People’s Republic of Desire

In China, the Internet works on the basis of complex ecosystems connecting the online and offline entertainment, e-commerce, gaming, and gambling. During recent years, the Chinese have become captivated by live streaming, as portrayed in the “People’s Republic of Desire” documentary directed by Mr Hao Wu. Welcome to the bizarre world of the live streaming TV YY.com, a social network with 300 million registered users.

In China, live streaming has become an enormous social phenomenon over the last ten years. Its central figures are the hosts, who create and present their shows, often broadcast simply from their homes. In general, the shows have a simple content: singing songs, telling jokes, talking about the mundane, etc. During the online show, fans send their favourite hosts virtual flowers as well as other small gifts, which can be bought with actual money. The most successful show hosts are thus able to collect millions of yüan from hundreds of thousands of admirers. The modern gladiators of the virtual world compete against each other to win the favour of the general public and successfully monetize the social isolation of their viewers.

Until recently, Li, the anti-hero of the People’s Republic of Desire, led an entirely ordinary life: At the age of sixteen, he moved to Beijing from a village to work in a factory. Thanks to live-streaming, by twenty-five he has achieved everything a young Chinese man of his generation and social class can wish for: he has a wife and a child, a flat, a car, money, as well as the recognition of his extended family in his ancestral village. However, he is indifferent to all of it. What seems to matter most is to maintain his status as an internet comic,“a loser for losers”. Twenty-two-year-old Shen Man acknowledges how stressed she has become after a sudden success of her live-stream channel, with her entire family financially depending on her. Despite her fatigue, she continues to broadcast in return for money and gifts from her male admirers, counteracting their efforts to cross the boundaries of the virtual world into reality.

In 2018, livestreaming platforms in China have had an unbelievable 460 million users. According to the film’s director, Hao Wu, these are mainly young people: “Approximately 50% of the users are under the age of twenty-four, and only 10% are over forty. I think most are lonely young people from big cities or youth from smaller cities or towns with limited entertainment options.”

Contemporary China is a mixture of traditional Confucian values, tribal cohesion, a socialist societal structure, extreme individualism and superficial consumerism, with poor, underdeveloped rural areas as well as futuristic overpopulated megacities. Those who left their home village are not entitled to healthcare or education in cities, and their working arrangements and low pay make it impossible for them to take a leave, plan the future or think about retirement. In the accelerated Chinese world, change is the only constant.

Compared to their parents, the young generation has often grown up in relative material abundance, with mobile phones and the internet. They want to realize their Chinese dream, but their real lives frequently do not offer true fulfilment. The virtual world makes it possible for them to forget the absence of stability, solid relationships with family and friends or the social pressure to succeed in a materialistic society. Watching online idols can bring them peace and relaxation in front of a glowing screen and saturate their dependence on consumption and social networks as well as their need for recognition and attention. Through their idols, the young Chinese can come closer to fortune and success. They are given proof that it is possible to win their place in the sun within a society that is, despite its collective façade, highly individual.

Andrea Střelcová, ESSCA EU-Asia Institute 


Livestreaming se za posledních deset let stal v Číně obrovským společenským fenoménem. / Over the past ten years, livestreaming has grown into an enormous social phenomenon in China.
Over the past ten years, livestreaming has grown into an enormous social phenomenon in China.

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