In 2007, 22 year-old graduate called Zhang Xiaoyu from Beihua University became a national celebrity. Why? She posed nude on artists’ websites.
In 2008 the number of searches on Baidu for photos of Zhang averaged 650,000 a day. Zhang was soon hired as an image ambassador for a gaming firm. Many other companies turned to the same promotional strategy, prompting a ban on the “vulgar marketing of online games” in 2010.
Come 2016 and the gaming industry is causing a stir again, thanks to its association with a new breed of provocative ‘online hosts’.
Online gaming is a huge market in China, turning over revenue three times the size of the country’s film industry, reports China Daily. In recent years a smaller branch was grafted onto this colossal sector: chatrooms for fans of specific games. Many popular chatrooms are not maintained by the games’ developers. Instead, they are video-hosted by individuals. Originally the hosts tended to livestream themselves playing the games, or at least talking about them. But later, in order to attract more “fans”, some have resorted to riskier and more risqué approaches.
In December, one host on the Douyu TV platform broadcast himself racing through the streets of Shanghai. Distracted, he crashed his car, injuring five people, Beijing Youth Daily reports. Following the accident, Douyu TV banned all outdoors broadcasts.
Moving indoors, a different host on Douyu TV courted controversy last month when he was joined by a female guest. The two had sex on a live broadcast before the chatroom moderators terminated the stream. The audacious host is now reportedly undergoing criminal investigation (as pornography is illegal in China).
This internet culture has likewise created another new profession known more generally as “online anchors”. Mostly young and pretty girls, they maintain their own chatrooms via different internet platforms.
These “online anchors” have no basic salary, but earn their living through the virtual ‘gifts’ their fans send them. They can then cash in with the platform providers (one company specialising in providing these online chatrooms is Tian Ge, which enjoys a profit margin higher than Alibaba, see WiC246).
With this business model the competition to gather fans and earn gifts is keen. For young, attractive women, accumulating followers can be as easy as changing your clothes. Ding Yao, a 23 year-old law graduate, attracted 600,000 viewers by broadcasting herself trying on new outfits. Once won, fans can be loyal (and generous): a 29 year-old viewer told ThePaper.cn that he spent Rmb50,000 ($7600) in one virtual sitting, helping his favourite host achieve pole position on the platform.
While competition for fans is tough, so is the pressure from the agencies who invest in promising internet hosts and hostesses, deriving their profits from commissions on virtual gifts. In an interview with ThePaper.cn, Ding Yao says, “Initially, I didn’t want to do this sort of [sexual] style… But the company [her agency] brainwashed me, saying ‘even losers want to see a goddess’.”
Perhaps “flattered” is a more appropriate term than “brainwashed” (although an agency coercing someone into performing erotica or pushing the legal boundaries is cause for concern). Ding Yao now seems to have gone too far on her own: her pole dancing performance was cut off, promptly followed by a call from her agency saying that it wasn’t appropriate.
Broadcasters like Ding Yao operate in a legal grey area, where the divide between acceptable and explicit content is constantly being figured out. Without proper regulation, the fear is they might end on the wrong side of the law, which takes a particularly unapologetic stance towards women in the sex industry.
Remembering the 2010 ban, it is likely this ‘new media’ could soon be offered greater ‘guidance’, and the online hosts will return to more innocuous activities, such as eating strange foods, and singing songs.
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