What Happened to Li Ziqi, China’s Most Famous YouTuber?

Known for her idyllic farm videos, Li Ziqi may be tangled up in a business dispute.
September 20, 2021, 10:34am
li Ziqi YouTuber Influencer
Li Ziqi runs the most popular Chinese-language YouTube channel. Photo: Imaginechina via AP Images

The beloved Chinese internet star Li Ziqi is famous for capturing the tranquility of farm life, offering millions of viewers around the world an escape from the urban bustle.

But last month, Li found herself in a place unlike any she’s shown in her videos: a fluorescent-lit police station.

Without elaborating, the vlogger said she filed a police report on Aug. 30 and has not posted any new work for more than two months, fueling speculation of a legal dispute behind the carefree idyll of her videos.

Advertisement

“Sister Qi please update soon,” a fan said last week on the Chinese microblogging site Weibo, where she has more than 27 million followers. “Urgently need some comfort.” 

Followed by some 100 million people worldwide, Li has made videos showing the vlogger farming, cooking, and doing crafts in the southwestern province of Sichuan. The tranquil life she captured, while idealized, has resonated globally as many struggled with lockdown measures. (A New York Times restaurant critic called Li her “quarantine queen.”)

The 31-year-old has also been hailed as an ambassador for traditional Chinese culture. With 16 million subscribers, her YouTube channel is the most popular Chinese-language account. YouTube is blocked in mainland China. Her account on Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, is followed by 55 million. 

Li usually publishes a video every month. But she has not uploaded any newly produced work for more than two months. Her last video, posted in July, shows her making salt at a traditional workshop.

The unusual break has fueled speculation about the future of her influencer career, while fans at home and abroad are eagerly awaiting the star vlogger’s comeback. 

“It has been two months since you were gone,” a YouTube user commented in Arabic on Monday. “We missed your brilliant creations.” 

Advertisement

Li’s team has not clearly explained what was going on, but hinted that she had encountered some challenges. 

In an Aug. 26 Weibo post addressing the publishing halt, Li’s assistant said Li had “neglected many real-world problems” while devoting herself to content production, and the vlogger was taking some time to resolve the issues. She added that Li had not finished high school and needed to “study all kinds of knowledge and techniques.”

Since then, Li had been interacting with fans on Oasis, a smaller social platform she rarely updated in the past, while refraining from posting on her massively-followed Weibo account.

On Aug. 30, Li posted a photo of herself filing a report at a police station. In a reply to a comment under the post, she wrote, “Have asked lawyers to keep a record, this is so scary! Capital indeed has its good tricks!” “Capital” commonly refers to powerful businesses. The reply was later deleted.

Last week, in another Weibo post, Li’s assistant said the vlogger was dealing with a problem involving her own company and a third-party company, without providing details. 

These posts prompted rumors of a business dispute. Many financial bloggers have focused on Li’s minority ownership of a company named after herself. Hangzhou Weinian, an influencer management company that runs social media campaigns for Li and manages her food brand, owns 51 percent of Sichuan Ziqi Culture Communication, while Li herself has a 49-percent stake, according to business data provider Tianyancha

Li is the most valuable influencer managed by Weinian. Her signature instant snail rice noodles are so popular that the brand announced plans to build its own factories last year. 

Advertisement

Weinian this year received an investment from ByteDance, parent company of Douyin and TikTok.

Hangzhou Weinian did not respond to a request for comment sent through its website on Monday. 

Raised by her grandparents in rural Sichuan province, Li dropped out of school at the age of 14. She once made a living by working as a restaurant waitress and, later on, a nightclub DJ, according to a profile by People’s Daily

She went back to her hometown in 2012 to take care of her ailing grandmother and opened an online shop. In 2016, she started making short videos to help advertise the products. She said she used to do all the filming and editing herself, before recruiting a small team a few years later. 

Apart from the halt in publishing new videos, Li seems to be doing just fine, judging by her posts on Oasis. She has since last month posted photos of fresh vegetables she had just picked from the field, and of herself recording songs at a music studio and playing with bumper cars. 

Follow Viola Zhou on Twitter.