Cook in crisis

An online cooking star is floored by fatal accident


She makes jianbing (Chinese-style pancakes) on a makeshift grill modified from a torn-apart computer. In other videos, she has cooked beef using a clothing iron and even prepared a sukiyaki meal on an electric heater.

China’s queen of short video, Ms Yeah, whose real name is Zhou Xiaohui, has made her name on the internet by using everyday items to make gourmet meals in less than 10 minutes, usually in an office environment. But last week she was in the news for much more tragic reasons after a girl died trying to mimic one of her tutorials.

Two girls – Zhe Zhe, 14 and Xiao Yu, 13 – were believed to have been following a video Ms Yeah posted in 2017 about making popcorn with a soda can. In the original video, she constructs a contraption involving an empty soda can put on top of a tripod stand. She puts the popcorn kernels inside the can and lights a flame on an alcohol burner beneath, waiting for the corn to pop.

The girls did something similar, putting the popcorn into an empty aluminium can and putting alcohol into another can below it. However, the apparatus exploded suddenly. Xiao Yu suffered minor injuries but Zhe Zhe was burned across most of her body. She died last week.

As news of the accident started to spread, angrier netizens claimed Ms Yeah was responsible and some even sent her death threats.

After a period of silence, she published a lengthy response on her official weibo, writing that these had been the darkest days of her life and that she promised to take responsibility for Xiao Yu’s treatment and pay compensation. But she also highlighted that the two girls hadn’t followed exactly the same process demonstrated in her video. “If I said Zhe Zhe’s accident had nothing to do with Ms Yeah, people would say I am shirking responsibility. But if I don’t clarify the situation, my heart is not so big that I can bear all the blame and accusations. After all, I’m being accused of murder!” she pleaded.

It wasn’t the first time that Ms Yeah has been criticised for her cooking techniques. The Global Times pointed out that a fire station in Sichuan blasted one of her tutorials on making hotpot in a water dispenser as a fire hazard and Ms Yeah has admitted receiving complaints from other fire departments about some of her other unconventional cooking methods too.

As one of the most high-profile figures in the short video sector (WiC first discussed the phenomenon back in issue 383), Ms Yeah will now have to rethink her approach, assuming she survives the reputational crisis.

In addition to an investigation from government authorities – which have stopped her from posting new videos every Friday – many of the firms that promoted their brands in her videos have already suspended their advertising.

Critics say that her case is a cautionary tale on how ‘influencers’ and video streaming firms will have to be more vigilant in content production in future.

“A lot of influencers act as their own screenwriters, directors, editors and managers. But risk management is another responsibility they need to consider. And that is something that requires experience and training from the MCNs [multichannel networks that run video channels],” an insider explained to Jiemian.

That’s a lesson that Ms Yeah is learning too, especially when so much of the audience is young and impressionable. “The internet is not only for adults. A lot of young children have become big consumers of information… I wasn’t being careful… Sorry, I was wrong; I‘m sorry, I have disappointed so many people,” she acknowledged. n

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