As the No.1 Chinese Youtuber, Li’s village-life videos attracts tens of millions subscribers and are even changing world’s views on China’s massive urbanization process.
If she never make videos recording her countryside life, she might have been an average village girl making a living through doing handicrafts or being hired in a nearby rural town factory. Now, as the founder of her media enterprises, she has won 20.77 million followers on Chinese social media platform Sina Weibo, 7.43 million subscribers on YouTube and more around the world.
Li’s Pastoral Life
Her life changes from going home. In 2012, Li decided to stop being a migrant worker in big cities and returned to her hometown, a remote village in Southwest China’s Sichuan Province, to look after her grandmother. She began to take videos showing her rural life in 2016.
Dressed in traditional Chinese-style clothes and having long straight hair, she seems gentle and quiet. People can easily buy factory-produced soy sauce in stores and supermarkets, but she chooses to make the condiment herself, starting from planting the soy bean in the earth. From food to furniture and cosmetics, Li has amazed netizens with what she can do and how she does it. “She is my favorite YouTuber, chef, artist, gardener,” a subscriber called Corazon Cestona commented.
Li appears to have an ancient agricultural life while living in modern times. Tilling farm land and spinning and weaving were two major features of Chinese agricultural society in ancient times. The dependence on nature nurtures Chinese people’s affection for natural scenery and promotes the philosophy of living peacefully with nature.
The beauty of Li’s videos is rooted in the revival of the ancient relationship between human beings and nature. Foreigners may say that her life is like a fairy tale. There is another word for it in Chinese culture. She is like a recluse who lives an ideal Chinese pastoral life, which is something that featured in ancient poems and paintings. In the ideal rural life, people had a materially and psychologically satisfying life through farming and had enough leisure time to pursue hobbies, while also avoiding the difficulties of other kinds of lives.
The Perfect Lifestyle
Li gave a very modest answer in an interview when it was suggested that her success was inspiring. “What I do is just record my life, or put it this way, the life I want to live,” Li said.
According to YouTube channel analytics tool Noxinfluencer, Li earns an estimated 1 million US dollars a year from uploading videos on the platform. She has made a great success of realizing the immense commercial value from making videos.
Xu Lixia, a Chinese video blogger who also uploaded videos of cooking Chinese food in a village on YouTube, told the Global Times that Li’s videos are perfect in terms of filming and cooking. “Her contents are so diverse and really fascinating. She is living a life everyone dreams of,” said Xu.
Her success has inspired other media practitioners to try the genre of recording life in rural areas. She has set up a model for the newcomers but still stands on the top position. —edited from Global Times
Li Talks About Her Stunning Videos
In one of Li’s videos, she picks flowers on horseback in a red cape, evoking the image of Red Riding Hood. In another, she builds a bamboo furniture set using traditional Chinese techniques. While the videos have a cinematic quality to them, it’s her deep knowledge of food, nature, and Chinese culture that impresses viewers. She appears to make everything from scratch, going as far as hatching baby ducklings and raising them just to make a sauce from egg yolk.
Li rarely speaks in her videos, and when she does, it’s in the local dialect of her home province, Sichuan. She also seldom gives interviews. But in an exclusive interview, she opens up to us about her life, craft and early struggles as a one-woman band.
“In today’s society, many people feel stressed,” Li says. “So when they watch my videos at the end of a busy day, I want them to relax and experience something nice, to take away some of their anxiety and stress.”
Li grew up with her grandparents in a rural part of Sichuan province in southwestern China. She says she moved in with them after her stepmother mistreated her. When she was 14, she went to the city in search of work, but she decided to return to the countryside in 2012 to take care of her grandmother.
“When I worked in the city, it was about survival,” Li says. “Now when I work in the countryside, I feel like I’m truly living.”
Li’s videos depict her and her grandmother as they go about their daily lives in their modest home. She is often seen preparing elaborate meals for her grandmother using basic ingredients and traditional techniques.
“I simply want people in the city to know where their food comes from,” Li says. “A teacher friend once told me about some students who thought rice grew on trees. ”
Indulge in Li’s Fantasy World
Li is part of a growing field of online video makers in China. The market is competitive, worth an estimated AU$9.42 billion and with a potential audience of hundreds of millions.
Video channels depicting rural life are a dime a dozen. One only needs to scroll through TikTok and Kuaishou, a Chinese video app, to find clips of people catching fish with their bare hands, farmers fashioning clothes from burlap sacks and campers going full MacGyver in the wild.
But while many of these videos are fast-paced and cut with quick edits, Li’s videos have an ethereal, cinematic quality to them.“I think this is just how things happened,” she says. “At first, when I did everything myself, I’d set up a tripod, film and then press stop. That’s why all my shots are on a tripod and don’t move, and that’s why my videos are still filmed this way.”
Her detractors question the one-woman-band premise, but Li brushes it off as sour grapes. Two years ago, she uploaded a behind-the-scenes video showing how she used to operate on her own.
Nowadays, she has help from a videographer/assistant, but she still directs all her videos. During the interview, which Li’s crew filmed, she did not hesitate to give precise instructions on which angle to shoot from and where to stand.
“I’ve always been the director of my videos,” Li says, “from what to film and how to film to how each shot is framed. Often, my videographer only knows what he’s filming on the day of the shoot.”The poise that Li displays in her well-polished videos belies a playfulness and spontaneity that only comes out when the camera is off.
While Li’s videos allow her audience to indulge in a fantasy world, many of the techniques she portrays are grounded in real-world knowledge and come from a genuine desire for the pastoral ideal. The only thing she has sculpted is her on-screen persona. “I’m just filming my life,” she says. “Or rather, I’m just filming the life that I want.”—edited from South China Morning Post
The world found joy in encountering Li Ziqi. Climate changes, bush-fires, air pollution and urban anxiety swallow simple happiness from families and workplaces. Li’s video fill in the holes of those vanity and emptiness by reviewing harmonious human lives back to the Garden Eden.
Edited by Joreal Qian