SUBSCRIBE TO CHINA
A Rising Phenomenon
Papi Jiang, a 30-year-old living in Beijing, is a phenomenally popular online celebrity. Born Jiang Yilei, Papi Jiang began uploading short, funny and original videos in October 2015 and quickly shot to stardom. Jiang plays a variety of characters in her videos, which use sarcasm to cover a wide range of topics including trends, everyday life, and social relations. Her snarky style has resonated strongly with netizens. For example, just before this year’s Spring Festival in late January, she released a video titled “To Some of My Annoying Relatives.” In the video, Papi Jiang mocked “unbearable” Chinese relatives who pry with too many personal questions during the annual family reunion, which went viral on Chinese social media.
Actually, Papi Jiang has attracted the public spotlight on several occasions. In March 2016, she secured venture capital of US$1.74 million. The next month, a bidding war between potential advertisers lifted the price tag for the ad at the end of her videos to US$3.2 million. Papi Jiang has more than 23 million followers on Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter, and her videos have been watched hundreds of millions of times.
Papi Jiang is just one of many Chinese online celebrities. In a country that is home to more than 1.3 billion people, popular websites and social media platforms such as Sina Weibo and WeChat, which each boast hundreds of millions of users, offer a big stage for this new wave of talent.
Online celebrities (wanghong in Chinese) refer to people who attract fans primarily through the internet and social media and eventually become opinion leaders and media figures. Generally speaking, China’s internet celebrities fall into three categories: The first group consists of mostly fashionably-dressed young women who earn money by promoting products to their followers. These women are usually related to one of China’s e-commerce companies such as Alibaba’s Taobao. The second group consists of performers on live streaming sites. Against a range of backgrounds, the performer either sings, dances, plays games, tells jokes or even eats. The third group is people who create original online content, like Papi Jiang.
The third group had been comparatively small, but when Papi Jiang secured her first venture capital and monetized her product in 2016, the development drastically changed the online celebrity landscape in China. This year, a wave of online celebrities offering “real content” has emerged. In the past, when people thought of online celebrities, images of porcelain-faced young women usually popped into their heads. “Papi Jiang is changing that image and transforming the wave of online celebrities into a cultural and economic phenomenon,” opines Da Shan, founder of Today’s Online Celebrity, a WeChat public account devoted to analyzing China’s online celebrity economy. “Today, you could call anyone with a huge following on the internet an online celebrity.”
A Real Business
Reaching for fame is nothing new in China or the rest of the planet. However, in recent years, the huge commercial value of online celebrities has finally crystalized in public minds, resulting in more professionals, investors and agencies entering the lucrative market.