How Do China’s Internet Celebrity

Differ From America’s?

By Jieru Xu

18th Sept


“Internet famous” is a cultural phenomenon that has exploded among netizens in China, but it’s a concept that originated in America in the early 2000s. So how does internet celebrity differ in China from the U.S.?

The internet has changed what it means to be a celebrity. Internet celebrities are no longer confined to movie stars in the tabloids – it can include ordinary people as well. That’s because YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, and other social media platforms provide opportunity for people to gain large followings. The broad variety of different platforms allows for many types of celebrity — now anyone can become an internet celebrity if their publicity is done right. A popular six-second video on Vine can take four hours to produce and reach millions of viewers.

In China, the platforms are different, but the results are the same. Ordinary people, along with movie stars, can become famous now. Platforms, then and now, ranged from Peking University’s BBS to Weibo’s pictures, to The Himalayan’s audio, to videos from Youku. Management companies are signing internet celebrities to sell products all over the world.

Celebrities can even turn originally non-cash ventures into a profit, through advertising, performing arts, and or even to eat food live, pretending viewers are there with them.

The profits can be immense. Unlike YouTube, which takes a 45% of the commission on ads, Weibo, one of the biggest social media platforms of China, is not involved in advertising whatsoever. That allows internet celebrities to be more independent – monthly incomes can exceed 10 million RMB ($1.5 million) for those at the top.

China may be a relative newcomer to live streaming and live broadcasting, but its audience is eager and wants more.

Dayi Zhang, a fashion entrepreneur, is a very successful internet celebrity in China. She has her own on-line women clothes shop. Her annual income was reported as 300m yuan ($46m) in 2016, which was higher than the reported income of the top Chinese actresses. (Baidu Photo)

Compared to their Chinese counterparts, American internet celebrities are more popular because of the content they produce. Both cultures’ industries provide avenues for new models or fashions. American internet celebrities can gain fame for cooking or workout regimens. They are well-known among famous social circles, which might include Hollywood stars. In China, beauty is more celebrated — someone only needs to be physically attractive to become internet famous. Internet celebrities in China are less likely to produce their own content, relying more on others or agencies, and are less likely to be well-known for outstanding and distinctive charms.

China’s beautiful internet celebrities. L-R: Zetian Zhang, Cancan Huang, Sheng Nan. (Baidu Photo)

Internet celebrities from China are watching their American peers closely to learn. What will be interesting to see is how internet celebrities will shape mainstream thought and public perceptions in the years ahead.