A leading Chinese livestreamer, Li Jiaqi, has emotionally apologized following an online altercation that has rapidly spread across virtual platforms. The controversy arose when Li challenged a viewer’s commitment to hard work over their ability to afford his product. This heated exchange has spotlighted the persistent economic difficulties confronting workers in China, including record-high youth unemployment rates, a dip in export demand and lukewarm consumer expenditure.
Li Jiaqi, boasting a immense following of 76 million on Taobao’s livestreaming platform, enjoys considerable fame as one of China’s most influential internet celebrities. A sales maestro, he once outsold Alibaba founder, Jack Ma, by shifting 15,000 lipsticks in just five minutes, thereby earning the sobriquet “China’s lipstick king”.
The dispute was initiated when a viewer objected to the price tag of 79 yuan ($10.80) for an eyebrow pencil from Florasis, a domestic Chinese brand promoted by Li during a livestream. Commenting on the complaint, Li contended that the product’s price hadn’t changed in years and challenged the viewer’s work ethic and their salary growth. The remarks quickly gained traction on social media, with many criticizing Li’s words as being inconsiderate and insensitive for those grappling with economic instability.
Critiques poured across social media, condemning Li’s perceived disregard for the financial hardships currently endured by many Chinese workers. Some joined the fray, highlighting the gross disparities in income between celebrities and the average Chinese worker whilst others accused Li of forgetting his humble beginnings and chastised his patronizing reprimands towards his own customers.
The state of China’s economy – with rising joblessness and plummeting consumer and producer price indices – accentuates these challenges. The public outcry prompted Li to apologize, admitting that his comments had indeed been ill-advised and inappropriate. However, even with his apology, the scandal escalated, costing Li 1.1 million followers on Weibo, China’s social media platform, reducing his total following to 29.3 million.
The discussions have snowballed, probing into various aspects of Li’s life, including his personal earnings, mental health and even what the disputed 79 yuan represents for the average Chinese citizen. As the topic “Li Jiaqi and work burnout” trended, speculation arose about whether work stress had sparked Li’s outburst.
Li issued another apology during a live stream, expressing his regret and asserting that he shouldn’t forget his roots. Despite his tearful regret, criticism from some quarters continued unabated while others, such as Hu Xijin, former editor-in-chief for Global Times, urged for forgiveness, noting the pressure faced by those on live broadcasts daily and warning against a culture of intense public criticism.