The Ugly Truth Behind China's Live-Streaming Celebrity Mills

    Becoming a popular live-streaming host entails working for low wages in poor conditions and often staying with viewers until daybreak.
    Photo: VCG.
    Yiling PanAuthor
      Published   in Retail

    The economy of the wanghong, or live-streaming host, is exploding in China. With successful cases such as Papi Jiang, who partnered with the Swiss watchmaker Jaeger LeCoultre, and Taobao's superstar seller Zhang Dayi, who earned RMB 20 million (approximately $3 million) in a two-hour live-streaming event, being an online celebrity seems to be a lucrative career path for many Chinese youth.

    However, a recent report by the domestic Chinese media Beijing News exposes the less glamorous part of the wanghong industry in China, revealing the long working hours, meager wages and poor living conditions of most live-streaming hosts.

    19-year-old Er Xuan, the live-streaming host who was featured in the Beijing News story published on June 30, is one of Chinese girls who dream big but got snagged by reality. She has signed a contract with a local wanghong training agency in May and since then has become a full-time presenter on the live-streaming platform Huya.

    Her base salary is RMB 5,000 (USD$737) per month and she is required to work at least six hours per day. She also has a quota for gifts from viewers of no less than RMB 3,000 (USD$442) in value per month. (Gifts are commonly given by viewers to live-streaming hosts as tips.)

    Er Xuan has already had a good start. She has attracted about 10,000 followers in the less than two months since she began, and, each day, her fans will send her gifts worth around RMB 700 to RMB 1,000. The downside of this quick growth for Er Xuan is lack of sleep, but she's willing to lose a little sleep in order to gain followers as quickly as possible.

    "Yesterday, I was online from 3pm till 5am," Er Xuan told Beijing News. "The day before was even longer, I live-streamed till 6am or 7am. My fans said, 'don't leave' and 'stay with us until daybreak.'"

    The manager of the training agency that Er Xuan works with also echoed her views on growing followers. He said that for an ordinary person who wants to earn more than 10,000 per month, he or she has to be online at least eight hours per day and keep it up for at least three months. It means that it typically takes 720 hours of "hard work" in the beginning.

    The agency trains people like Er Xuan to use live-streaming platforms and gives them skills in putting on make-up when they are hired. The report said there are many strict rules on how to dress and apply make-up. In addition, to ensure the quality of presenters' live-streaming sessions, the staff at Er Xuan's training agency monitors the real-time sessions through a monitoring system installed on the host's computer.

    Aside from the meager payment behind endless efforts and constant surveillance by the company, the report also revealed the poor living conditions that live-streaming hosts like Er Xuan stay in. The training agency provides Er Xuan with a room to live in that is six square meters. The tiny room comes replete with computers, desks and a light, but it lacks a bed, which means if she wants to rest for a moment, she can only do so in her chair or on the floor.

    Er Xuan's room is just one snapshot from the life of a live-streaming celebrity at an incubation platform that mass-produces wanghong, of which there are many in China. These companies aggressively hire young Chinese people by posting appealing advertisements that tout a short training period for a quick route to online popularity that translates into more than RMB 10,000 per month. Of course, this is not true.

    So far, Er Xuan's goal is to become a high-level live-streaming host on the Huya platform, who can hopefully earn more than RMB 100,000 (USD$14,740) per month with up to a million followers.

    Do you think being a live-streaming host is a sustainable career choice? Tell us in the comments section below.

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