China’s Lipstick King Returns After Tank Cake Controversy

What happened: After an exile of 103 days, China’s most famous livestream host Austin Li returned to the airwaves on September 20. Affectionately dubbed the “Lipstick King,” Li’s session gathered 3 million views in 10 minutes (over 60 million in total) and received more than 120 million likes. Across the two hours, upwards of 63 million viewers tuned in to see the host’s lowkey, unannounced comeback. The broadcast included well-known names such as Anta, Neiwei, L’Oréal, and Nivea and, despite his calls for audiences to “shop rationally,” many of the products — which ranged from shoes and socks to air fryers and eyebrow pencils — quickly sold out. According to local media, sales were in excess of $17 million (120 million RMB).

After an exile of 103 days, China’s most famous livestream host Austin Li returned to the airwaves on September 20. Photo: Weibo Screenshot

The Jing Take: An incident on June 3 saw Li’s livestream abruptly interrupted following the appearance of a tank-shaped cake on camera. His team cited this as a “technical error” but it drew widespread attention and speculation. Now, over three months later, and without any explanation or fanfare, he’s back. Fans have eagerly awaited his return (the last post on his Weibo account has nearly half a million likes and comments). During the session they gushed, “you finally came back” and “no matter what you sell, I will buy everything.” 

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The enterprizing Li failed to acknowledge either his absence or the reason for his return. In fact, the mainland’s livestreaming sector as well as its top host are both under ongoing scrutiny. Many presenters have disappeared for a variety of reasons: controversy, tax scandals, and more. However, this puts him firmly back in play in the run-up to the country’s biggest retail festival, Double 11. As Li offers a valuable lifeline to companies looking to reach consumers, this is very good news for brands, especially beauty ones. Perhaps even more than the fans — who fueled the Weibo hashtag “Li Jiaqi Livestream” with a not inconsiderable 72 million views — they will be relieved that the lipstick king has returned to take his throne. 

The Jing Take reports on a piece of the leading news and presents our editorial team’s analysis of the key implications for the luxury industry. In the recurring column, we analyze everything from product drops and mergers to heated debate sprouting on Chinese social media.


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