EYESHENZHEN  /   Opinion

Li’s Chinese charm

Writer: Wu Guangqiang  |  Editor: Jane Chen  |  From:  

A Chinese girl became one of the most successful Internet celebrities of the past year by sharing videos of her idyllic pastoral life. A household name now, 31-year-old Li Ziqi from Sichuan Province enjoys a combined 50 million fans on numerous social networks including short-video website Douyin, drawing a deluge of praise not only from the viewers at home and abroad, but also from official media, calling her a cultural ambassador of China.

It is understandable for such a Chinese influencer to be sizzlingly hot at home, yet it is hard to imagine that she boasts over 7.5 million followers on YouTube, beating such prestigious media giants as Fox (3.86 million) and the BBC (5.61 million) and very close to CNN (7.96 million). Given the fact that it took these media moguls at least a decade to attract that many followers, it is an unbelievable feat for an obscure Chinese girl to lure such a huge number of fans within a mere two years or so.

What’s the girl’s background, and what appeal does this girl exert on foreign audiences?

Her name is Li Jiajia, but she is better known by her pseudonym Li Ziqi. In 2016, she started to make videos featuring the making of daily cuisines in rustic settings and a variety of other countryside-life activities.

Dressed in traditional Han Dynasty-style outfits, with gentle gestures and expressions, she gives her viewers the impression that she has come from ancient times or even out of a fairytale. She has successfully turned an ordinary life into a poetic account of soul purification.

She impresses millions with her videos in which she makes seemingly everything from scratch with her own two hands, from dying a dress with fresh grape juice and fashioning traditional lipstick from roses in her garden to foraging on horseback in order to prepare one exquisite meal after another.

Though she doesn’t speak in her videos, nor are there English captions, overseas fans relish the serenity and gentle pace of her Chinese country life all the same.

According to Li, she began to film her country life for two reasons: Her pure love for the tranquil countryside where she grew up and her deep affection for her grandma, who took care of her after she left her divorced parents.

Her attachment to the land that gave her life and nurtured her spirit gave birth to the elaborate presentations of her daily life in the village where she resides in her videos.

The dishes she prepares range from a single condiment to elaborate multi-course meals. But whatever she makes, she leaves no stone unturned, going as far as raising baby ducklings just to make a sauce out of salted duck eggs. Some joke that she’s brought a whole new meaning to the phrase “from scratch.”

Some of her other recipes are wholly original. In one video, she uses magnolia flowers to make pastries and even deep-fries them. Apart from food, she’s also known for her videos demonstrating traditional crafts like building a bamboo furniture set, which she says was inspired by one of her grandfather’s old benches.

Many foreign viewers’ appreciation of her films is probably based on what they imagine rural Chinese life is like. Though tilling farmland and spinning and weaving are no longer typical daily chores in modern China, foreign fans enjoy such soothing scenes, as they can moderate the stress and anxieties that inflict modern people.

Li’s productions also cater to foreign fans’ favorite philosophy of living peacefully with nature.

What interests me about Li’s overnight fame overseas is what should be done to increase Chinese cultural influence in the world.

In some sense, Li herself alone has won more favor and admiration for China from foreigners than the State media. Likewise, millions of foreigners have come to know about China through such apps as Tik Tok, the international version of Douyin, owned and run by a private business.

People-to-people cultural exchange is spontaneous, voluntary and vigorous. Ordinary people share similar joys and sorrows, feelings and emotions, regardless of differences in nationality, religion and customs.

China should do more to encourage its individual citizens and NGOs to play a more active role in promoting Chinese influence overseas.

(The author is an English tutor and freelance writer)