I have received a lot of PMs recently, all of them asking me the same question.
- Do you know or like Li Ziqi or not?
- Do you think that she can be counted as a sort of Chinese culture export?
Of course, before that, I have thought about this for a long time. I started to perceive Li Ziqi from 2017. So I think I have my own perspective of what she's doing, and it's worth sharing.
On-screen, Li Ziqi’s life seems to defy the rules of reality.
With more than 60 million fans worldwide, the Chinese internet celebrity is famous for her videos, where she performs the work of a farmer with the grace of a fairy.
In one video, she picks flowers on horseback in a red cape, invoking the image of Red Riding Hood. In another, she builds an item of bamboo furniture set using traditional Chinese techniques.
Actually, I remember that back in the summer of 2017, she had a lot of haters who were doubting the real intention behind her videos.
And then she put out an article that explains how many of the materials she does herself and how much hard work she puts in it and how real and authentic her countenance.
She even said it that kind of hate brought some sort of suffering and pain to her grandmother. And she stopped to make videos for a while at that time.
I was also very shocked and very angry as an audience of her, and also as a person who also takes a lot of time making articles and videos about China.
So I think it's important to stand up and speak about this topic and share with you guys my angle. I will answer these questions through the following three points.
1. Who is Li Ziqi?
Li Ziqi (李子柒) is a Chinese food and country-life blogger and internet celebrity. She is known for creating food and handicraft preparation videos in her hometown of rural Pingwu, Mianyang, Sichuan, often from basic ingredients and tools using traditional Chinese techniques.
She was using the most traditional method, the most traditional tools, but a unique perspective to present traditional Chinese dishes. As of 2019, she has over 7 million subscribers on YouTube, 21 million followers on Sina Weibo, and has inspired many bloggers to post similar content. There was no doubt, and now Li Ziqi is a global food media giant.
What is your immediate reaction toward Liziqi and her videos?
My first reaction is it's just incredibly beautiful; there are cute puppies, adorable grandma; there is excellent food, in a very beautiful setting and is quiet, very quaint. Also, she is just living in a very organic way.
She is a "Wonder Woman" in the eyes of her fans, as she can achieve what normal people cannot. Once again, she has shown people the styles of the Han and Tang Dynasty of ancient China and let them know more about what life in the countryside is like.
She also enables people to experience life in the countryside, which contemporary Chinese people strive for.
Many have claimed that Li Ziqi’s story is almost too good to be true. While she now admits to working with one videographer and one assistant, she claims all the early work was created by her alone.
Li Ziqi is not the only food vlogger attracting millions of views all over the world. Li Ziqi’s videos are beautiful, and it’s very easy to lose hours lost in the idyllic setting of rural China and the traditional way of doing things.
She did not have a happy childhood like most of the children. When she was little, her parents got divorced and his father died early. Then, she started living with her grandparents. Their life was poor, but it was also relatively stable.
Li Ziqi’s grandfather was a cook working in the countryside. When there was a ceremony going on, be it a wedding or a funeral, her grandfather would be in charge.
In the videos, she showed how to cook various dishes, which she had learned from her grandfather. Besides cooking, she also learned how to make bamboo baskets, fishing, growing vegetables and doing carpenter work from her grandparents.
She has a seemingly vast knowledge of the traditional craft, foraging and cooking, and her videos are watched millions of times around the world.
From making traditional bamboo furniture to raising baby ducklings so she can make a sauce from salted duck eggs, Li Ziqi has a rural skillset that would put even hardened western survivalists to shame.
“What you admire as life skills may just be someone else's survival instinct." - Li Ziqi.
At the age of 14, when most of the kids of the same age went to middle school, Li Ziqi dropped out of school and tried to support herself by doing various jobs. She has not been treated well, nor was her fate particularly good at the initial stage of her life.
She struggled much to survive – she starved, slept in a cave under a bridge, worked as a waitress, an electrician, sold Hanfu, and she even worked as a DJ (disc jockey) at a nightclub. However, after working for many years, it became clearer to her what she really wanted.
In 2012, her grandmother had a serious illness. Li Ziqi decided to give up everything and return to her hometown so that she could take care of her grandmother. The life at hometown was relaxing. She started work early in the morning and returned home late. Like other farmers who earned their living on the farm, she was living an ordinary life in the countryside.
She was awarded the People's Choice Award by the People's Daily newspaper in September 2019 and CCTV praised her and stated, "Without a word commending China, Li promotes Chinese culture in a good way and tells a good China story."
2. Why so many people from all over the world like Li Ziqi?
The second point, why do so many people around the world, including me follow and like her content? My answer is quite simple. I think what Li Ziqi delivers is a pure and natural life that is so accessible and constructed - out of the context of industrialization by the technology and advanced societies of Europeans and Americans.
Why do you think she is able to get 7.5m followers on Youtube?
I think she does it very well, and her movie is just very well made, can tell you that puts a lot of thought and time into making them. And there is this mysterious girl, you don't know her story, you don't know much more about her, but she was just living quietly. So those are very interesting, the most important is her lifestyle is really idealized in the young generation in America and Europe.
She lives a very minimalist life. Usually, when we talk about minimalism, we think of an interior design or maybe your clothing style, but the actual movement of minimalism in the west is becoming increasingly popular among young people. It hits my heart. I know it takes hard work, but it is a simple way of living, it away from all the noise we encounter now.
In the last three years, when I put all my life with my team to try to learn about what kind of content we can talk about and explore the real China. And we watched, analyzed thousands of videos about China, and we found out most of them just talked about the epic Fast Bullet Trains, 5G, Chinese Tech, developed cities, food and express delivery, etc.
And it's like incredibly developed China and a lot of these videos are exciting, they're very alluring in some ways - all these videos that relate to technology, innovation, developed China. Although the stories may seem funny, these are not as popular as others because once you try to show them that China is all developed.
For a lot of audiences, they're like, "Yea, we also have that" or "Well, it's kind of cool." It's just something similar in their world. So that kind of viral impact or that new understanding of China lacks a bit of touch.
Majority reasons that, because the Western, they already have 300 years of the Industrial Revolution, they have already lived under this world for many years. And it's been part of their lifestyle. So when they see that China is like that it's not a big surprise. And for this reason, a lot of things that actually make people understand appreciate the culture are beyond these more like materialistic ways to explain a nation or culture.
Exactly the same thing is happening in Europe. A lot of people think of Europe as a place where there's innovation, a lot of smart people, and sometimes people say a lot of work. But in fact, a lot of people from America, from Australia, Russia, even India. When they come to Europe, the one thing that makes the most impressed is not all this incredible innovation technology and the lifestyle of the big city.
We know that there are many ancient small towns and villages in Europe. When they go to our most simple way of living, it's communities where everyone shares everything. Everyone lives in a simple sharing lifestyle in small communities in these beautiful areas. And everyone is so happy, and this is what leaves the biggest impact on people traveling to Europe.
The main reason I think why Li Ziqi is very popular is that the world she lives in, the water she shows, the food she makes, is completely different than a lot of your audiences' world.
The more industrial service-based economies living in big cities, big industrial cities, and their families used to a certain lifestyle that is in many ways, high pressure, high expectation, and not many ways out.
Therefore, when we watch these kinds of videos, it's kind of that space in our heart that tells us, "Wow! it's this way of living that we really are made for." We are actually jealous in some ways wanna step out of this extremely high-pressure society that we live in. See yourself in there. See yourself running out of this high-pressure world of competition, of money, of greed.
I think many people that don't have any clue about what Chinese people are about. When they see for the first time a video like Li Ziqi pre-modern or anti-Industrial way of expressing the culture, touch what these people are really about.
There's no wonder that these kinds of videos are really the ones that are the number one on YouTube related to China.
And it doesn't happen only in China or Europe. I think many other places the most moving stories, the most real people, the way people who truly are born, think, and develop, come from this kind of society.
3. Li Ziqi's videos represent Chinese culture export?
The last question is even more important is that count as Chinese culture exportation?
As Li Ziqi said in an interview, "I am shooting about my imaginary life in the future." In an elegant traditional Hanfu, she appears in a place like Utopia, surrounded by a landscape with an old-fashioned attractiveness, all-natural ingredients, simple and practical cooking utensils, traditional yet retro cooking steps that fascinate her audience deeply. It helps to relax a lot of people who are living a busy urban life.
Her videos with an ancient style are very eye-catching, just like being washed by a chilly wind. The word "Traditional" describes her videos the best. No matter if it’s her dishes or handicraft works, she strongly emphasizes on "Tradition." Through her videos, she hopes to promote Chinese cuisine at an extraordinary angle.
All by her own effort, Li Ziqi has explored a whole new area of short videos – making delicious meals in an ancient style. Watching her videos may make you feel like traveling in a time machine as if a versatile, beautiful lady from ancient China has come to the modern Internet world. Her videos have also made her audience dream of "Taoyuan Meng" (the dream of Utopia) as well.
Some people might concern if this is the only video foreigner see, would that make them think China is just impoverished countryside?
I don't think she's poor at all, on the contrary, I admire her for being the richest person in the world (in spirit), and these are precious things that I can't take away from her video.
For example with Japan, we know japan has Tokyo and tones of people and high tech and robot, all these crazy fast lives, we also have this knowledge of where Japanese culture, where there are hills and ricefield and the countryside, I think of the studio of Ghibli animation of Totoro. They have the old temple, and that is part of their culture too. They are contrasting, but they come together very beautifully.
We love seeing the differences and shades of culture in a country. You know when we think of china, we know they are developing in a lot of different things. We know there are big cities and a lot of people and tech, but we rarely see the other shade of the culture, and so when we get a peek inside like that in Liziqi's video, we love it.
I feel like I have gotten a better understanding of Chinese culture, and where you guys came from.
There's a lot of haters who say that what she does caters stereotypes about China. They say that what she does makes people see China in a more undeveloped traditional way and not in a more new, cool and advanced way that they wish to.
And I think here there's a big problem among the Chinese audience because a lot of times when I'm in China I think people are very sensitive about traditional China and sort of developed new China.
People are trying to take traditional and modern separated, and think that everything traditional is old undeveloped and necessary and we want to ignore it. And everything developed and modern is cool, and that's what we're proud of. I think this has a big contradiction.
It doesn't mean that rural life is the stereotype of backwardness. If you have seen the video, everything she does, including furniture, bread, jam, soybean paste, and traditional clothes, are all purely handmade, using natural materials, without any new industrial products, that's a great thing.
Many foreign netizens have learned from it the infinite wisdom of the Chinese people, which belongs to the whole humanity, our precious wealth. Therefore, no matter what kind of culture, if want to make people understand, must first touch the hearts of the people.
Cultures like the Chinese culture and even the European culture, we come from thousands of years of history that shaped all of us. There is no way that we should ever try to take traditional and modern separated.
The only difference it does, the feelings that come through the audience about China could be different. When you watch something more traditional simple, you feel warm, you feel the family values, you feel that hard-working young millennia who is taking care of a grandmother.
You're feeling touched, feeling moved. You're feeling this is a unique way of living when you see a more developed side in modern China, and you might think like, oh, it's so cool. The more traditional side of China actually is much more accepted and loved by the foreign audience.
Not a bad thing to love cultures, history, or traditional or more simplistic side. It's actually a blessing. It is no need to just look for a dimensional super developed, super-advanced side of yourself or a country.
We all need to have more multi-dimensional sides. And when we are talking about China culture export, it's a more multi-dimensional China. This is the most important message I wanted to make in these videos is that we should all work together to make thousands more of multi-dimensional Liziqi.
We live in such a complicated world that's full of misunderstanding and stereotypes. This is definitely a way to show China to the world.
Her fans praise that her videos are like a "Clear Stream" in the Chinese short video industry in 2017. Li Ziqi, with her hair, often tied up as a bun and in her rough hanfu clothing, running around in her field and makes use of the harvested fruits, vegetables to transform them into various traditional Chinese dishes.
For the people living in the cities, this would be like discovering the unknown and exploring an ideal way of life on the farm. People admire her, especially because she uses her own way to combine the elements of the ancient Chinese and the modern life, showing to her audience the traditional Chinese pastoral life and the process of Chinese food production. Her videos fully explain the Chinese people’s traditional concept of family, the Taoist thought of harmony between man and nature.
The most reason is we want to show you a real and comprehensive Li Ziqi, and China.
We have so much stuff in modern society, and now we realized really want we want for our being. Because you can imagine that kind of lifestyle that you don't have to wake up and look at your phone 100 times a day. You don't have to be in all these businesses, constantly walk really fast, go catch the bus and subway.
It just connects you to the root. I think in our heart, it really calls our us to go back to our roots, and her video kind of does that for us.
Because our team does it for so many years, and I follow her for so many years, I want to come up and speak for as my duty to come up and say something about it. And I hope you also have a good take away from this article.
If possible, please repost this article to make more people see and support her, but also support a multi-dimensional culture export of China.
And let us know what you think in the comments. Don't be political please, it's not political things. It's just really about culture, and culture is neither good nor bad.
Finally, thank you very much for taking the time to read and have a good day!