Dive into the stories of 2 Chinese short-video influencers with 32 million fans | GRR x Following the yuan
They became a confidant for fans to vent their frustrations in life: the loneliness experienced during illness, regrets about marriage and lives tethered by their children.
In today's newsletter, Your Ginger River collaborated with Yaling Jiang, the author of Following the yuan. Together, we explore the story and share our thoughts on "scholar" (Xiūcái 秀才) and "A smile that overwhelms a city" (Yī Xiào Qīngchéng 一笑倾城), two short-video influencers who went viral on Chinese social media platforms this summer.
We discussed the rise of these two influencers (who had a combined 32 million fans on Douyin before one of them got canceled), reactions from the youth, and what we think this phenomenon means.
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The rise of influencers targeting at senior citizens:
In his thirties, a Chinese man tends his flower field. When you catch him by surprise, he smiles, slicks back his hair, and serenades you with a melody.
Such heartwarming videos have charmed millions of middle-aged to elderly women in China, earning 'Scholar', the man’s stage name, over 12 million fans on TikTok’s Chinese sister app Douyin since 2020. According to a third party data platform Chanmama, nearly 87% of whom are women.
In the comment section of Scholar’s social media account, some Dama (elderly women) express admiration like "Internet handsome boy, how are you so good-looking?" while others offer genuine blessings like "Wishing you happiness every day, with beautiful songs and memories." However, the majority are caring messages akin to those of an elder sister or mother, urging him to eat well and enjoy life.
One ardent 72-year-old female admirer traveled 1,700 km from the northeast Jilin Province to eastern Anhui Province to meet him. When questioned by a bystander, she passionately responded, “I just have to see him.” Another 62-year-old female fan reported online that she rewarded ‘scholar’ 500,000 yuan online (about 68,000 U.S. dollars) and only chased tens of hundreds back when regretting later.
To everyone’s surprise, Scholar’s Douyin account disappeared on September 2. A Douyin representative told the financial publication Lanjing that the account had violated platform regulations and was subsequently banned.
On the same day, Jiupai Financial News wrote that an anonymous individual reported the influencer, whose real surname is Xu, to the Haozhou local inspection bureau of the State Administration of Taxation, resulting in action being taken.
Same as “scholar”, Yixiaoqingcheng, whose name means “a smile that overwhelms a city”, has also gone viral this summer. While “scholar” is followed by elderly female fans), “A smile that overwhelms a city” is chased by "Daye" (elderly male fans).
In the comments section of Yixiaoqingcheng, enthusiastic "Daye" fans leave straightforward comments like "Marry me; I love you so much," "You sly fox, you make my heart itch," or "I genuinely adore you," while some gentlemen prefer referencing classical literature or even writing acrostic poems to convey their affection.
The social impact and reaction from the youth:
While comparing the two influencers side by side, domestic entertainment media Domore observed that “A smile that overwhelms a city” maintains a lovely smile throughout nearly five hours of streaming, never showing a displeased expression even when losing a challenge with another livestreamer. In contrast, “scholar” is more straightforward and would directly ask for donations from viewers. His frustration is evident when he loses challenges.
Among the two, “scholar” had garnered more attention with his three iconic gestures – slicking back his hair, covering his mouth, and sticking out his tongue – which are described as “greasy” by the young viewers and mimicked on other short video and streaming platforms.
As media coverage elevated “scholar” to nationwide recognition a few months prior, younger individuals started joining in, primarily to poke fun at the fervent comments from his senior fans. Some even posed as elderly fans and left inappropriate comments, which might have contributed to the account's ban.
Discussing emotional needs remains a taboo in Chinese society, a sentiment passed from older to younger generations, says Zhou Xiaola, a Bilibili vlogger in a recent video commentary.
“What's striking about vloggers like 'scholar' is how they've uncovered the suppressed emotional needs that many Chinese have concealed throughout their lives," Zhou observed. "It seems discussing emotions is still a forbidden subject.”
The rise in 'scholar’s' popularity highlights a deeper societal issue: the unaddressed emotional needs of these women who have faced hardships and been confined to traditional gender roles all their lives. The comments they leave range from rose and kiss emojis (which the younger generation often mocks) to heartfelt confessions about family troubles, expressing how 'scholar' brings warmth into their lives, as seen in previous media report screenshots.
Personally, I think that the phenomenon around “scholar” is far more unique and significant than that of the female influencer. Culturally speaking, Chinese women have always been under the male gaze, so it wasn’t surprising that older Chinese men find a target they like online. But a popular idol for senior women? I haven’t seen that phenomenon since Taiwanese-American singer Fei Xiang (English name Kris Phillips) debuted at the Chinese Spring Festival gala in the 80s. The comments surrounding “Scholar” provide a rare insight into the psyche of women from rural areas who are more aligned with traditional societal roles.
Business-wise, it's crucial to understand what resonates with this particular demographic. While foreign brands are forever courting Chinese millennials, Gen-Zs and whoever the youngest generation is, I believe the two phenomena offer invaluable insights for brands aiming to connect with a senior audience.
The results of China’s seventh national census in 2020 show that China’s population aged 60 and above is 264 million, accounting for 18.7% of the total population. While a widely quoted number is that the total size of China's silver economy was approximately 5.4 trillion yuan in 2020, a recent report by China Research Center on Aging believes that the consumption potential of China's elderly population may reach 40.69 trillion yuan in 2050, accounting for 12.2% of GDP. Now, which businesses are going to win their hearts and wallets?
🎙️Jiang Jiang says:
I first came across scholar on Douyin, where several of the younger generation's videos amusingly poke fun at 'scholar' with the backdrop of a Jay Chou’s song. As someone who grew up in the '90s with Jay Chou's tunes, the song instantly struck a familiar chord with me. I later came across a video where “'scholar” himself showcased his signature moves to the very same song. Someone says it is a secondary creation because scholar’s own works normally use songs more familiar to older generations. But there was a surprising harmony in how it all came together, making me eager for more—even if some might label it as "boring."
In today's digital era, thanks to algorithms, we often find ourselves in our own personalized content bubbles. But creative content like this, which blends elements from different age groups, has the potential to break through these barriers. It's quite a sight, witnessing one generation getting a taste of another's world.
Yixiaoqingcheng hasn’t posted any new short videos since August 21 on Douyin. On August 30, an internet celebrity mimicked scholar’s (Xiūcái) signature moves, set to the tune of "Sòng Qíngláng", a song frequently used by scholar. This video garnered nearly 2,000 likes. Someone commented beneath the video: "一秀落，万秀生。When one Xiū falls, a thousand Xiūs rise."
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Read more about stories of the senior population in China: