What happened: In 2015, Li Jiajia, now known as “Li Ziqi,” started making videos of her tranquil life in southwest China’s north-central Sichuan province. These mesmerizing countryside films, along with a soundtrack of tranquil flute music, painted the picture of a more traditional way of living.
Then, in 2016, a short video called “Lanzhou beef noodle” shot her to fame. Viewers were now treated to regular doses of idyllic scenes in which the young vlogger cooked elaborate-yet-provincial meals made from her own hand-picked vegetables. She posted scenery with hatched ducklings, crafted bamboo furniture, and even dyed clothing with fruit skins.
But three months ago, the 30-year-old star ceased posting on platforms and has now filed a suit against her agency, Weinian, an influencer company based in Hangzhou that owns her image.
The Jing Take: Li appeared to live the new Chinese dream, far from the demanding 966 schedule that stresses many Chinese youths today. Her peaceful posts captured a nation’s imagination: She amassed impressive followings on Weibo (more than 27 million fans) and Douyin (55 million watchers). Meanwhile her soft power potential caught the eye of Beijing too, who lauded as a role model for Chinese Youth, while The People’s Daily gave her its “People’s Choice” award in 2019.
Li’s appeal traveled well beyond China’s borders, especially during lockdowns when her nourishing lifestyle offered welcome relief from pandemic realities. She was heralded as the “Quarantine Queen” by the New York Times in 2020, and her YouTube channel became the most popular Chinese-language account, raking in 16 million subscribers.
That life behind the scenes was not as perfect as Li wanted her fans to believe will be a blow to those who idolized this rural “Disney princess.” Li, who many viewed as a new cultural ambassador, did much cultivate interest in Chinese traditions. But, she was also not without detractors who doubted the authenticity of her habitual routine. Whatever happens, this fallout offers a fascinating glimpse into China’s ruthless influencer economy. Li’s visual magic captivated millions but for now her illusions are on hold.
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.