When it comes to the most refreshing Chinese Youtube influencer of 2019, most people think of Li Ziqi, a Chinese vlogger whose videos focus on the beautiful scenery and the rural life in the Chinese countryside. With more than 7.5 million subscribers on YouTube, Li also has more than 1.9 million likes, and close to 3 million followers on her Facebook page. Pundits from China claim that Li Ziqi is a better advocate for Chinese culture than the country’s state media. CGTN, the English-language state media, has approximately one million subscriptions on YouTube.
Li’s success generated plenty of discussion in China. After the Chinese YouTuber was praised by the Chinese state media as a figure of cultural exportation and a good channel to tell the China story well, Li started to face more challenges and doubts from fellow Chinese netizens. Social media comments began discussing Li’s potential income levels and her video content.
Able to earn millions of dollars per year, critics of Li started to call her videos ‘products of hypocrisy as her videos neither reflect the reality of Chinese rural areas nor represent the reality of Chinese society’. The videos are criticized of creating a ‘fabricated fantasy’ and enhancing stereotypes against Chinese on Youtube.
Despite having about 7.5 million subscribers, Li still has a long way to go if she wants to join the most successful influencers on the platform. The top 15 YouTubers have more than 22 million subscribers, a significant lead on 7.5 million.
As a multi-language video platform, YouTube heavily focuses on its algorithm-based recommendation feed to maximize its viewers’ engagement and time spent on the site. For Chinese language video influencers, it somewhat created an obstacle for their videos: It makes it difficult for their Chinese-language videos to spread outside of the Chinese speaking world. As China continues to block its Internet users from accessing YouTube, Chinese video producers are more reliant on overseas Chinese and users from Chinese-speaking places such as Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Singapore to survive and make profit. Most of them decide to add English subtitles to attract more viewers outside of the Chinese speaking communities.
Li Ziqi’s videos are rather unique. They do not involve much localization efforts, although most of the videos have English titles to ensure better recommendations by the algorithms. With refreshing style and content, Li’s videos can be enjoyed by many with different language backgrounds, political ideologies as well as hobbies and interests, as her content is unhindered by cultural or historical pretexts. In fact, most of her videos involve very little speaking at all, instead focusing on the visual aspects, and the natural sounds of the landscape.
Different from many other Chinese-language YouTubers, Li’s videos convey a more universal message. People can enjoy these videos with little or no pretext or knowledge about the country. While watching Li’s videos, viewers do not need to process huge amounts of information. Just like what Li mentioned in an interview, “I just want people working so hard in the cities to relax when watching my videos.” It seems like learning about the particular types of different bamboos would indeed relieve people from their everyday anxiety.
With more than 7.5 million subscribers on the platform, Li Ziqi can generate enough revenue to cover the costs of professional production teams, and allocate more resources in other growth-related strategies such as video promotion. Li’s videos are produced in such a professional and delicate way that they may fail to depict the reality of rural China, but her fans don’t see this as a major issue.
In a world as divisive and polarized as social media, Li Ziqi offers a good alternative for people to stop focusing on what divides them. Rather, this became a virtual safe space to temporarily tune out from the struggles, challenges, and difficulties in life. Similar to the trending short videos of dancing and singing, Li’s videos have these inherently delightful characteristics to climb up in popularity with the help of YouTube’s algorithms.
Will other Youtube influencers become successful following Li Ziqi’s path? Algorithms might suggest yes. Aside from help via technology and algorithms, brand recognition and the influencers’ personal charisma are very hard to duplicate. It will prove very difficult for another to copy Li Ziqi’s serene and minimalist content.