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Twitter gets a taste of China’s “village bro” internet culture


OCTOBER 30, 2019

On the surface, Liu Shichao, a 33-year-old Chinese farmer, seems like your average guy from one of China’s provincial cities—the picture that comes to mind for many urban Chinese is someone with a fondness for gold accessories, sunglasses even indoors, and loud club music. For Liu’s over 80,000 followers on Twitter, however, he is “the King,” the “person I’d like to be when I grow up” and “the coolest guy on this site.”Liu’s popularity on Twitter began in March—before he was actually on the platform—when a user uploaded a video of him downing a beer in three seconds, and then chasing it with a mixture of a can of Pepsi, a glass of spirits, and a raw egg. The video, which was originally posted on Chinese video-streaming app Kuaishou, struck a chord on Twitter—it was viewed more than 890,000 times, with some users signing up on the Chinese app to send Liu fan mail.

“People were telling me I was popular on Twitter. I replied: ‘What’s Twitter?’ I had no idea,” Liu told the BBC.

In August, Liu set up a Twitter account after Kuaishou began taking down some of his binge-drinking videos for being inappropriate, according to Technode, amid a larger campaign by Chinese authorities to reduce vulgar or sensational content online. He bypasses China’s Great Firewall using a virtual private network and overcomes the language barrier using Twitter’s automatic translation function. In just three months, he has more than 80,000 followers, eager for the window Liu offers into China’s thriving “village bro”—or lao tie—internet culture.

It’s a culture that has emerged along with the rise of apps like Kuaishou, where Liu has amassed over 356,000 followers during the past three years. While more tech-savvy users from larger cities are on rival Douyin (the Chinese version of the hit short video app TikTok), a large portion of Kuaishou users, who appear to skew male (link in Chinese), are from China’s smaller cities or remote villages. The group uses the platform to record their way of life in China’s countryside, including harvesting farm produce or feeding hogs, as well as putting on high-octane, “don’t try this at home” feats. Founded in 2015, it has over 300 million monthly active users.

“When you look at Kuaishou, there are many people like Liu, who are simple but sincere folks. Liu is like the nice, friendly guy who could always outdrink everyone else at a party—everyone probably knows, and likes such a guy back in their hometown,” said Elliott Zaagman, a co-host of the China Tech-Investor Podcast. “He probably reminds Americans a bit of Chris Farley, a very likeable figure who would do silly things just to get attention.” Farley was a comedian who was on the cast of the comedy show Saturday Night Live in the 1990s, where he gained a following for his self-deprecating jokes.

Compared with the overwhelming praise for Liu on Twitter, the reception of “village bros” like him has not always been kind in China, especially because users appeared to egg one another on to behave in harmful or dangerous ways, such as heavy drinking. A viral online article (link in Chinese) in 2016 described the sentiment well: “On Kuaishou, you can see self-abuse videos, vulgar, sexual jokes, and people who act weirdly and will make you feel uncomfortable. The app shines a light on the dark corner of our society,” wrote the article.

Eventually, the company drew the ire of the regulators, which criticized it over its “vulgar content” last year. The company issued an apology (link in Chinese), promising to “take down content that should not exist on the platform.”

Liu, who lives in northern China’s Hebei province, where he helping his parents out farming wheat and corn, and also runs a business selling meats via the WeChat messaging app, appears to be enjoying his newly-founded fame on Twitter. He’s been posting a steady stream of videos on the platform, which often come with warnings to teens not to mimic his behavior, and invitations to send him money.

Courtesy/Source: Quartz