‘All versions’ of Li Ziqi show Chinese lifestyle’s appeal
Published: Jan 04, 2023 12:28 AM
Illustration: Liu Xidan/Global Times

Illustration: Liu Xidan/Global Times

After missing Chinese influencer Li Ziqi for more than 500 days, her fans are finally getting some good news.

Millions of Li's followers on social media around the world have waited for so long wondering about the whereabouts of the vlogger, who films herself deep in the mountains of Southwest China in her idyllic videos.

In July 2021, at the prime of her career, rural life vlogger Li stopped updating her YouTube channel. Showing concern, her millions of subscribers soon found out that the young influencer had fallen deep into litigation with her multi-channel network management agency Weinian.

It was not until last week that Li once again began trending on social media both in and out of China with the news that the lawsuit against Weinian had finally come to an end after a more than 500-day game of tug of war over the ownership of the brand and multi billion-yuan food business brought about by Li's popularity. It has been widely reported that Li may now have final say over her own brand.

Li has not given any hints when she will update her channel again, but judging from her year-and-a-half disappearance, even if she returns soon, it may be difficult to recapture the peak she had once attained in Chinese cyberspace. The long lawsuit has weakened Li's influence on the internet, judging from the fact that she lost 3 million followers in total on Chinese social media platforms over the past year.

However, it could be a different picture overseas. It is worth noting that on YouTube, Li's subscribers have increased by more than 1 million since she stopped uploading, reaching a new height of 17.3 million. Her followers overseas have kept leaving comments on her YouTube channel, asking where she is and urging her to update soon.

It is undeniable that over the five years since she released her first video in 2017, the cultural symbols and commercial value she has created have become common points of reference for many Chinese and talking points for getting to know a real China among numerous overseas netizens. The idyllic rural videos she has made are a microcosm of the diligent yet fashionable personality of many young Chinese. 

During her absence, YouTube vlogging showcasing beautiful and original Chinese life continued to flourish with vloggers such as Dianxixiaoge and Grandpa Amu - a 63-year-old Shandong man who makes videos about constructing traditional buildings and handicraft art - attracting worldwide favor by presenting Eastern charm and aesthetics in a simple and easy-to-understand way.

Even some video makers from other countries have followed in Li's footsteps to make pastoral life videos and attract fans on YouTube.

For example, the influencer behind YouTube channel Bep Tren Dinh Doi, which means "kitchen on the hill," gained attention with videos of rural life in Vietnam. Her videos clearly resemble Li's works, reflecting Li's influence on the global internet. There have also been the "North European version of Li Ziqi," "Guizhou Li Ziqi" and even "male version" of Li Ziqi.

Li has uploaded more than 100 videos since joining YouTube in 2017, the most popular video earning more than 100 million views and the least popular still earning 3 million. But why have her idyllic videos stood out around the world? Cultural experts point to the unique creative spiritual core of Chinese culture conveyed in her work.  

Wearing traditional Chinese clothing as she works around her farm, Li is obsessed with returning to the essence of all things in nature. In her videos of cinematic quality, she uses many ancient Chinese techniques to show how food is grown, harvested and prepared. 

"Everything seems to be made from scratch in her hands. For example, she even raised ducklings just in order to make mayonnaise," said Zhang Yiwu, a cultural professor at Peking University.

"These videos show the self-sufficiency and perseverance of the Chinese nation." 

"This kind of perspective is very unique. It shows Asian charm, aesthetics and spirit through a young person's everyday life," Zhang added.

But what is more noteworthy is how this young woman's perspective has established a spiritual connection among young people around the world, crossing cultural barriers with her Chinese storytelling.

"The core of her videos lies in the great creativity and perseverance of the Chinese people, who have utilized the natural resources around us for self-sufficiency for thousands of years," commented Chinese writer and blogger Leisilin (Raist) on Sina Weibo.