Live streamer stirs up controversy by playing a woman

By Wang Bozun Source:Global Times Published: 2016/6/12 19:08:01

Live streamer Yu Zhengtai dresses as a character from popular TV series Empresses in the Palace.  Photo: Courtesy of Yu Zhengtai

Yu takes a selfie with his phone in his home in Anshan, Liaoning Province. Photo: Courtesy of Yu Zhengtai

"Hi Du She, thank you for your flower. And Ice Cream, thanks for your hugs," Yu Zhengtai told two of his viewers as several virtual flowers suddenly appear on the computer screen.

Yu is a male live streamer who has recently made a name for himself on streaming platform BaoBao by cross-dressing as Niangniang, a female character from the popular TV series Empresses in the Palace. His unique hosting style and newfound Internet celebrity has actually brought him an opportunity to play a role in a new online film, Face, or No Face.

A moment of inspiration

Yu, 26, is from a working-class family in the third-tier city of Anshan, Liaoning Province. After graduating from Tianjin Normal University, he wanted to move into acting, but without connections it was tough going.

Like many actors and actresses starting out in Beijing, Yu started small - teaching children about drama performances.

"It was far from what I had dreamed. I was supposed to be a movie actor, so I quit," he told the Global Times, adding that he also tried other jobs, but the more jobs he found, the farther he felt from his dream.

Standing at a crossroads in life, Yu felt that he had somehow lost his way.

"I will never forget the afternoon I was strolling along the street with nothing to do. My feelings were very complex and included confusion about the future, helplessness in the face of my situation and worries about money," he said.

Deciding to take a break from it all for a while, he headed back home to Anshan. A young man in his mid-twenties, staying at home unemployed was particularly painful, especially considering his ambitions. By chance, a friend introduced him to live streaming. At first Yu tried it just for fun, but after a few days inspiration struck. 

"I was inspired by a game about Empresses in the Palace that I played with my friends at a KTV one time," he said. "I didn't see any reason why I couldn't add some drama to my streaming show."

Different from other streaming hosts that just sing or talk, Yu combined his major - drama performance - with plotlines from Empresses in the Palace to make his show unique.

"It takes almost two hours everyday to put on the Niangniang makeup, which is especially difficult for a man. And wearing the 2-kilogram phoenix-crown each time I host is very tiring, but I enjoy it," Yu explained.

Persistence soon made him a "celebrity" on the BaoBao platform just two months after his first Niangniang performance.

"During my first few days, audience numbers were around the few hundreds, but a month later, it was very easy to pull in 10,000 viewers," he said, adding that this amount of viewers means he is able to pull in about 20,000 yuan ($3,100) a month.

His newfound success has made him very happy since his effort is recognized by his audience and he no longer has to rely on his family for financial support.

"This small success has been a big step for me compared to the past. It's also making my career path become even clearer for me," he said.

It has not been all smooth sailing so far. Insults such as "sissy" and "lady boy" have also come hand-in-hand with his succees.

"In the very beginning, I felt very aggrieved and disrespected [by these comments]. I put heart into my show, but they didn't care about my efforts," Yu said, adding that he thought about fighting back.

"A few days later, after talking with friends, I decided to ignore them. I know what I am doing. Yes it's to make money, but more importantly, my happiest moments are not when people give me virtual gifts (which can be exchanged for money), but when they tell me that they like my performance," Yu said with increasing excitement. 

Yu's dream of becoming a successful actor has not changed.

"I understand it won't be easy this way, but I'm prepared for that.  Now that I can see a ray of hope, I will stick with what I'm doing," he said.

Emerging potential

Live streaming shows where hosts interact directly with viewers have emerged as a major force in recent years. However, the shows have also been a source of controversy as several well-known female hosts' accounts were suspended for including erotic content in late 2015.

Opposing voices hold the opinion that these live streaming shows are vulgar and unhealthy for teenagers, and that they lack a connection to traditional Chinese culture.

While there are opponents to these streaming platforms, "lots of companies and investors are taking aim at this emerging market since it has so much potential," Liu Xi, chairman of a culture company that supplies hosts to live streaming platforms, told the Global Times, adding that live streaming provides young people a platform to show off what they are capable of.

"Different from post-1970 or post-1980 actors, lots of actors or actresses from the post-1990 generation have their own ideas about success. They want it to be quick and they crave exposure. I believe this is the main reason this industry will flourish," he added.

"I believe that 2016 is going to be a fast growing year for live streaming shows," Wu Qing, a female live streaming host, told the Global Times, pointing out that as more regulations concerning live streaming are introduced the more accepted the job is becoming among the general populace.

Yu has his own take on this controversial job.

"I see it as a way for people to spend their time," he said, adding that he certainly doesn't intend to stop anytime soon.

"It gave me the opportunity to be in a movie. I believe it will bring me closer to my dream in the future as long as I keep doing it."

Newspaper headline: Cross-dress for success

Posted in: TV

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