes following the government's September announcement that it would strengthen its regulation of state revenue collection from the entertainment sector. Taxpayers have until the end of 2021 to rectify their taxes arrears to avoid heavy penalties, according to CNS. [Source: Huileng Tan, Business Insider, December 21, 2021]

“Despite the apology, Weibo (China's version of Twitter), Douyin (China's version of TikTok), and Taobao took her accounts offline. “Beijing is intensifying oversight of the entertainment industry and regulating what celebrities can do. China's internet regulator said in November that celebrities in China must avoid flaunting their wealth and adhere to "core socialist values." In November, China also revealed a blacklist which included the names of 88 celebrities it had cited for "illegal and unethical" behavior.

HoneyCC: Air-Brushed Social Media Star in China

Meitu is a Chinese company that makes apps that people look more beautiful by altering their faces in different ways. Influencers who use these devices flock to the video-sharing platform Meipai. Jiayang Fan wrote in The New Yorker: HoneyCC likes to say that she scarcely remembers the last time someone called her by her given name, Lin Chuchu. She took her online name from a 2003 movie starring Jessica Alba.“After an injury cut short her dancing career, a few years ago, she and some friends set up an advertising business. Many of her clients were social-media companies, and her work for them led to an observation: “To really communicate a message, you need a video.” [Source: Jiayang Fan, The New Yorker, December 18, 2017]

Today, HoneyCC, who is twenty-seven, is one of the biggest stars on the video-sharing platform Meipai. Launched in 2014, it is now the most popular platform of its kind in China, with nearly eight billion views per month. In her videos, which last anywhere from fifteen seconds to five minutes, she lip-synchs to sentimental ballads, dances to hip-hop, stages mini sketches, undergoes beauty treatments, and lolls seductively in bed. Petite, with a delicately tapering face, she can play the ingénue, the diva, or the girl next door, and costume changes come at dizzying speed. “Sometimes I look like something out of a dream,” Honey said, flashing a smile of dazzling bleached teeth. “Other times I look like a mental patient. But a pretty mental patient.”

HoneyCC understands the charm that comes from undercutting perfection. Romantic walks with wholesome-looking young men are upended by pratfalls. Behind-the-scenes takes, in which she talks to the camera with her mouth full, foster a sense of casual intimacy. In a sketch at a go-kart track, she struggles to remove her helmet; when her head emerges, makeup is smeared all over her face.

“HoneyCC has millions of followers, and receives more offers for product-placement deals than she can accommodate (her advertisers include Givenchy, Chanel, and H.P.). She runs successful e-commerce stores that sell cosmetics and clothing and she recently launched her own makeup brand, What’s Up HoneyCC. When she posted a five-minute video of herself dancing and twerking in a pair of skinny jeans, she sold some thirty thousand pairs. She is a millionaire many times over.

Large Internet Celebrity Event in China

Meipai is an app and platform owned by the company Meitu used by many Internet celebrities. Describing their anniversary conference, which took place in a trendy hotel in the southern China city of Xiamen near Meitu’s headquarters, Jiayang Fan wrote in The New Yorker: “Around four hundred Meipai stars from all over the country were there. The youngest was four and the oldest seventy-two, but the majority ranged in age from late teens to mid-twenties.” The events consisted of “parties, networking sessions, and workshops for wang hong and wang hong wannabes.: Some of the celebrities shared secrets of their success, while others took notes on how to join their ranks, or perhaps even supplant them. [Source: Jiayang Fan, The New Yorker, December 18, 2017]

“A screen in the auditorium displayed photos of Justin Bieber and other global megastars who’d got their start online, while Meitu staffers explained to the young hopefuls what the future might hold if they kept up their assiduous posting. Neon-colored slide shows about e-commerce and the monetization potential of celebrity flashed by, but I soon realized that the audience wasn’t paying much attention. “At an event like this, it’s all about rubbing shoulders with stars who have more influence,” a man named Mark explained. Mark was a rarity: a Caucasian wang hong from South African.“It’s about breaking into the stars’ circles and maybe sharing a photo of you posing with a wang hong who has double or even ten times your fan base.”

All day, the room hummed with nervous tension, and even the friendliest interactions carried a competitive edge. Wang hong discussed the difficulty of getting a hair appointment, as everyone was piling into the same few salons, and how two-hour makeup sessions had required them to skip breakfast. A woman with wheat-colored hair and a lacy white sheath dress, who went by the screen name StylistMimi, told me that she thought of herself as a late starter, having only been on Meipai for a year. With fewer than four hundred thousand followers, she was anxious to make up for lost time. Another, named Liu Zhanzhan, warned that there was currently an oversaturation of wang hong“incubators” — talent scouts like the one who had approached Li Yan. “They promise you everything, but you sign a contract and you are basically sold to them for six, seven, eight years,” she said. “They manage hundreds of people, and, at the end of the day, how many actually make it?”

StylistMimi excused herself in order to live-stream, holding up her phone to give her followers a panorama of the room and narrating the proceedings in a syrupy voice. Live streaming, on Meipai or on a variety of other platforms, such as Kuaishou and Huajiao — has emerged as an important revenue source for wang hong. As Mimi broadcast to her fans, a real-time log of cash donations and other gifts appeared at the bottom of her screen, in the form of icons of gold coins and flower bouquets. Those who donated got to ask questions, and one fan wondered what big-name celebrities Mimi could spot. An unforeseen complication of meeting so many wang hong at once was that it was hard to keep them all straight. They tended to bear only an impressionistic resemblance to their Meitu-improved profile pictures.

Large Internet Celebrity Party

Jiayang Fan wrote in The New Yorker: That evening, Meitu’s stars trooped out to the hotel courtyard for a party. Palm trees surrounding a kidney-shaped pool were hung with lights, and people drifted around tables where cocktails, champagne, and seafood kebabs were being served. Except for the guardian of the four-year-old wang hong, who splashed around in the water, not a single adult was in the pool. Although the women’s bathroom was thronged with bikini-clad wang hong examining themselves in a full-length mirror, one of them explained that swimming was out of the question: there were so many selfies to be taken and edited, and almost everyone was live-streaming the event to their fans. [Source: Jiayang Fan, The New Yorker, December 18, 2017]

“Nearby, drinking beers, were two young men who didn’t look like wang hong. They turned out to be equity analysts at a Shanghai-based firm that helps investors identify opportunities in China’s Internet and media sectors. “There’s more money floating around at this party than any investor-relations conference we’ve ever attended,” one of them said. His name was Robert, and he was from Texas. His colleague, who was Chinese and went by the name JC, said that the lavishness of the event was Meitu’s way of marketing itself to its stars: “Meitu needs its wang hong to promote it as a top brand.”

On a stage near the pool, the evening’s entertainment began. A Korean-Chinese boy band launched into a Backstreet Boys-style number, to happy screams from the audience. Next up was a man in shades who rapped about his journey to Xiamen from Shenyang. HoneyCC danced with a few friends near the stage, and a crowd flocked around her, phones aloft as they streamed the spectacle to their followers. Every gesture of greeting and intimacy was also a pose for a selfie, and people were too busy live-streaming to make conversation. “Take the party out of your phones,” the d.j. repeatedly pleaded, but his exhortations were themselves filmed and disseminated to millions of viewers.

“I caught sight of an older woman, perhaps in her seventies, standing and watching the young dancers with an expression of rapt, unfiltered joy. Her face was creased and leathery, but her mouth, agape with wonder, gave her a childlike look. She was the only person there who wasn’t holding a cell phone, and she was dressed plainly. Two security guards went up to her and asked what she was doing there. She said that she was the wife of a janitor at the hotel, had heard the music, and wondered what was going on. “Granny, you have to leave,” one of the guards said. She nodded but didn’t move, and it wasn’t until the men each took one of her arms and tried to propel her to the exit that she began walking, her head still turned toward the music and her smile unchanged. As the guards succeeded in ejecting her, I realized that she was the most beautiful person at the party.

Online Celebrity Fanclubs in China

Online celebrity fanclubs in China are sometimes established by a celebrity’s public relations team, but usually they are sep up and run by dedicated fans. In some cases that can be utilized for big movements of money through donations, campaigns, or drives to buy products related to the celebrity. They frequently campaign for votes for their idol in entertainment competitions. China’s fan culture was estimated to be worth about $15.6 billion in 2020. [Source: Helen Davidson, The Guardian, June 16, 2021]

The Guardian reported: “The fanclubs have repeatedly made headlines for their campaigns and behaviour. In May one campaign infuriated authorities pushing a nationwide reduction on food waste. Fans of a particular idol show bought millions of dollars of dairy products over successive months to obtain and scan a QR code printed on the packaging which would register a vote for their favorite entrant. The programme was sponsored by the dairy company, and fan groups raised money to bulk buy products and vote en masse. Media reported much of the contents going to waste, or — in one viral video — poured down drains.

“Darker incidents have also been reported, including fans of rival celebrities reporting each other or people they feel have aggrieved their idol to authorities. “The clubs have also extended their huge ability to mobilise from beyond the celebrity realm and into the political, with boycotts of stars supporting protesters in Hong Kong, or fierce defences of stars who condemned the protests and faced boycotts.

China Crackdown’s on Online Celebrity Fanclubs over Bullying

In June 2021, China’s internet watchdog launched a crackdown on the country’s “chaotic” online celebrity fanclubs, accusing them of contributing to a culture of abuse and of manipulating public opinion. In an announcement, the Central Cyberspace Affairs Commission said it was was conducting a two-month special operation targeting fanclub culture, known as fan quan, because it harms the mental health of children. One target was doxing (derived from the term “dropping dox,” or “documents”) — a form of cyberbullying in which sensitive or secret information, statements, or records are used to harassment, humiliate or blackmail targeted individuals.

The Guardian reported: “There have long been concerns over bullying and incitements to violence on the message boards and social media accounts of China’s often intense fanclubs, and authorities had warned in May of forthcoming efforts to deal with the situation. “For a period of time, ‘fan circle’ fan groups have hurled online verbal abuse, cheated the rankings of their idols on charts, spread rumours, and destroyed the online environment, adversely affecting the physical and mental health of minors, ” the commission said in its announcement.[Source: Helen Davidson, The Guardian, June 16, 2021]

“The commission said children were being induced to contribute to fundraising or voting campaigns for celebrities on competition programmes; verbal abuse, online bullying and harassment and doxing were taking place; people were being encouraged to show off wealth and extravagance; and public opinion was being interfered with by bots or hijacked social media trends to boost celebrities’ profiles.

Online fan clubs have fed into an increasing nationalism on China’s internet, and occasionally been marshalled to promote propaganda. For instance the Communist Youth League praised “fangirls” who fought against Beijing’s critics during the 2019 Hong Kong protests, Quartz reported. The June 2021 crackdown comes amid a national push to ensure “social stability” before Communist party centenary celebrations in July 2021. The commission said it would shut down accounts and disband groups if needs be, and also punish hosting platforms.

Li Ziqi, a Chinese Villager, Sets Guinness YouTube World Record

Li Ziqi, a villager in Sichuan Province, set a Guinness World Record for the Chinese-language channel on YouTube subscribers in 2021. Her videos show her doing farm chores, growing and gathering food, and preparing it. She is greatly admired for cooking skills and the way she make kimchi. The South China Morning Post reported: She was listed in the records in July with 11.4 million subscribers and had gone up to 14.1 million by the end of January, the post said. “The poetic and idyllic lifestyle and the exquisite traditional Chinese culture shown in Li’s videos have attracted fans from all over the world, with many YouTubers commenting in praise,” the post said. “The culture that her videos conveyed is travelling further.” [Source: Phoebe Zhang, South China Morning Post, February 3, 2021]

Chinese netizens reacted with praise, with a related hashtag on Weibo being read over 720 million times by Wednesday morning. “Li definitely made Westerners understand Chinese culture better, she has done a great job exerting soft power,” one comment said. “When I watched her videos, I felt calm, quiet, beautiful. In her videos, I could hear birds chirping, that’s the sound of nature,” another said.

“In 2012, Li decided to stay in her hometown in southwest China’s Sichuan province to take care of her sick grandmother, who had raised her. In 2015, she decided to make cooking videos to show her life in the picturesque countryside. When making food, she shows the entire process of how the crop is grown, harvested and cooked. The images of her doing chores such as feeding animals, preparing a meal for her grandmother or making silk garments are picture-perfect, portraying a simple life in the countryside.

“Li has turned her videos into a successful business, with more than five million fans following her online shop on Taobao, operated by the Alibaba Group. “She launched her YouTube channel in 2017, with a video on making a dress out of grape skins. Her videos portray a picture postcard image of China.

Li’s rural videos strike a chord with her followers. “I love watching grandma just sitting in the sun and eating all the delicious things Lizi makes her,” one commenter said. “This channel has an aesthetic sensibility beyond anything I have ever seen. Thank you Li Ziqi for sharing your abundant skills and appreciation of all aspects of nature,” another said. She posted a video in January 2021 making pickled vegetables, using the hashtags #ChineseCuisine and #ChineseFood, and found herself embroiled in an international social media storm, with South Korean and Chinese netizens arguing over the origins of kimchi.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons. Viya Huang from Imdb

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, The Guardian, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated June 2022

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