Of China’s endlessly emerging novelties aimed at satisfying Chinese consumers’ insatiable appetite for new things, Douyin has been a phenomenal success. It is so sizzlingly hot that anyone or anything that appears on it could acquire nationwide fame, and often fortune as well, overnight.
Two recent events dramatically illustrate the power of Douyin. A month ago, a video made one of the stops on Shenzhen’s Metro Line 9 go viral after the clip showed the “sea-facing” exit of the stop. As a result, thousands of curious visitors packed the tiny stop, enabling nobody to see the sea.
Another story is even more astonishing. A homeless man named Shen Wei in Shanghai suddenly became the nation’s most popular vagabond thanks to a few clips showing his good knowledge in classical Chinese literature and history. The sharp contrast between his slovenly appearance and decent language and behavior enchanted Douyin viewers and hordes of his fans, genuine or fake, converged from across the country on the location Shen hangs out to hear the “master’s teachings.” Shen himself attributed his vagabondage to social rejection of his belief in and practice of garbage collection and classification.
Despite the limited length of each video (ranging from 15 seconds to one minute), Douyin is captivating tens of millions of people of various ages, as from these short videos viewers see a China of diversity, plurality, creativity and vitality.
As shown in a sea of clips, Chinese people are far more humorous, original and inclusive not only than what the outside world thinks, but also than what Chinese themselves think.
Honestly, when Douyin first came out in 2016, I didn’t think much of it, for I took it as another short-lived product that tries to please audience with shallow and vulgar content. Some are indeed silly and farcical, but they are part of life. Fortunately, Douyin did not dwell on pandering to low tastes. It keeps bettering itself.
To my delight, I find Douyin very useful for learning a wide variety of knowledge in an efficient way. Experts from various fields are doing their best to condense the quintessence of the knowledge they’ve mastered and impart it to untrained viewers in an easy-to-understand manner.
For example, as a layman in science, I have developed a keener interest in natural science including biology, astronomy, zoology and physics, all of which previously seemed too abstruse and complicated for me to understand. Vivid visual illustrations bring life to the dull stuff. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a well-made video is worth a thousand books. I have never met a better science teacher than Douyin.
Language teachers from home and abroad are using all their lures to attract followers. English, of course, is the most popular foreign language. Many works are well made, making the learning lively and fun, though some are crudely made.
Some Chinese nationals living in or traveling to the U.S., Japan, Russia and many other countries share what they see and experience there. Through their lenses, the viewers not only enjoy different customs and cultures, but also acquire a better understanding that every nation has its own upsides and downsides. Only those who know few facts about Western countries will form an unrealistic picture of the lives there. Douyin offers a window to observing the real situations in foreign countries.
Business organizations and governmental agencies are also well aware of the huge commercial and social value of Douyin. They have raced to jump on the bandwagon by releasing their own videos. The instantaneity and pervasiveness of the Internet have elbowed out conventional media like paper-based publications, TV and radio, to dominate contemporary people’s information sources.
Therefore, to keep themselves popular, many government agencies are trying different approaches to make their images and work more attractive. The other day, a post by an officer from the Longgang police department in Shenzhen, caught my eyes. Instead of resorting to a tedious sermon, he successfully, with vivid charts and exaggerated acting, alerts viewers against new forms of fraud chiefly targeted at young women.
The success of Douyin reveals China’s efforts in strengthening its soft power while continuing to enhance its hard power.
(The author is an English tutor and freelance writer.)