China’s largest international social media influencer spoke at a government event after several months of unexpected absence. While the star says she was taking time off to organize her personal life, commentators suggest that she is being used as a propaganda tool.
Li Jiajia, known by the name of Li Ziqi on her popular YouTube channel, appeared and spoke at the Farmers Harvest Festival in Sichuan Province on Sept. 23. Dressed in dark attire and appearing somber in a photo publicized by her assistant, she commented on how she will be changing her focus to advancing farming for Chinese “common folk.”
Li spoke in the third person, saying she previously only focused on developing things for herself. “I want to create a new farming model for the common folks,” she said, according to Chinese media outlet Jiemian News. “This model will be able to sustain, develop, duplicate, and spread.”
The farming star’s reappearance comes after an unannounced hiatus from making videos for her YouTube channel, with the previous video published on July 14. Her videos, often published once per month, showed her making handicrafts and food all from the natural environment.
Though YouTube is banned in China, Li’s videos were consistently published outside of Chinese websites. She has held the Guinness record for the largest Chinese language YouTube channel since July 16, 2020.
Her fame caught the attention of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) as well. The regime has awarded her various titles such as “Ambassador of Farming” in Sichuan, “Ambassador of Leading Youth Farmers Who Become Wealthy,” and “Committee Member of the All-China Youth Federation.”
Analysts say that Li and her videos are now filling a propaganda role for the CCP, creating a romanticized image of an idyllic lifestyle in the countryside. The image is to cover up the large number of rural residents living in deep poverty.
Political commentator Hu Ping said that, despite China’s claims of eradicating poverty, a large portion of the rural population still lives well below international poverty alleviation standards.
Chinese artist Ji Feng echoed Li’s situation as a propaganda tool. “These videos meet the needs of CCP’s grand external propaganda,” Ji said. “The CCP wants people to see, through these videos, not only the beauty of the rural countryside, but also the potential of entrepreneurship.”
Ji said in a previous interview that the majority of the countryside in certain areas is either deserted or unlivable.
Independent commentator Zhang Qizeng told the Chinese language edition of The Epoch Times that the CCP creates different types of model citizens and heroes for different times to steer public opinions. The old propaganda methods don’t work “because there is no market,” Zhang said. The CCP will bundle the process of making such heroes into certain business dealings so that it does not show a trace of government involvement.
The Guardian wrote on January 2020 that many of China’s rural villages have shrunk or disappeared completely in past decades as the nation prioritized urbanization and workers migrated to cities.
Kelly Song contributed to this article.