How Li Ziqi Repackages Rural China For Urban Fantasies

Conversations about the social media star tend to focus on her international popularity, but what do her Chinese fans see in her?

Screenshots from Li Ziqi’s videos. From Bilibili and Li’s online store

At first glance, Li Ziqi lives in a state of idyllic repose. Each day, she sets out from her beautiful, spacious country house to roam the picturesque, dewy landscape of China’s southwestern Sichuan province. She tills her fields, tends to her bevy of adorable sheep and dogs, and picks fresh fruits and vegetables for her grandmother from her seemingly bottomless cornucopia of a yard. It’s a romantic existence that seems ripped from the pages of “Peach Blossom Spring” — Tao Yuanming’s classic story of a secluded utopian paradise.

Behind all the pastoral imagery, however, is a social media behemoth. Li has over 20 million followers on the country’s Twitter-like Weibo. Even more impressive, she is one of the few Chinese internet celebrities whose popularity has translated internationally: Her YouTube account has over 7.8 million subscribers, and her videos frequently garner tens of millions of views.

Li’s fans, both Chinese and non-Chinese alike, say they’re hooked on her bucolic portrayal of the Chinese countryside. But her unabashedly romantic depiction of country life has its critics. How does she keep her elaborate, traditional dresses spotless during all that farm work? Why doesn’t she seem to sweat? And most importantly: Is she misleading her millions of — mostly city-based — fans by minimizing the harshness of rural life?

But after spending several months studying Li’s online fandom, I wonder whether the critics are asking the right questions. My research partner and I found that many of her fans are fully aware that rural life has little in common with Li’s gentrified, aesthetic depiction of it — they just don’t care. They don’t push play on her videos looking for a window into the realities of rural Chinese life. What they want is an escape, and Li provides an outlet practically tailor-made for today’s overworkedovercrowded, and burned out urban middle class. Continue to read the full article here.


– This article originally appeared on Sixth Tone.