Laowai Internet sensations

By Yin Lu Source:Global Times Published: 2015-12-28 20:28:01

Foreign video bloggers becoming popular among Chinese Net users

Will August makes a face with some of the British candy featured in his videos. He is one of a new breed of foreigners who are gaining popularity on Chinese social media. Photo: Courtesy of Will August


Given a thousand chances to guess, Will August, 25, would never have reckoned that he could become an Internet sensation in China by merely videotaping himself eating candy.

"I was a little surprised," he said. "Maybe it's a bit novel to the Chinese. They don't really know the [British] sweets," he said.

August, who speaks fluent Chinese, did more than just eat candy. Some of his most popular videos show him learning Cantonese, trying to read Chinese tongue-twisters, teaching how to mimic the British accent, talking to his dogs, and tasting or cooking unusual British foods such as "toad in the hole."

As social media is changing our lives more profoundly, more and more people are finding their audience online. Foreigners, too, have gotten in on the trend.

Taking advantage of being a laowai

A graduate of Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province where he read for a Bachelor of Arts in Business Chinese, August moved back to his hometown of Portsmouth in the UK in the summer.

August currently has more than 10,000 followers on a number of Chinese social media platforms. He said his venture into Chinese social media grew out of a desire to help his Chinese friends with their English. It all began on WeChat. "I found it hard to help one by one, so I did a group chat. I did voice recording and, eventually, I started making videos," he said.

After moving back to the UK and having more time on his hands, August thought it would be interesting, "to just post some videos of my thoughts and some funny things."

When asked whether he thinks being a foreigner helps with building up his popularity, August said he thinks that is the case.

"It's a bit novel, isn't it? I have a strange accent. They think it's strange and funny," he said.

In one of his most recent videos, he recorded how he messed with his sister by giving her a Christmas gift wrapped up in dozens of packages.

Deciding on what topics to talk about and finding the sweet spot for his Chinese audience, have been an interesting journey for August.

"I think about questions people ask me, so I make lots of videos about English food, and language and culture, which proves to be things Chinese people find very interesting," he said.

August said he has done quite a lot of videos about British food from introducing breakfast muffins to taking a challenge to see how long he can keep Flying Saucers (a spaceship-shaped candy) in his mouth without letting it melt, which he did in an impressive 54 minutes and 9 seconds.

The majority of August's food exploits are related to a phenomenon that a lot of Chinese like teasing about - "Dark Cooking." The term has been circulating on the Chinese Internet for quite some time and is often used to refer to certain types of "exotic" cooking that contradict local eating habits. English meals such as Haggis, eggplants in chocolate and whole fishes baked in a pie, are just some of the dishes that shock and amuse Chinese social media users.

"A lot of Chinese people, they just think English food is bad but are not sure why, so I just think I'll show you (the followers) how and you can make your own decision about whether it is good or bad," he said.

Tomohiro Yamashita from Japan, a video blogger with hundreds of thousands of fans. Photo: IC


Becoming a social media star

With many of his fans calling him an Internet sensation, August said he is barely one yet. However, he is learning to master the art of being a Web celebrity.

The key, he said, lies in choosing topics that are a bit "touchy," or those that people have personal experience in or feelings about.

In one of his hottest videos, August talked about some of the weird or annoying questions that the Chinese invariably ask foreigners. Among the queries he addressed were, "Do you know how to use chopsticks?" and "Do you all foreigners drink a lot?" The 8-minute video resonated with his followers; they viewed it more than 200,000 times and left more than 1,500 comments.

Many of his Chinese viewers shared similar experiences abroad. "Most of the comments were about what kind of stupid questions foreigners ask Chinese people, such as asking [whether they] eat dog meat," August said.

He did another video to discuss the stereotypical misconceptions that many foreigners have of Chinese people, such as "everybody in China knows kung fu," or "Chinese people only eat rice." The video also stirred up discussion with a lot of viewers sharing their opinions or relevant anecdotes.

On top of choosing the themes of their videos wisely, another lesson that every hot blogger needs to learn is know how to give feedback and interact with followers in creative and favorable ways.

August actively talks to his followers on his Sina Weibo page, often asking for ideas of how to make the videos. He also told Metropolitan that he would always read the comments, "although I can't understand lots of them."

August's popularity was initially developed on The website is known for its use of danmu (literally "bullet screen"), which refers to the comments that viewers make while watching the videos. The comments shoot across the screen, a barrage of one-line quips like shots fired from a bullet.

The seemingly exclusive community seems like home to August. "My friend introduced me to I found I liked its interface and the community better, so I stayed," he said.

Chinese prefer to follow foreigners who can speak Chinese well and have a good understanding of Chinese pop culture. Photo: IC


Honing in on Chinese pop culture 

 Another notable foreign Net user, Negar Kordi's popularity comes from her posts on, the Chinese equivalent of Quora.

A student at Ningbo University in Zhejiang Province with Iranian and Canadian roots, Kordi has also become popular in the last year. Her  fluency in Chinese and knowledge of Chinese Internet buzzwords, have gained her about 15,000 followers on the website.

She talks about her life in China and her understanding of Chinese culture from "what foreigners think of the Chinese concept of 'shanghuo' (getting extra heat in one's body)" to "who are the good-looking Chinese men in the eyes of foreign women."

According to the Global Times' official WeChat account, her showing a great understanding of China's Internet pop culture has made Kordi a hit among Chinese Net users. And instead of the traditional, profound Chinese culture, it is the pop culture that is attracting lots of foreigners.

Tomohiro Yamashita, 30, from Japan who now lives in Shanghai, took a totally different route to fame. He introduces foreign pop culture to China.

Since last November, he has been uploading daily posts to his video blog called "a gentleman's [video] of about one minute." The series introduces Japanese culture in an unorthodox and exaggerated way, and has won popularity among young Chinese born in the 1980s and 1990s. His topics range from what monks in Japan are like to the cross-dressing culture.

"Speaking of Japan, Chinese people would think about comics and animations, or the culture of cosplay, but I want to exhibit Japanese culture from a different angle. Then I thought about the culture of 'hentai' (a genre featuring erotic manga, comics and other works)," he was quoted as saying by

"I was worried that people won't understand, but it turned out many accepted me," Yamashita said.

With a diploma in art from the Osaka University of Arts, Yamashita is currently studying Chinese at Shanghai University, he now has half a million followers on Sina Weibo, and 62,000 fans on

'Funny' is universal 

Metropolitan did an online survey on its official Weibo account asking Metro followers what they would ask August if they had the chance. How he found out about, a video-sharing website with a highly exclusive online community for Chinese young people, and how he came to master Chinese Net lingo were among the top things that piqued the interest of Metro's followers.

"I am curious and impressed by how come a foreigner could know so much about Chinese jokes and wordplays," one of August's followers commented on Sina Weibo.

When asked what makes Chinese people laugh, August said funny things are universal. "It doesn't matter what language you are saying it in. It doesn't matter if you are Chinese or a foreigner. You still find it entertaining."

Posted in: Metro Beijing

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