Rural bloggers cultivate loyal followers on social media and boost income

Xinhua, August 28, 2020
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Rural China is now becoming the birthplace for the next generation of social media influencers, generating revenues for and promoting the development of villages, experts said this week.

"Rural China is giving birth to the next generation of internet celebrities," said Clayton Dube, director of University of Southern California (USC)'s US-China Institute, during a webinar titled Rediscovering the Chinese Countryside in the Age of Social Media.

During the current COVID-19 pandemic, with people stuck at home, many viewers in China and around the world have turned to videos made by farmers, rural couples, and enterprising youngsters for a respite from their stressful lives.

On the sideline of the webinar, USC's professor Han Li explained that one of the first that started this trend was Qiaofu Jiumei, meaning the 9th sister of a clever woman in English.

Her nephew, a college student with a degree in media studies, returned to her home province Guangxi and started the program by recording her everyday life before using short videos and social media platforms to sell products on the internet.

"Her character and personality allow viewers to connect with her, the video format is simple in quality, authentic, with an amateur feeling to it, as if she is genuinely trying to share her real life with the viewers," Li says.

Viewers watch as Jiumei plants and harvests vegetables, cooks local dishes, hangs out with her family and neighbors, and takes her wares to market. To date, she has 3 million followers on TikTok and YouTube, many of them from outside China.

"These viewers are attracted by the exotic rural environments that are very different from urban living, with their pleasing visuals, slower pace, harmonious family life and the ability to consume their products from a distance," says Li.

Dube points out that these types of blogs draw much of their appeal on Youtube for Western viewers as a form of "Orientalism "that relies on a more romanticized view of rural life in China and other parts of Asia.

"It's a utopian, timeless, apolitical image of rural, yet high-cultural, China," he adds.

Another unexpected side effect of the celebrity status of these rural bloggers is their growing power as market influencers.

By establishing an online communal sales portal for the fresh fruits and vegetables grown locally by other farmers from her village, Jiumei has been able to support her own family and make a fortune for her home village.

Meanwhile, they attract big Chinese internet companies which then lure them onto their platforms to capture their followers.

Dianxi Xiaoge, a young local woman living in Baoshan, China's southwestern Yunnan province, has enjoyed an even bigger bonanza from her homespun, bucolic blogs.

Unlike most of the other rural bloggers who rely on a more authentic, amateur style of camerawork, Dianxi Xiaoge, now with 2.4 million followers on TikTok and 5.8 million followers on You-Tube, specializes in highly-stylized, artistic and professional cinematography.

Capitalizing on the return to the global simpler life movement, Dianxi Xiaoge has built an even bigger brand for herself and attracted millions of devoted followers around the world, which generates enormous revenues for her and her web-provider, and at the same time helps promote the development of rural China.

The Chinese government has long been committed to eradicating poverty in China, promoting engagement of China's youth in rural affairs, and encouraging urban workers to return to rural provinces to help foster their economic development.

Over the past few decades, until rural bloggers came along, this had been an uphill battle, since rural living in China had acquired the stigma of poverty, unsanitary conditions, and the sad association of parents having to leave their children at home with grandparents to go off to work in the city.

But now that there is a real opportunity for enterprising farmers to become internet celebrities, things are looking up and more urban Chinese are heading back to their roots in their home provinces to try their luck.

Jiumei, who used to work in a noodle factory in the city before returning to her village, said in a recent interview, "I used to think only the very beautiful or handsome could become internet celebrities, but now a village woman like me can become one."