Li Ziqi (李子柒born 6 July 1990) is a Chinese food and country-life blogger, entrepreneur, 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.

Li started posting her videos on Meipai in 2015. As of 2020, she has over 9 million subscribers on YouTube, 22 million followers on Sina Weibo, and has inspired many bloggers to post similar content.

She was awarded the People’s Choice Award by the People’s Daily newspaper in September 2019. CCTV praised her and stated “Without a word commending China, Li promotes Chinese culture in a good way and tells a good China story”.

Li lives with her grandmother in the countryside of Mianyang in southwest China’s Sichuan Province. She was orphaned at a very young age. As a young adult she lived in the city, making a living by working as a music DJ. When her grandfather died, she moved back to take care of her grandmother. Initially doing all photography and editing by herself, as she gained popularity and experience, her recent online videos are produced using a personal assistant and a videographer.

Chinese state media joins rural life blogger Li Ziqi’s millions of followers

A woman from southwestern China whose YouTube video channel celebrating rural life is followed by nearly 7.5 million people has been hailed by state media for her role in promoting Chinese culture.

Li Ziqi, 29, from Pingwu in Sichuan province, started her video blogs on traditional food and crafts three years ago after giving up city life to return to the village where she was raised by her grandparents.

Li, who now looks after her grandmother, has a library of 100 videos that have been seen tens of millions of times by audiences across the world. Followers said she did more for selling Chinese culture than the Confucius Institute, the government-backed soft power promotional organisation with a presence in more than 100 countries.

She also has about 20 million fans on Weibo, China’s microblogging site, where a discussion about her contribution was started by network opinion leader Lei Silin on December 4 with an article that asked: “Why is Li Ziqi not exporting culture?”

He said that Li’s audience was on a par with global news networks such as CNN and she reached many overseas fans.

By noon on Tuesday, that topic had been viewed 770 million times and pulled in 63,000 comments, with most praising Li.

“She displays a happy, rustic countryside life and sends out positive energy,” said one user. “Watching her videos reduces my pressure and makes me feel comfortable and relaxed. The scenes in her videos are very beautiful.”

Another wrote that official media failed to send out appealing messages about Chinese culture, but Li’s videos did. “Whether you question her or not, what she shows is traditional culture,” the user wrote.

Others disagreed. “Li Ziqi only shows the underdeveloped aspect of China to foreigners,” one user said. “We Chinese don’t live that way.”

“She caters to foreigners’ outdated impressions of China,” another wrote. “It is a negative culture output.”

State broadcaster CCTV weighed into the debate on Tuesday. “Foreigners understand Li’s love and passion and that can explain why her videos are popular across the world although they don’t come with translations,” the network said.

“Without a word commending China, Li promotes Chinese culture in a good way and tells a good China story.”

Days earlier, People’s Daily – the Communist Party’s mouthpiece which gave Li its People’s Choice Award in September for her video about calligraphy – wrote on Weibo that the key to her success was that she expressed “the beauty of Chinese lifestyle which is pleasing to the audience and attracts people to come close”.

“The significance of these samples [of Li’s videos] should not be ignored,” it said. “Whatever kind of culture, if you want others to understand you, you must first touch people’s hearts.”

The discussion of Li’s role in culture exports came against a backdrop of questions about the effectiveness of China’s soft power.

“The Confucius Institute puts foreigners off it because it is backed by the Chinese authorities,” said Chen Duan, a data economy and communications expert from Central University of Finance and Economics in Beijing.

“China should avoid exporting culture in an intentional and official way. Instead, it should use soft ways, like individuals and online games,” she said.

Li Bochun, director of Beijing-based Chinese Culture Rejuvenation Research Institute, said Li Ziqi was helpful in promoting Chinese culture, but that traditional culture should not be the entire focus of China’s soft power pitch.

“After all, the traditional lifestyle Li Ziqi presents in her videos is a bit distant from modern life,” he said. “It’s not widely followed.

“China’s culture exports should explain how traditional culture is relevant to today and how it can solve today’s problems,” Li Bochun said.

By Alice Yan

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