SMITH BRAIN TRUST – Li Ziqi is recognized as China’s second most influential video blogger.
From her rural Sichuan Province home, the 29-year-old produces and posts videos through which she demonstrates such ancient skills as embroidery, movable-type printing, dyeing cloth and making furniture. She also has produced paper from tree bark, made brushes from rabbit hair and demonstrated making tofu, among other handicrafts and techniques traditional to China.
Wearing long braids and traditional dresses, she reflects the self-sufficient lifestyle of ancient Chinese people. Her appeal – a soothing diversion for many from hectic, urban living – is strong. It’s reflected by her 6 million-plus YouTube subscribers and her 18 million Weibo (China’s Twitter) followers.
However, when she recently captured a People's Choice Award from People's Daily, the largest newspaper group in China, not everyone was pleased. Her critics have suggested that Ziqi, perhaps cynically for lucrative ad revenue, is catering to a sort of archaic, reclusive Western stereotype of China culture. In effect, they say, what she is depicting, is “not the real China.”
Maryland Smith’s Amna Kirmani frames the Li Ziqi phenomenon differently. “Her videos reflect a high level of authenticity and come off as awe-inspiring, says Kirmani, the Ralph J. Tyser Professor of Marketing at Maryland Smith. “These are key ingredients for tapping into an influencer economy that is growing very strongly in China and worldwide. And it’s far from hitting its peak.”
“You can draw a strong comparison of Ziqi to someone like Martha Stewart, but with Ziqi exhibiting a much higher authenticity level,” Kirmani adds. "And her lifestyle promotion is similar to the increasingly popular 'farm-to-table' movement in the United States which is not likely to be criticized for inauthenticity.”
In regard to cultural stereotyping, “Ziqi, if anything, is countering an American-held stereotype of China in terms of the ‘Made in China’ catchphrase including the negative connotation of cheap labor that’s producing goods and exports,” Kirmani says. “In this way, she is improving Americans’ perception of China.”
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