Yi influencers promote new ethnic lifestyle through digital creativity
Not just a pretty face
Published: Jul 18, 2022 08:21 PM
Women from China's Yi ethnic group hold umbrellas for a beauty contest during the local Torch Festival. Photo: IC

Women from China's Yi ethnic group hold umbrellas for a beauty contest during the local Torch Festival. Photo: IC

"Now the protagonist in the novel has a face. I really want to see his culture." 

This comment was posted to the 20-year-old social media influencer Mu Ye's account on Douyin, the Chinese name for TikTok, and is a good demonstration how the handsome young man from China's Yi ethnic minority has succeeded with his videos introducing his ethnic culture. 

Dubbed by many as the "Yi group's Ding Zheng," referring to the young Tibetan man who became an internet sensation after a seven-second video featuring his innocent smile two years ago, Mu Ye said that he doesn't mind taking advantage of the "pretty face effect" so long as it can get more people to understand the lives of today's Yi people. 

Yi influencer Mu Ye (right) Photo: Courtesy of Mu Ye

Yi influencer Mu Ye (right) Photo: Courtesy of Mu Ye

Online journey

Having more than 3.2 million likes on his videos on Douyin, Mu Ye's cyberstar journey began in 2018 after he saw that promoting local culture through short videos was becoming a trend on various Chinese social media platforms. 

He told the Global Times that as a "green hand" he started off acting as a tour guide filming a lot of natural scenery and people's everyday lives in his hometown, a village in Leshan, Southwest China's Sichuan Province, but that didn't work out too well. Later, he saw an opportunity when he noticed some netizens were leaving comments such as  "He's handsome!"  

"Later I thought, 'Why don't I post some videos of myself and in that way display our culture better?'" he noted.

Changing up his content, he started to produce videos with him wearing both modern jackets and traditional Yi ethnic clothing in a single short video.

This increased people's curiosity about his cultural stories. 

"They [my fans] asked what the clothing was, about the Yi ethnic music I used for background music and if I could offer them a tour of the village… things like that," he told the Global Times. 

Finding the key to intrigue netizens, the young star, who originally was only casually making videos for fun, decided to embark on a journey to become a professional online influencer, which eventually allowed him to become the main bread winner in his family. 

"As my short video and livestreaming career improved, I could cover my own school fees and my sister's, and bring more variety to my family's dinner table," he explained. 

Yi influencer Luoqi Guoguo Photo: Courtesy of Luoqi Guoguo

Yi influencer Luoqi Guoguo Photo: Courtesy of Luoqi Guoguo

Mu Ye is not the only young Yi person to walk the path of fame on the internet. Luoqi Guoguo, Mu Ye's sister, has become an even bigger influencer with more than 520,000 followers on Chinese short video platform Kuaishou. 

Having studied photography in Chengdu, Sichuan, Luoqi Guoguo has dedicated herself to become a photographer who combines traditional Yi aesthetics embodied in clothing and jewelry with modern trends such as matching the iconic Yi wool dress with a unisex suit and tie and a pair of dazzling Yi silver earrings adorning her face. 

"We can still connect to global culture. The digital age has brought us an opportunity to break the 'isolated' and 'underdeveloped' stereotypes people having about us," she said. "We are young ethnic people, but we show the spirit of young Chinese people too."

True influencers

Having gained experience in the short video industry over the years, Mu Ye told the Global Times that many online influencers use the "ethnic people" tag as a gimmick to earn fame and money. 

He explained that netizens in China are very accepting of ethnic minority culture and that this has created many good opportunities for online stars, but becoming famous overnight can become a distraction that leads some to neglect their cultural roots. 

For instance, a good-looking Tibetan online influencer and Thangka painter who goes by the online handle Duo Ji became popular due to his unique ethnic talents, but later was the target of mass criticism after it was revealed he cheated on six women at the same time. 

"It is not just that, there are other ethnic online stars who sell their 'poor lives' for attention. And many of those poor lives are deliberately staged especially when actually poverty alleviation efforts have solved these issues effectively," Luoqi Guoguo noted. 

"I don't think they are true influencers because they have forgotten our cultural mission and why we are on social media," she said. 

Mu Ye noted that if showing off his "pretty face" is an effective way to promote Yi culture, then he doesn't mind taking advantage of it to produce more cultural-oriented content for fans. 

"Next, I want to create content featuring my dad, who knows our cultural history but doesn't know how to get others to learn about it," said he.