24 April 2019
Under the authorities' close watch, Papi Jiang has changed her cynical, free-wheeling style and fans have soon lost interest. Photo:
Under the authorities' close watch, Papi Jiang has changed her cynical, free-wheeling style and fans have soon lost interest. Photo:

The rise and fall of China’s top cyber celebrity Papi Jiang

Cyber celebrity Papi Jiang once saw investors lining up to offer her cartloads of cash. But last week a key investor announced its withdrawal after partnering with her for only a few months.

The 29-year-old graduate of China’s Central Academy of Drama, whose real name is Jiang Yilei, started posting her own comedy shows on social media in September last year.

She soon accumulated tens of millions of followers on her WeChat and Weibo accounts.

Luoji Siwei, an internet startup founded by Luo Zhenyu, poured 12 million yuan (US$1.74 million) into Jiang’s company in March, valuing the firm at 300 million yuan and catapulting her to become one of the most valuable online celebrities in China.

However, the internet sensation quickly ran out of steam in less than a year.

Her video blogs are no longer as widely circulated on WeChat or Weibo as before.

I admit I had been a fan of Papi Jiang and would watch her videos again and again.

However, as months passed, I felt her videos have become far less hilarious, and I have not watched them for quite a while.

Luoji Siwei got all its money back, according to reports from The Paper.

It’s believed that both parties have agreed on some key metrics, such as click-through rate and advertising revenue, and an exit option at the original price for the investor should Jiang fail to hit those targets.

Why did Jiang fall out of favor with her investors and fans within such a short period of time?

There are three possible reasons.

First, China’s internet celebrity or opinion leader economy is shaping up to become a bubble.

Many people are using social networking platforms to launch their entertainment career.

The lack of originality and intense rivalry for public attention and advertising clients are making the situation unsustainable.

Also, these internet celebrities are able to reach the masses and exert enormous influence on public opinion without being subject to government control like the traditional media is. The authorities are unhappy about that.

Over the last six months, the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SARFT) and the State Internet Information Office have tightened their oversight of these online shows and their stars.

It is said that individuals now have to obtain approval before doing live streaming, and all of their contents have to go through official censorship.

That has dealt a heavy blow to the industry.

Third, the SARFT has started to closely monitor the accounts of internet celebrities, and has warned them against making inappropriate comments or criticism of government policies. Those who insist on doing so may be held legally liable.

As a popular online opinion leader, Jiang is likely to have been subjected to close monitoring by the authorities and, as a result, is understandably conforming to official standards whether she likes it or not.

As she changes her free-wheeling style, her shows have become a bit of a bore.

Watch Papi Jiang on YouTube: (With English subtitles)

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Nov. 30.

Translation by Julie Zhu

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal columnist

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