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“What’s Modernisation?” – Chinese State Media Explain China’s ‘New Era’ With a Rap

No three-and-a-half-hour speech, but a three-and-a-half minute video explains China’s new strategies in this latest propaganda clip on social media.

Alice Mingay

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No three-and-a-half-hour speech, but a three-and-a-half minute video – Chinese state media explain China’s new strategies through catchy rap music and trendy graphics.

The much-anticipated 19th Party Congress opened last Wednesday in Beijing with Xi Jinping’s three-and-a-half-hour speech on “Thoughts on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era” (新时代中国特色社会主义思想), which presented the Party’s new concepts, thoughts and strategies – with Xi himself at its core.

Shi-jiu-da (十九大, ‘big 19’) is the popular abbreviation for the 19th Congress of the Communist Party of China. This Plenum is held once every five years and is the highest level political meeting in the Chinese calendar. The meeting is also a big topic on Chinese social media; the Weibo hashtag for the ‘big 19’ event #十九大# was viewed over 3,6 billion times on Friday.

As with previous major political gatherings, speeches and rhetoric are not the only means by which the Party and state media seek to convey their message to the wider population. A video titled “What is modernization? Let us tell you in a rap!” (“现代化”是什么化?一段嘻哈告诉你!) is the latest in a series produced by state broadcaster CCTV. The video is being spread through social media.

The clip (click link or see embedded video below), that lays out the government’s stategies for China’s ‘new era’ through rap music with bright graphics, was widely distributed on Chinese social media this week by various media platforms and institutions, from the Economic Observer (@经济观察报) to the Ministry of Public Security.

The translation of the video’s full text* is as follows:

Let’s go!
This October in Beijing
…will all be arriving!
The time has come for 十九大(shi-jiu-da)
Listen out for the important voices
十九大 (shi-jiu-da) let’s say a little about it

There is a lot of information here
So, listen out carefully and I’ll speak slowly
In the past, China has always advanced courageously
As we have said before,
When difficult problems are solved then great things can be established!
Our nation is full of vigor and vitality!

Anti-corruption efforts are strong
Many tigers have been taken down
From rocket lift-offs to submarine exercises,
Technology is changing our lives
Haha, Haha, Haha,

As I’m going to show up next, we have plans going forward…

[Xi Jinping’s voice speaking:]

By the time we reach the middle period of this century, we will have built a modern socialist state which is rich and powerful, democratic, civilised, and harmonious. In this way, we will have realized the great rejuvenation of the Chinese people.

[Rap continues:]

But, building in accordance with the needs of modernization
What even is modernization?

Let me tell you:

[End of rap, start of explanation by lecturer:]

100 years ago, Sun Yat-sen set out a blueprint for modernization in ‘Strategy for Building a Nation’: build train tracks, repair the roads, construct large ports. At that time, this was still considered fantastical and unrealistic.

But today, train lines criss-cross the whole nation! They run N-S between Beijing-Guangdong-Shanghai, as well as across the well-trodden route of Lanzhou-Chengdu-Chongqing. The length of the journey on the bullet trains just keeps reducing!

Again, at the time the People’s Republic was founded, not even a tractor could be built! Thus, building a modern, industrial socialist nation became our aim.

In 1954, the first National People’s Congress was held.  This was the first time the aim of achieving the Four Modernizations was clearly referenced. In just the next few years, factory after factory was built, including those of Anshan Steel works and Changchun car manufacturers.
Our workers are powerful!

This was a song I would listen to when I was young, and hearing it I would know my dad would soon finish work for the day and so I would quickly pack away all my marbles. Entering the period of opening and reform, Deng Xiaoping named the Four Modernizations as the way to ‘Chinese Modernization’, as well as wanting to become a middle-income nation.

In the 1970s, when people married, the three major durable consumer goods were still watches, bicycles and sewing machines. In the 80s, this became fridges, color TVs, and washing machines, and by the 90s changed again into air conditioning, cameras, and camcorders.

[Xi Jinping’s voice:]

Now, information technologies such as the internet are changing with each passing day. This is leading a new revolution in society and bringing new dimensions into human lives.

[Presenter continues:]

A report from the 18th Party Congress, published on 8th November 2012, mentioned the ‘4 New Modernisations.’ This has led to the implementation of an innovation-driven development strategy. Over the last 5 years, the major technological developments we have made have accumulated further and further. The computing in the Sunway Taihu Light is the most advanced in the world.

The quantum satellite Mozi Hao is unparalleled. The Tiangong 2 satellite has been sent off smoothly. Each of these wondrous engineering projects is a feat of its own! What a country!

In 2013, General Secretary Xi Jinping then added one more modernization into the fold, that being to ‘continue to advance the nation’s governing system, and to modernize our governing capabilities.’

Modernisation as a whole is very impressive. Frankly speaking, only this modernization of the inner qualities of officials and organizations will enable them to govern the country and change the civilized norms.We don’t take a break from modernization!

[Rap continues:]

Yeah, now that we have become a middle-class society
We have reached the most important section of our reform agenda
What are the issues that affect the lives of the middle class?

At this stage in the development of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics,
People are heading in the direction of a better life
The Party must remember
This is a new beginning!

In what direction is the bullet train heading?
After 200 years, will the Chinese dream have been realized?
What expectations do Chinese families have for their future?
Will the 十九大 (shi-jiu-da) answer these questions for you?
Of course!

Both the design and the genre of the new clip show some resemblance to clips launched during the Belt and Road Summit earlier this year.

On Weibo, a platform that is heavily controlled during the 19th National Congress, the video was shared hundreds of times. Although discussions on the video are limited due to current restrictions, one surprised netizen just posted: “Can I actually comment on this?!”

By Alice Mingay

* Full Text:
Let’s go!
在十月里的北京
。。。。都到这里 (3-4)
十九大要来了
听听到重要的声音
十九大,说点嘛?

这里信息有点多
你听我慢慢说
过去砥砺奋进
也我们互相说过
难提解决大事办成
祖国朝气蓬勃
反腐力度很大
打掉的老虎很多
胖五升空,蛟龙下水
科技改变生活
哈哈,哈哈,哈哈
接下来,我们还有个目标

[习近平的声音:]
到本世纪中叶建成富强民主
文明和谐的社会主义现代化国家,
实现中华民族伟大复兴。
–中共中烟总书记、国家主席、中央军委主席习近平

建设现代化
那现代化是什么?
来,听我跟你说
百年前,孙中山在[建国方略]里描绘了现代化的蓝图
建铁路、修公路、建造水平大海港
这些的当时,还被认为是‘空想’
而如今,京广、京沪穿南北
兰渝铁路通蜀道
复兴号路途时间再修短

再说,新中国刚成立时
一台拖拉机都不能造
建成社会主义现代化工业国就是我们的目标

1954年,第一届全国人民代表大会
第一次明确提出要实现四个现代化
随后的几年里,鞍山无缝钢管厂、长春第一汽车制造厂一个厂接一个厂
咱们工人有力量

‘咱们工人有力量’
小时候一听到这首歌就知道爸爸要下班了,赶紧把玻璃球收起来
迈入改革开放新时期,邓小平把实现四个现代化的目标称为‘中国式的现代化’,也就是‘小康之家’。
70年代,人们结婚, ‘三大件’还是手表自行车缝纫机
80年代,冰箱、彩电、洗衣机
90年代变成空调、音像、录像机

现在以互联网为代表的信息技术日新月异
引领了社会生产新变革
创造了人类生活新空间

2012年11月8号的中共十八大报告提出了 ‘新四化’
实施创新驱动发展战略
这五年,祖国的科技发展硕果累累
超级计算机“神威-太湖之光”世界第一
量子卫星‘墨子号’世界独一无二
‘天宫二号’顺利发射
奇迹工程一个个,厉害了,我的国

2013年习近平总书记又给这新四化加了一化
不断推进国家治理体系和治理能力现代化

整个现代化,有点厉害了
说白了,就是国家机构官员素质的现代化是治理国家变得文明规范
建设现代化,我们不放假

Yeah, 如今全面建成小康社会
到最关键的议程
小康心内还是什么事关你我的生活
中国特色社会主义进行的发展阶段
人民群众向往的美好生活
党中要记得
这是一个新的起点
复兴号驶向哪儿?
两个一百年后,中国梦实现了吗?
对于祖国家庭未来,还有那些期待?
来过这十九大,还为你来解答?
必须的

Edited by Manya Koetse
Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

©2017 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Alice Mingay is a final year undergraduate Chinese Studies at the University of Oxford. She has spent over a year in Beijing and has a particular interest in Chinese Internet and Chinese Law. She is currently researching the development of China’s e-courts.

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China Books & Literature

From “Voice of the People” to “Traitor of China”: The Rise and Fall of Fang Fang’s Wuhan Diary

How a Weibo journal got caught up in pandemic politics: the Wuhan Diary controversy explained.

Manya Koetse

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Fang Fang’s critical online account of the COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan was widely celebrated before it was strongly condemned. This is a look into one of the biggest controversies in China’s online media spheres this spring, and a breakdown of how this acclaimed Chinese novelist went from an ally in times of lockdown, to a traitor during pandemic politics.

 
This is the “WE…WEI…WHAT?” column by Manya Koetse, original publication in German by Goethe Institut China (forthcoming), see Goethe.de: WE…WEI…WHAT? Manya Koetse erklärt das chinesische Internet.
 

As China is gradually getting back to business after the COVID-19 crisis, the coronavirus crisis is still dominating social media discussions. But the way the virus comes up in online debates has changed over the past few weeks, as the global health crisis has become increasingly politicized. Rather than a show of global solidarity, the pandemic has spawned a lot of finger-pointing in online media and on social networking sites across the world.

Who is to blame for the spread of the virus? Who is doing more, which leader is doing better, where is the crisis mismanaged? What is fake news, what is truth? Who writes or says what for which reason?

Somewhere within these corona media wars and political games, there’s the controversy regarding Wuhan Diary, which recently became a heated topic of debate on Weibo and beyond. 

 

FANG FANG AND WUHAN DIARY

“Fang was saying the things so many people wanted to say, and was asking the questions so many wanted answers to”

 

Wuhan Diary (武汉日记[1]) is written by the 65-year-old acclaimed Chinese author Wang Fang, better known as Fang Fang (方方).[2] It is an online account of the 2020 Hubei lockdown, originally published on WeChat and Weibo.

Throughout the lockdown period in January, February, and March, Fang Fang wrote about life in quarantine in province capital Wuhan, the heart of the epicenter, documenting everything from the weather to the latest news and the personal stories and tragedies behind the emerging crisis.

Fang’s 60-post diary was published on her Weibo account (@方方), which had some 3,8 million followers at the time, from late January shortly after the lockdown began, until late March when the end of the lockdown was announced.

Shortly after starting her online account, Fang’s daily journal gained wide traction. Amid the panic and uncertainty of the early days of the lockdown, social media flooded with rumors, fake news, and misinformation. Chinese web users were looking for alternative reliable sources to find out what was really happening in Wuhan.

Fang’s online journal provided people with information regarding the new coronavirus, but it also captured the emotions and struggles of the people in Wuhan. She soon became a go-to first-hand account of what was going on in the city; she was the voice of a quarantined city in distress. At a time when people were craving unfiltered information and distrusting official media, her words became an anchor for many in a sea of confusing news flows.

The fact that Fang is a respected author contributed to the popularity of her online writings. With her compassionate representations of everyday life in Wuhan, she has since long been an important author for the regional literature. Her writings have drawn attention ever since the 1980s, when she won an award for the best National Novella (Landscape 风景, 1987). She has remained a relevant author throughout the years, even receiving the prestigious Lu Xun Literary Prize in 2010.

In documenting life in Wuhan during the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak, Fang touched upon many sensitive issues. Besides writing about problems such as overcrowded hospitals and mask shortages, she also directly questioned how authorities were handling the crisis and warned other writers for propaganda manipulation.

With the death of ‘whistleblower’ doctor Li Wenliang on the night of February 6, Chinese social media saw an outpouring of anger at Chinese authorities and state media. The public’s anger showed itself at other moments too, both online and offline.

While many of Fang’s publications on social media were censored and her Weibo account was temporarily blocked, the online Wuhan Diary only gained more attention, with the daily entries (or screenshots) spreading across WeChat like wildfire. “Dear internet censors, you should let Wuhan people speak,”[3] Fang wrote in February.

By demanding more transparency and accountability from Chinese (local) leadership, Fang was saying the things so many people wanted to say and was asking the questions so many wanted answers to.

 

CHANGING US-VERSUS-THEM DYNAMICS

“Whose side is she on, anyway?”

 

It did not take long for Fang’s online journal to gain international attention. In mid-February, news articles covering the ‘forbidden diary’ from Wuhan also appeared in foreign media.

Although Fang’s online writings received some backlash before – her critics mainly disliked how much of her diary entries were not fact-based but “merely hearsay” -, it wasn’t until April when public opinion really shifted against Wuhan Diary after it became known that an international edition of her diary was on presale through Amazon.

First, there was the announcement of the English version with the title “Wuhan Diary: Dispatches from the Original Epicenter” (later changed to “Wuhan Diary: Dispatches from a Quarantined City”, translation by Michael Berry) published by Harper Collins; then, a German edition translated by Michael Kahn-Ackermann and issued by Hoffman Camp Press.

The criticism that Fang Fang has since been facing on Chinese social media is unprecedented. Rather than a Wuhan ally, many of her online readers now think of her as a “traitor” to China[4], saying she is airing China’s dirty laundry to make a profit, and that she only writes about negativity and darkness to play to the tune of those countries slamming China. The author has seen an online stream of death threats and violent comments.

Fang Fang arguably would not have received as much backlash if China had not come to face such international scrutiny in light of the global spread of COVID-19. At the time of the early coronavirus outbreak and Fang’s first diary entry, the corona crisis was still a national one, and to some extent even a regional one. Many saw Fang, a Wuhan native and acclaimed author, as a spokesperson for the people in times of fear, uncertainty, and collective suffering.

But as China increasingly came under international pressure over how it handled the epidemic in its early phases, anti-foreign and nationalistic sentiments grew by the day. With China being blamed for causing the pandemic – American President Trump even suggesting it did so deliberately – waves of angry nationalism flooded Chinese social media, and Wuhan Diary was caught in the changing us-versus-them dynamics of China’s COVID-19 crisis.

In the eyes of many Chinese web users, a translated version of Fang’s critical account of the Wuhan outbreak would only provide opponents of China with more ammunition. The upcoming translation’s description on Amazon by itself was a source of outrage for many, allegedly putting too much emphasis on China’s mishandling of the early outbreak. The fact that the original title of the book emphasized that COVID-19 started in Wuhan[5] was also something many netizens found offensive.  ‘Whose side is she on anyway?’, they wondered.

“Western countries are attacking the motherland, and Fang Fang is knowingly giving them the bullets in advance,” one Weibo commenter from Beijing wrote.

 

AN ONGOING ISSUE

Your Wuhan Diary will only worsen Western misconceptions about China!”

 

The Wuhan Diary controversy seems to be an ongoing one. By early May, it was reported that at least two Chinese academics were reprimanded for speaking out in support of Fang Fang. Online discussions continue. By now, the Weibo hashtag “Fang Fang Diary” (#方方日记#) has received over 670 million views, with other scattered hashtags also drawing in thousands of responses.

On Fang Fang’s Weibo page, now followed by more than 4,6 million web users, the author has responded to the recent controversy and allegations in multiple lengthy posts, claiming that most of her attackers, who blame her for only writing negative things, did not even read her diary. She argues that her written account is one of a trapped Wuhan resident in the middle of a catastrophe and that it should not be taken out of its this context.

Fang Fang is not the first Chinese writer to face online backlash for how ‘China’ is represented to the outside world. Besides the fact that Chinese literature is virtually inseparable from politics, there is an enormous number of Chinese web users ready to be outraged about China being misconstrued, ridiculed, humiliated, or otherwise suffering foreign insult.

This kind of angry nationalism often surfaces on the Chinese internet, and it has done so since the early days of social media in China. According to Ying Jiang, the author of Cyber-Nationalism in China, the roots of this “angry nationalism” expressed by today’s Chinese netizens can be traced back to China’s modern history, and more specifically to the “Century of Humiliation” (mid-1800s until after WWII) during which China faced many hardships brought about by foreign powers.

This history has been an important component of Chinese education campaigns for decades, and along with the economic prospering of China, the country has seen the rise of a more patriotic populace that is nationalistic in a way that is also increasingly anti-foreign.

Especially during noteworthy times such as the coronavirus outbreak – an opportunity for China to establish more international leadership -, negative media representations of the country, its government, and how it handled the COVID-19 crisis are sensitive and prone to controversy. A telling example is that three journalists of The Wall Street Journal were expelled from China in February over the paper’s refusal to apologize for a published opinion article titled “China Is the Real Sick Man of Asia.”

The online anger over Fang’s translated work will not die out any time soon. On Weibo, discussions continue. “Fang Fang, your Wuhan Diary, that’s merely hearsay and overly subjective, will only worsen Western misconceptions about China, and will only make more Western people discriminate against Chinese! You’ll go down in history as a disgrace!”, one Weibo user writes in early May.

Although many will not agree on how Wuhan Diary will be remembered, all the commotion and criticism has only increased the public’s awareness about the book’s existence; it will surely go down in the history of the COVID-19 impact in China, and the online media wars that came with it.

The English translation of Wuhan Diary is expected to be released via Amazon on May 19 (link), the English audiobook on May 28 (link) the German translation is expected June 9. On the China Digital Times website, Josh Rudolph has also translated parts of Fang’s work.

 

By Manya Koetse
Follow @whatsonweibo

For more COVID-19 related articles, please click here.

 

[1] Also known in Chinese as: 武汉封城日记.

[2] Fang Fang is the pen name of Wang Fang.

[3] Zhao, Kiki. 2020. “Opinion: The Coronavirus Story is Too Big for China to Spin.” The New York Times, Feb 14 https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/14/opinion/china-coronavirus-social-media.html [5.2.2020].

[4] Mainly using Chinese terms汉奸 and 卖国贼, both meaning “traitor” or more specifically “traitor to China.”

[5] Also see the original German title of the translation: “Wuhan Diary – Das Verbotenen Tagebuch aus der Stadt, in der die Corona-Krise began” [The Forbidden Diary from the City where the Coronacrisis Began].

Sources and further reading

Adlakha, Hemant. 2020.”Fang Fang: The ‘Conscience of Wuhan’ Amid Coronavirus Quarantine.” The Diplomat , March 23 https://thediplomat.com/2020/03/fang-fang-the-conscience-of-wuhan-amid-coronavirus-quarantine/[5.3.2010].

Fumian, Marco. 2020. “To Serve the People or the Party: Fang Fang’s Wuhan Diary and Chinese Writers at the Time of Coronavirus.” MCLC Resource Center Publication (April 2020) https://u.osu.edu/mclc/online-series/marco-fumian/?fbclid=IwAR32HvM6WO0JHIhFFIY85bd-qyOzGEfXrZpp6S0SxbiTQrGCjwe_n-jL63Y [5.1.2020].

Leung, Laifong. 2016. Contemporary Chinese Fiction Writers: Biography, Bibliography, and Critical Assessment. New York & London: Routledge.

Rudolph, Jodh. 2020. “Translation: Backlash To Wuhan Diary “Reveals A Serious Problem Society Must Correct.” China Digital Times, April 21 https://chinadigitaltimes.net/2020/04/translation-backlash-to-wuhan-diary-reveals-a-serious-problem-society-must-correct/ [5.2.2020].

Wu, Yuwen. 2020. “Chinese propagandists don’t want you to read this diary on the coronavirus lockdown in Wuhan.” The Independent, March 2 https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/coronavirus-wuhan-lockdown-fangfang-diary-china-dr-li-a9368961.html [3.2.2020].

Ying Jiang. 2012. Cyber-Nationalism in China: Challenging Western Media Portrayals of Internet Censorship in China. Adelaide: University of Adelaide Press.

Zhao, Kiki. 2020. “Opinion: The Coronavirus Story is Too Big for China to Spin.” The New York Times, Feb 14 https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/14/opinion/china-coronavirus-social-media.html [5.2.2020].

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

This text was written for Goethe-Institut China under a CC-BY-NC-ND-4.0-DE license (Creative Commons) as part of a monthly column in collaboration with What’s On Weibo.

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China Digital

From Tea Farmer to Online Influencer: Uncle Huang and China’s Rural Live Streamers

‘Cunbo’ aka ‘rural livestreaming’ is all the rage. A win-win situation for farmers, viewers, and Alibaba.

Manya Koetse

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This is the “WE…WEI…WHAT?” column by Manya Koetse, originally published in German by Goethe Institut China on Goethe.de: “VOM TEEBAUERN ZUM INFLUENCER: ONKEL HUANG UND CHINAS LÄNDLICHE LIVESTREAMER.” 

The past year has been super tumultuous when it comes to the topics that have been dominating Chinese social media. The Coronavirus crisis was preceded by other big issues that were all the talk online, from the US-China trade war to the protests in Hong-Kong, the swine flu, and heightened censorship and surveillance.

Despite the darker side to China’s online environment, however, there were also positive developments. One of the online trends that became popular this year comes with a term of its own, namely cūnbō (村播): rural livestreaming.  Chinese farmers using livestreaming as a way to sell their products and promote their business have become a more common occurrence on China’s e-commerce and social media platforms. 

mage via Phoenix News (iFeng Finance).

The social media + e-commerce mix, also called ‘social shopping,’ is booming in the PRC. Online platforms where the lines between social media and e-commerce have disappeared are now more popular than ever. There’s the thriving Xiaohongshu (小红书Little Red Book) platform, for example, but apps such as TikTok (known as Douyin in China) also integrate shopping in the social media experience.

Over recent years, China’s e-commerce giant Alibaba has contributed to the rising popularity of ‘social shopping.’ Its Taobao Live unit (also a separate app), which falls under the umbrella of China’s biggest online marketplace Taobao, is solely dedicated to shopping + social media, mainly mobile-centered. It’s a recipe for success: Chinese mobile users spend over six hours online per day, approximately 72% of them shop online, and nearly 65% of mobile internet users watch livestreaming.

Every minute of every day, thousands of online shoppers tune in to dozens of different channels where sellers promote anything from food products to makeup or pet accessories. The sellers, also called ‘hosts’ or ‘presenters,’ make their channels attractive by incorporating makeup tutorials, cooking classes, giving tips and tricks, chatting away and joking, and promising their buyers the best deal or extra presents when purchasing their products.                

Livestreaming on Taobao goes on 24/7 (screenshots from Taobao app by author).

Sometimes thousands of viewers tune in to one channel at the same. They can ‘follow’ their favorite hosts and can interact with them directly by leaving comments on the livestreams. They can compliment the hosts (“You’re so funny!”), ask questions about products (“Does this also come in red?”), or leave practical advice (“You should zoom in when demonstrating this product!”). The product promoted in the livestreams can be directly purchased through the Taobao system.

Over the past year, Alibaba has increased its focus on rural sellers within the livestreaming e-commerce business. Countryside sellers even have their own category highlighted on the Taobao Live app. Chinese tech giant Alibaba launched its ‘cūnbō project’ in the spring of 2019 to promote the use of its Taobao Live app amongst farmers. The most influential livestreaming farmers get signed by Alibaba to elevate Taobao Live’s rural business to a higher level.

One of these influential Chinese farmers who has made a name for himself through livestreaming is Huang Wensheng, a tea farmer from the mountainous Lichuan area in Hunan Province.

Uncle Huang livestreaming from the tea fields (image via Sohu.com)

Huang, who is nicknamed ‘Uncle Farmer,’ sells tea through his channel, where he shows viewers his work and shares stories and songs from his village. He is also known to talk about what he learned throughout his life and will say things such as: “It is important to work hard; not necessarily so much to change the world , but to make sure the world does not change you.”

With just three to five livestreaming sessions per week, ‘Uncle’ Huang reaches up to twenty million viewers per month, and, according to Chinese media reports, has seen a significant increase in his income, earning some 10,000 yuan (€1300) per week.

Huang is not the only farmer from his hometown using Taobao Live to increase their income; there are some hundred rural livestreamers in Lichuan doing the same.

Some random screenshots by author from rural livestreaming channels, where online shoppers get a glimpse of countryside life

The rural livestreaming category is significantly different from the urban fashionistas selling brand makeup and the latest must-haves: these hosts do not have the polished look, glamorous clothes, or stylish backgrounds. They usually film outside while doing their work or offer a glimpse into their often humble rooms or kitchens.

Viewers get to see the source of the products sold by these rural sellers; they often literally go to the fields to show where their agricultural products grow, or film themselves getting the eggs from their chickens or the oranges from the trees. From fruits to potatoes and flowers, and from fresh tea to home-made chili sauce – a wide range of products is promoted and sold through Taobao Live these days.

Some rural livestreamers are trying to stay ahead of their competition by coming up with novel concepts. A young farmer from Sichuan, for example, recently offered viewers the opportunity to “adopt” a rooster from his farm, allowing them to interact with ‘their’ rooster through social media and even throwing the occasional birthday party for some lucky roosters.

Image via sina.com.

Examples such as these show that although the countryside livestreamers usually lack glitter and glam, they can be just as entertaining – or perhaps even more so – than their urban counterparts.

Who benefits from the recent ‘cūnbōboom? One could argue that the rising popularity of livestreaming farmers is a win-win situation from which all participants can profit in some way. The commercial interests are big for Alibaba. The company has been targeting China’s countryside for years, as it’s where China’s biggest consumption growth will happen while mobile internet penetration is still on the rise. Alibaba earns profits from an increasing number of rural e-commerce buyers, as well as e-commerce sellers.

Alibaba’s early focus on the countryside as a new home for e-commerce has previously also led to the phenomenon of so-called ‘Taobao Villages,’ where a certain percentage of rural residents are selling local specialties, farm products or other things via the Taobao platform with relatively little transaction costs.

Many Chinese villages and farmers are profiting from the further spread of Taobao in the countryside. Not only does Alibaba invest in logistics and e-commerce trainings in rural areas, these e-commerce channels are also a way to directly boost sales and income for struggling farmers.

Chinese media predict that the rural livestreaming trend will only become more popular in the years to come, bringing forth many more influential farmers like Huang.

But besides the commercial and financial gains that come from the rising popularity of rural livestreamers, there is also a significant and noteworthy social impact.  At  a time in which China’s rapidly changing society sees a widening gap between urban and rural areas, these rural channels serve as a digital bridge between countryside sellers and urban consumers, offering netizens a real and unpolished look into the lives of farmers in others parts of the country, and gives online buyers more insight and understanding of where their online products came from.

Taobao Live is actually like a traditional “farmers’ market,” but now it is digital, open 24/7, and accessible to anyone with a mobile phone. It’s the Chinese farmers’ market of the 21st century.

By Manya Koetse
Follow @whatsonweibo

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This text was first published by Goethe-Institut China under a CC-BY-NC-ND-4.0-DE license (Creative Commons) as part of a monthly column in collaboration with What’s On Weibo.

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