LISTEN LIVE: BBC Newsday

Advertisement

 

On Point Presents: 'China's quarantine queen' from Endless Thread41:30
Download

Play

Hi everyone, it’s Meghna. We’re popping into your feed again on the weekend to play you another episode from one of WBUR’s podcasts, Endless Thread. That show hosted by Amory Sivertson and Ben Brock Johnson tackles unsolved mysteries, untold histories and other wild stories from the internet.

And today, we’re sharing with you a mystery about one of the biggest YouTube influencers in China, named Li Ziqi. Her pastoral cooking videos reached global audiences during the pandemic. And then … something interesting happened.

If you enjoy this Endless Thread episode, find the show on your favorite podcast app, and follow or subscribe.


While you were tending to your quarantine sourdough starter, Chinese YouTube star Li Ziqi was growing mushrooms, making peach blossom crowns and listening to the sound of blooming roses. Join Amory and Ben as they explore Li Ziqi, and why millions of isolated people worldwide have been drawn to the quiet intricacy and beauty of her videos.

Show notes

Support the show:

We love making Endless Thread, and we want to be able to keep making it far into the future. If you want that too, we would deeply appreciate your contribution to our work in any amount. Everyone who makes a monthly donation will get access to exclusive bonus content. Click here for the donation page. Thank you!

Story continues below

Subscribe to the podcast

Full Transcript:

This content was originally created for audio. The transcript has been edited from our original script for clarity. Heads up that some elements (i.e. music, sound effects, tone) are harder to translate to text. 

Ben: Amory, top three things you know about the Chinese internet... go.

Amory: The Chinese Internet? That makes me think that I must know nothing about the Chinese internet.

Ben: It's big, OK, it's different. It's different, and it's protected by what they call the Great Firewall.

Amory: Of, like, government surveillance?

Ben: Yeah. And control.

Amory: Mm hmm.

Ben: OK, so now let's do top things you know about the last two decades in China migration, wealth accumulation, have any thoughts?

Amory: Oh wow, you're hitting me and all my weak spots.

Ben: They're mine too. So it's OK. We're going to learn together.

Ben: How much do you know about the influencer who The New York Times has called the quarantine queen or Li Ziqi?

Amory: I know only that you have mentioned her to me.

Ben: Uh huh.

Amory: She's young, right? She's a teenager.

Advertisement

 

Ben: No, no.

Amory: OK. Then then also very little about this other question. 

Ben: 0 for three. That's OK, because I'm here to tell you about all these things with some help from people who are much smarter and wiser on these topics than me. And I want to tell you a story that I didn't really know myself until recently about this person whose popularity online and whose disappearance helps us, I think, understand a little better all of the things we just listed. And maybe also gives us a snapshot of current online culture in China and what the future of online communities across the world might look like.

Amory: Wait, she disappeared?

Ben: I'm Ben Brock Johnson, and you're listening to Endless Thread.

Amory: Ho ho okay. It's like that. I'm Amory Sivertson and we're coming to you from WBUR Boston's NPR station.

Ben: OK, before we go further, Amory, we need to start, I think, with probably the most calming thing you have done on the internet in weeks. Are you ready?

Amory: Oh yeah.

Ben: So I want us to watch this... for YouTube, at least... extremely slow moving, long set of videos. Are you ready?

Amory: (narrates herself watching the cucumber video and the sweet potato video) OK, there’s a young woman who is sawing some bamboo. And now she’s tying a bundle of bamboo sticks together, and stacking a bunch of bundles of bamboo sticks. Ok, this is the good s***: the time-lapse camera that shows what she’s planted, which I’m guessing are the cucumber plants — growing, sprouting out of the ground. Oh my god, she sticks her fist in — it’s very satisfying. Her hand has disappeared into the jelly. “Stretch the starch dough.” Oh, that’s really satisfying. This is so much work. "Let the dough run through the sieve to make noodles." Holy s***. She’s hanging these ribbon-like noodles out to dry.

Ben: All right, Amory, what do you think?

Amory: I think she has achieved a level of culinary magic and farm-to-tablehood that I can only aspire to. And that was like. It's, you know, it's one of those gives you super appreciation for where our food comes from. Because she's doing it all, she's growing it all. And then she cooks that all. But yeah, that was that was thoroughly impressive.

Ben: What did it make you feel?

Amory: It just made me feel like. The meaning of life is just to grow things and make things and appreciate what we have all around us and the magic that is planet Earth. I don't know. It's like, these are the moments where I'm like, "Yeah, I should just run away to the mountains and grow all my own stuff." But it's also so much work.

Ben: Did you notice the number of views on the videos you watched?

Amory: No, you know, I didn't even didn't even look at that. Is it a bajillion?

Ben: Millions and millions and millions and millions of views.

Amory: Yeah.

Ben: So according to her YouTube channel, leads it, she has been posting there since 2017, but it wasn't until a few years later, which is around the same time I discovered her that she became a global phenomenon.

Yi-Ling Liu: 2019 is probably when she was really kind of becoming famous.

Ben: This is a woman I got in touch with who has written about Li Ziqi.

Yi-Ling: I'm Yi-Ling Liu and I'm a writer based in China, broadly. Currently in Hong Kong. And I write about the Chinese internet, and mostly interested in how it has kind of reshaped Chinese society and everyday life. 

Amory: Huh. So she’s writing about China but she’s living in Hong Kong?

Ben: Right. Which I think we'll get at in a bit. And Yi-Ling actually discovered Li Ziqi about a year before I did. I just got passed Li Ziqi’s youtube channel by a buddy of mine. We share a borderline unhealthy obsession with borderline dangerously spicy Sichuan food. And I got obsessed with her videos that way and then even more obsessed as her strange story played out. But Yi-Ling discovered her through a video interview from a Hong Kong newspaper called the South China Morning Post.

[Interview: Her life looks like one straight out of a fairytale. Li Ziqi impresses millions with her videos where she seemingly makes everything from scratch with her own two hands]

Yi-Ling: I remembered that the the title at the time said that it was an exclusive interview, like no one had spoken to her and they'd, like, cracked her mysterious persona. And I found that fascinating. Like, why is she so mysterious? Like, why can't other people talk to her?

Amory: So why can’t other people talk to her?

Ben: Well, you probably noticed in the videos, Amory, she doesn't talk very much at all in the videos, right? Like, she's very quiet. These are quiet videos, right?

Amory: Yeah.

Ben: I don’t think that’s always been super clear–why she's so reclusive. But stylistically, Li Ziqi practically never talks in her own videos. It’s just ethereal, traditional-ish Chinese music over the sounds of her gardening, chopping wood, cooking. And Yi-Ling thinks this is part of the influencer’s crazy popularity.

Amory: The fact that she doesn’t talk?

Ben: Yes.

Yi-Ling: she barely ever says a word. And these videos and so language isn't a barrier. It's all very visual. And so like that just translates very well. 

Amory: Translates to this international audience of millions and millions of people. That makes sense to me. But there's also this escape factor, too. Like she's not just popular because she doesn't talk. She's also showing this insanely perfect country living lifestyle.

Yi-Ling: I was just like, maybe I'll speak with her one day, which I think was a mistake. I should have just spoken to her then.  

Ben: Yes. A perfect country lifestyle which, Yi-Ling says is another factor in Li Ziqi’s meteoric rise in the last few years.

Yi-Ling: she touched on a pretty global nerve, which is this universal urban malaise. This kind of frustration with living in a world of not only burnout and kind of profit seeking driven machines, but also in recent years, a Coronavirus that is, you know, constraining everyone's in their homes. 

Amory: That is a much better way of articulating what I was trying to articulate before where it's just like, I don't know what I just watched, but it's the meaning of life.

Ben: I know, right? It's sort of perfect in this time of quarantining, right? — that we would gravitate to somebody outside in nature. Nature is healing, right, and Li Ziqi... she is in that nature, but she's also reclusive. She doesn't talk to anyone, really. She doesn't really talk in her videos. She's like the polar opposite of the Bo Burnham special -- like, he's babbling in a room by himself about sending photos of his genitals on Instagram.

[Bo Burnham: (sings) You send me a peach, I send a carrot back. You send a ferris wheel; that’s pretty abstract.] 

Ben: And like, she’s gently harvesting and washing mushrooms and not saying a thing. Which again, during Covid resonates, right? But there's there's this other interesting factor to this, which is at least, according to some people, a big number of leads, which is millions of followers, are not all from the country. They're city people.

Carwyn Morris: Li Ziqi is this intriguing rural perspective in a phenomena that is somewhat urban or somewhat centered in, yes, more urban environments.

Amory: Ok, so who’s this?

Ben: I’ll let him tell you.

Carwyn: My name is Carwyn Morris. I'm a postdoctoral researcher at the Manchester China Institute, University of Manchester. I am currently based in London and I am the adoptive father of two cats. 

Ben: So presumably while ensconced among his cat children, Carwyn has studied Li Ziqi. But he’s also looking in this bigger way at this potent online and offline mix of, shall we say, ingredients.

Carwyn: Internal migration, food, instant messaging groups and activism. And then I kind of look at that across what I might call digital geographies, like thinking about digital territories and sovereignty and the internet. It's a bit of a mishmash of stuff, but I take a spatial approach to the internet and it sort of comes together in my writing–when I can ever manage to publish anything.  

Ben: Carwyn seems to see Li Ziqi as in some ways this thoroughly Chinese influencer who has transcended China. Which in turn has also changed how she presents online.

Carwyn: There's a positioning of her as a sort of  person who is famous outside of China. She has some sort of foreign flavor and some foreign popularity. She's often described as the most popular Chinese language YouTuber in the world.

Amory: It’s interesting to hear all of this after watching what I just watched — and truly not looking at the view count — and then hearing, like,  "You just watched one of the most influential YouTubers in China, which is a massive country that could swallow your own!"

Ben: Yeah, yeah, totally. And a big part of this popularity is the sheer beauty and perfection in her videos. These things are objectively undeniably gorgeous. She's digging around in the dirt, right? She's planting garlic or whatever, performing this really difficult manual labor. And yet she's got this amazing raven-black long hair, her outfits are all simple and perfect, and it's a full on vibe.

Advertisement

 

Ben: And Carwyn says that Vibe has resonated with a specific set of people, migrants and others who have left the countryside in the last decade or so and come to the city to find opportunity.

Amory: Hmm. Tale as old as time.

Ben: Right, but in China, it’s a tale that in the last few decades is especially true. There’s been this explosion of the middle urbanite class.

Carwyn: They've gone to these large cities to work. They're part of the rat race. They're hustling every day and they're utterly exhausted. And for some of these people, this idea of leaving the urban sprawl, the rat race, is very appealing. I think that's a global phenomenon, really. And this is perhaps why Li Ziqi’s videos are popular globally as well.

Ben: Carwyn says Li Ziqi shows the beat-down viewer tired of the rat race that a different way of living is possible. But like so many of us who have imagined a simpler life… he says Li Ziqi’s videos don’t necessarily inspire city workers to quit and buy a farm.

Carwyn: But they may in that case just be there to calm the urban worker. To think  at the end of the day when things are just not quite good enough anymore, you're at the end of your tether. Watching that video, having that calming effect might enable you to work for a bit longer. 

Ben: Carwyn's point about like having this calming effect on the viewer that enables you to actually go back to work — something about that really struck a negative chord in me. I really found that description from him to be like the most dystopian thing I had heard in a long time. People move from the countryside to work in the city, they get ground down, and on their lunch break, in their free time, to help them pull their nose back on the grindstone, they watch a little Li Ziqi.

Carwyn: But for anybody who has lived in rural China, they would know it's not, it’s not real. 

Ben: Tell me more what you mean by "not real."

Carwyn: They’re a montage at the beginning of a Disney film with the Disney Princess, really. You can imagine the this is the one of those videos is the beginning of the film, and then the person goes on. We realize the star of this video is actually a princess in the making or something will happen to her, and she will become the star of the film, right? So there is this sort of, yeah, Disney Princess-esque beauty, and the choreography of it all. 

Amory: She is filming this. You know, it's not just like she found out later, like, "Oh, you were watching me make my cucumber salad?!" So that was never lost on me.

Ben: Yeah. Well, I mean, you're smarter than I am. But let's talk about fame for a minute. Like, I think one of the interesting aspects of internet fame–and also maybe fame before outside of the internet is that it's often described as sort of someone or something arriving at the exact right time.

Amory: So what came before that has set up leaves it to go stratospheric in your mind.

Ben: A lot of things. Including instant noodles and video games. And Carwyn says, China has this really long – in internet years – history of internet celebrity. And one big bump in that history was the beginnings of connecting online celebrities with online merchandising or online branding.

Carwyn: A lot of early internet celebrities — I'm going to go for like the 2010s, when there were a lot of video focused internet celebrities — they were online gamers. They were streaming League of Legends, Dota 2, World of Warcraft, Counter-Strike, things like that online. And what they would have, they would have Taobao, the maybe, let's say, the Chinese equivalent of eBay mixed with Amazon. So they would have Taobao stores where they would sell pot noodles and they would sell mice and mouse pads and things like that. And that would be how they would get their income. 

Ben: All right, you with me so far here?

Amory: Yeah.

Ben: As her videos started to blow up, Li Ziqi also started to sell noodles online

Amory: Like, I can buy the noodles that she just made in that video?

Ben: You can buy them. But first of all, this isn’t that romanticized “I had no money so I ate Ramen every night” kind of noodle. This ridiculously perfect food. And it comes at 70-80 bucks for a couple of noodle packages. And this is part of her expansion as a global influencer brand with a fanbase that has some means. Li Ziqi’s backstory is a little convoluted. But she was supposedly making her videos by herself at the beginning, and eventually she got linked up with this influencer management company. Here’s the writer Yi-Ling again.

Yi-Ling: All I know is that the talent management company is based in Hangzhou, and it's huge. And so they they manage a lot of influencers in addition to Li Ziqi, but apparently Li Ziqi was kind of like one of their largest.

Ben: So as this influencer starts to really pop off, she’s got an online store, she’s got 27 million followers on China’s social media site Weibo, 17 million subscribers on YouTube to videos that get 40 million views a pop. She still looks the same in her pastoral bucolic setting, patiently making the most gorgeous food you’ve ever seen for the most intimate meals of all time. But there’s this kind of invisible machinery being erected around her.

Yi-Ling: So she was, I would say, over the course of 2020-2021, just like slowly rising and fame making a brand for herself, you know, creating this shop on Taobao, becoming a household name, being called "quarantine queen" by like a New York Times cooking writer. And then like around about, I would say, July 2021 she just kind of stopped. And when you build that brand up to like such a scale like people are going to start missing you. And so that's when I started paying more attention to her story. 

Amory: Oh, no. OK, so this is when she disappears and doesn't post anything else.

Ben: Yeah. Last summer, she disappeared. At least from the internet. And I'm going to give you a theory on why Li Ziqi, at the top of her game, went missing from the internet and her strange return... when we come back.

[SPONSOR BREAK]

Ben: OK, Amory, if you were to guess Li Ziqi’s background like her backstory before she became a Sichuan Province influencer, what would your guess be?

Amory: Well, she comes across as a mountain gal — of the land, for the land, knows all the mushrooms to pick. So I would say like, was raised by the cucumbers of the mountain.

Ben: Yeah, hahaha.

Amory: I'm close, right?

Ben: Well, so Li Ziqi was supposedly part of this massive migration in China that has happened over the last few decades. Have you been to China, Amory?

Amory: Oh, I have not. Someday.

Ben: So this year is is is the 20th anniversary of the only trip I've ever made to China.

Amory: Wow.

Ben: I went to the Great Wall as part of my trip. We were we were exploring the Great Wall in this sort of northwest region of China. You could say very vaguely. They took us down from the wall from this sort of official tour and walked us through a village in the valley below the Great Wall. And you know, these are farms with dirt floors. You know, this is like people with, you know, maybe their entire house is, I don't know, fifty square feet. They have one pig, right? In my limited, very limited experience. This is what I would say is sort of the most humble existence of all of humanity that I have ever witnessed personally. And the last twenty years has been part of this intense transformation in China, right? Like a lot of it has been effectively driven by capitalism. But a lot of it has been at the direction of the the Chinese Communist Party, which would probably say, "No, no, no, we're not capitalists. The People's Republic of China is a socialist market economy." Whatever you call it, it's the reason for a huge push in the recent past to get Chinese people out of the countryside and into the city. And it's done this through sort of public relations campaign pushing, among other things, a lot of opportunities for migrant workers. And Yi-Ling says this push worked.

Yi-Ling: When we see the rising skylines, you know, in Shanghai and just like the highways and you know, all that kind of like trope images that we think of when we think of China's growth, so much of that was fueled by the millions — hundreds of millions — of migrant workers who moved kind of — it's called going out, right? — left home in search of better opportunities. But, you know, at a certain point in like a country's economic history, you just reap all the benefits of that growth. Like, the buildings have been built, the super highways have been built, and you know, the factories are now full and there is kind of a plateau. 

Amory: So Li Ziqi was presumably one of these migrant workers who decided the city was not for her, and she moves out west and buys a farm?

Ben: Right, so she starts in the countryside, she moves to the city and then she moves back to the countryside. And we don't know why she moved back, for sure, but, for a lot of the people who picked up and moved to the cities, this social divide popped up between migrant workers, people who are coming into the cities and locals. That's connected to this broader sort of view. Here's our internet-y geographer Carwyn.

Carwyn: The countryside in modern China has often been painted as a backward place. And to be from the countryside has almost been a slur of sorts. Or at least it's been a very derogatory term used against people. You're from the countryside, or you are you're a peasant. You don't know anything. 

Amory: The sort of country bumpkin sort of insult. But I'm having so many thoughts about this.

Ben: Go on.

Amory: Because, you know, to take a country way of living and give it a platform on the internet, is like a meeting of the worlds in a way that maybe the powers that be in China didn't expect to be so desirable or influential.

Ben: You're absolutely on the right track here. OK. And what's wild is that in China, I think it's fair to say the intensity of government control has also made for some whiplash, and in some ways, the government is grappling with this. Yi-Ling says that 2021 some more dramatic and drastic societal change than the previous five years. And back in the 1980s, the previous party chairman, Deng Xiaoping, had a mantra that was to get rich is glorious. So it was all about the market economy moving into cities, you know, like this sort of thing. But under Xi Jinping, the new leader, the government now has has a different plan.

Yi-Ling: They have decided to shift years and realized that in the wake of kind of huge rural urban socioeconomic inequality, the move is now to clamp down on kind of uninhibited growth. To clamp down on kind of a capital run amok and to ensure the "common prosperity of all." 

Ben: OK. So Yi-Ling never got to interview the massively popular Chinese pastoral princess, the quarantine queen. But she feels like she didn’t miss out, either.

Yi-Ling: Basically when I started wanting to write about her, the story was unfolding. 

Ben: Li Ziqi’s silence on her various platforms got a ton of attention. There were reddit threads. Conspiracy theories. A number of them referenced a history in China, starting with a far reaching wipe of influencers off the internet about ten years ago.

Carwyn: Many of the large influencers who had built  up large followings and arguably larger power bases, at least to influence the discourse within society, found their accounts banned or suspended and their platforms taken away. And then things have evolved slightly under Xi Jinping. One of the first things that Xi Jinping did upon coming into power was to say to the media, "You need to support the party." And since then, there has been a growing  party influence over a variety of new forms of media.  

Ben: Even as this influence has happened, Amory, the internet in China has also just kind of gone bonkers in its scale and popularity.

Amory: And presumably, or maybe it's not fair to presume this, but maybe gone rogue as well?

Ben: Yeah, well, it's unwieldy, right? It's insanely popular and you know, people become insanely popular on the Chinese internet, very fast. Over the last 10 years, U.S. tech companies and social media companies have tried to gain a strong foothold there, but they haven't had much success. And these homegrown companies like ByteDance, which owns TikTok, have exploded, as have influencers in China.  And so more recently, even in the last six months, there has been another spate of influencers getting wiped off of the internet in China for reasons that people have speculated have to do with not being in alignment with the government's priorities.

Yi-Ling: Examples of people who have been gotten. There is this celebrity called a very famous actress called Zhao Wei, who just like overnight, all of her stuff disappeared off what Weibo, which is kind of like the social media website called China's Twitter. Like just any mention of her. She's like, It's like Angelina Jolie, just like disappeared off Twitter, kind of.

Ben: Scrubbed, fully scrubbed. 

Yi-Ling: Exactly, exactly. 

Amory: So I’m guessing Li Ziqi is one of these influencers getting disappeared from the internet?

Ben: This is where again I think the story takes an interesting turn. A few months after she disappeared, Li Ziqi came back. Posting a message to social media that was weird.

Yi-Ling: She put out some cryptic messages where she was like, "Capital is so annoying" or like, "Capital sucks." And like, posted a selfie of herself outside a courtroom. 

Carwyn: She replied to a comment on Weibo complaining about the dirty tricks of capital. She deleted the comment.  

Ben: What does that make you think of?

Amory: It's like a cry for help. You know, maybe not necessarily that she - I hope she's not in any physical danger — but it's like a -

Ben: So I think Amory a lot of people, including me, believed Li Ziqi had been effectively got by the Chinese Communist Party and reprogrammed. But our experts think it’s more complicated. Li Ziqi’s back-to-the-land brand actually lines up perfectly with the government’s goal of moving millions of migrants back into the countryside. And the comments Li Ziqi made online about capital seem to actually just be about a money fight she’s having with her influencer management company about who gets a cut of what from her growing influencer empire. That fight also lines up with a recent Chinese Communist Party theme of distrusting tech and influencers. So the Government seems to be maybe throwing its support behind Li Ziqi, and Li Ziqi might actually be cool with that because it lines up with her own needs right now.

Carwyn: Because there's been a broader push back against maybe toxic or unethical or using the word that is coming in for Chinese vulgar influencers and celebrities and the companies that are managing them. This would show that  they are supporting the average person, the average rural person, the self-made woman, in the face of the exploitative capitalists and the exploitative companies.  

Ben: And Yi-Ling says Li Ziqi knows this. And understands the way that China’s influencer economy is fundamentally unique.

Yi-Ling: I guess the the key difference between the Chinese internet ecosystem and the one it's in the United States is that it has to respond to the state, right? But both of them, at the end of the day, respond to market logic. So there is they respond to the market, both of them. But in China, there's this kind of extra hot sauce of like state control.  

Amory: OK. Number one, you got to love a hot sauce reference in a story about an influencer from the Sichuan Province.

Ben: Right?

Amory: But number two, this is so confusing. It's like, make up your mind. Do you want people in the country? Do you want them in the city? You want them back in the country? Do you want them to be successful? Not too successful. Like rein it in, you know?

Ben: They literally have a points system for living in a city for being effectively allowed to be a permanent resident of a city, and you have to score points in order to be a local. And so Li Ziqi might not be being forced to be a mouthpiece for the government. She's actually she's sort of like evolving her influencer status and she is opting in.

Yi-Ling: My interpretation of it obviously hard to tell who's coming in and saying, what is that? She read the winds quite shrewdly. And like, I don't think she did anything that deserved punishment if anything like she was following the book, like pretty closely. And she just decided, Hey, like all these influencers are getting axed, maybe I should like do my extra bit and stand up and say, like, I actually don't want to be an influencer. That's like the, you know, shrewd political reading of it. 

Ben:  The new influencer move is to refuse that they're an influencer.  

Yi-Ling: Exactly. 

Amory: So I think that you’ve given us a good sense of this one influencer’s story. But you promised something about the future of the internet.

Ben: Yeah I did. So For Carwyn’s part, he thinks Li Ziqi is maybe representing the end of an era.

Carwyn: Actually, on Douyin, Chinese Tik Tok, Li Ziqi’s videos are all very short. I wonder, I guess, if Li Ziqi has come along at a time when this form of the medium is at its peak. 

Ben: Yi-Ling is doing a lot of thinking right now about the history of China's internet again, and about what that tells us about where we're headed next.

Yi-Ling: I've been starting to kind of place Li Ziqi in the context of kind of influencers of her clout in the last 20 or so years of the history of the Chinese internet. 

Ben: The female internet celebrity, says Yi-Ling, has had several different eras.

Yi-Ling: China's first internet celebrity was a migrant worker from Shanxi, who became famous for kind of trying to get into like big city universities and posting these like lewd, provocative videos of herself dancing in cities. 

Ben: So there we've got this person who is headed to the city and letting loose. That's what her influencer personality is about to the young generation that was chasing wealth and opportunity and freedom in the urban landscape.

Yi-Ling: She was like popular among university students who were just like, Wow, this woman is so bold and provocative and crass and vulgar. 

Ben: Then you have a new female cultural identity emerge in China. It matures a bit, graduates, but stays in the city.

Yi-Ling: And then fast forward to 2016-2015, which I think of as the kind of height of the influencer economy. You have a woman named Poppy, who was huge, and she put out these very short videos, mostly on Weibo. She was like the Shanghai urbanite — fast talking, very smart, kind of like stand up comedy, but online — who like poked fun at like, you know, like misogyny in everyday life. And just like the daily grind of being a white collar worker. 

Ben: And now…

Amory: ... We’ve got Li Ziqi.

Yi-Ling: Who is this like largely silent, ASMR-esque pastoral princess living in the countryside. And so like that trajectory, and those reincarnations, you can really apply them to lots of different facets of the internet — kind of the Wild West to the like highly controlled, gorgeous positive energy garden. That is a narrative that I have been seeing again and again, specifically when it comes to China.  

Ben: And I think this tells us a little bit about the risen power of China, where the government’s priorities are also the priorities of its influencers. And the priorities of the influencers become the priorities of their followers. Which you can see in the comments on Li Ziqi's videos.

Yi-Ling: It's like a mix of like, oh look, here's a woman who like, has it all like, or "here's a woman who is like, independent and like, needs no man." And she's just out in the fields alone, like, making egg yolk pancakes. But then there's also like, "I wish I had a wife like her," you know? And so, there are definitely in the last, you know, 20 years has been a greater emphasis on like domesticity and the role of the women in bearing offspring and, you know, taking care of her husband and taking care of her children. And so I wouldn't be surprised if you know a part of it is, is that is that trend. And you know, I think also that trend is, to a certain extent, global.

Ben: Global in part because in the future, China, its internet, its government may be the trend setter. So Amory, are you ready to imbibe the positive energy garden on your lunch break from the rat race?

Amory: You know what I have in my refrigerator right now, Ben?

Ben: What?

Amory: A cucumber.

Ben: I expect a 25-minute video of you slowly turning that cucumber into 20 different things...

Amory: We'll see how many different ways I can chop it and prepare it. Haha. Well thank you for this. This is fascinating. And yeah, I'm going to spend the rest of the day watching her videos.

Ben: Cool.

Amory: Hope you didn't need anything else from me, right?

Ben: No, no. You're good.

Amory: Great.

Ben: Yeah. Just as long as it helps you work longer later.

Amory: Oh no. Dammit.

Ben: Endless Thread is a production of WBUR in Boston.

Amory: Want early tickets to events, swag, bonus content, my cucumber videos? Ben’s instant mushroom noodle packages? Join our email list! You’ll find it at wbur.org/endlessthread.

Ben: ALSO, do us two favors. One: leave us a review in your podcasts app. It helps other people find and love… or hate…but probably love…the show. And TWO: do the thing where the thing goes ding.

Ben and Amory: Do the thing where the thing goes ding.

Amory: What we mean by this is… FOLLOW or SUBSCRIBE to our show. Hit that little button so that when new episodes pop up, your podcast app of choice will tell you about it!

Amory: This episode was written and produced by Ben and Quincy Walters. We are co-hosted by us… Amory Sivertson …

Ben: And Ben Brock Johnson.

Amory: Mix and Sound Design by Paul Vaitkus and Emily Jankowski.

Ben: Special thanks to, and additional production work from, Dean Russell and Rachel Carlson.

Amory: Endless Thread is a show about the blurred lines between digital communities and the drug buffet from the video shoot of the worst rap video of all time made by a crypto enthusiast who is probably going to jail. If you’ve got an untold history, an unsolved mystery, or a wild story from the internet that you want us to tell, hit us up. Email endlessthread@wbur.org

Ben Brock Johnson Twitter Executive Producer, Podcasts
Ben Brock Johnson is the executive producer of podcasts at WBUR and co-host of the podcast Endless Thread.

More…

Quincy Walters Twitter Producer, WBUR Podcasts
Quincy Walters is a producer for WBUR Podcasts.

More…

Advertisement

 

Advertisement

 
Play
Listen Live
/00:00
Close