Money or behind bars: the life of live streamers in China

The trend of live streaming caught on in China in 2016: tons of money was poured into the emerging field. At least a dozen live streaming platforms were launched in the first half of this year; almost all the main traditional video streaming platforms now offer live streaming services.

A top live streamer’s monthly income can be as high as USD 291,000 per month.
Live streaming platforms and video apps. Photo from

Big name entrepreneurs, investors and web celebrities fuelled the trend. Wang Sicong, a web celeb and the only son of China’s richest businessman Wang Jianlin, founded Panda TV in September last year. Wang Jianlin is chairman of Wanda Group, China’s largest real estate developer.

Wang Sicong’s dog with 8 iphone7s. Photo from Baidu Images

Fame-seeking young Chinese rush to the new sector to livestream their performances, esports competitions, and daily life. MC Tianyou, 25 years old, is a top live streamer who entered the business two years ago: in July his monthly income climbed as high as RMB two million (USD 291,000).

MC Tianyou. Photo from Baidu Images.
MC Tianyou. Photo from Baidu Images.

This is Wen’er in her late twenties. Holding in hand a selfie stick, in a cute plush hat and jeans suspenders, singing and talking to viewers in bubbly and energetic voice, Wen’er is the queen of China’s leading live streaming platform, YY.

This is Wen'er in her late twenties and she's from Eastern China's Jinan City.
Wen’er, YY’s most popular live streamer. Screenshot from YY.

Wen’er has gradually attracted more than 12 million followers since she began live streaming in 2013 from her hometown. She is known for her original songs, outgoing personality, and Hanmai, a performance style similar to rap.

Hanmai, catering to massive less educated online users, normally has vulgar lyrics about sex and violence.

During the performance, her fans send messages and digital gifts. These gifts are represented online as virtual cars and flower bouquets, that need to be purchased with real money.

Despite gaining popularity in live streaming, it has been hard for her to become recognized by mainstream media. Last September she released an original song Shengnv Xinjing, or the “heart of a leftover girl”, on NetEase Cloud Music, a major online music platform. Till now, her song attracted only 88 comments, mostly by her fans. In comparison, a popular song can have as many as tens of thousands comments on the platform.

Screenshot from NetEase Cloud Music

But not all live streamers became famous by rapping and talking to their followers online. Xue Liqiang, a girl born after 1995 and based in west China’s Chengdu, was sentenced to four-year prison late last month for producing and selling pornographic videos.

Xue Liqiang. Photo from Baidu Images
Xue Liqiang. Photo from Baidu Images

More performers on live streaming platforms attracted viewers and traffic by putting on less clothes and adding more sexual implications to their performances.

To tackle with this, Chinese authorities in July announced that they are compiling a blacklist of “vulgar” live streamers, who will be banned from the business nationwide.

A live streamer. Photo from Baidu Images
A live streamer with hot outfit. Photo from Baidu Images

For audiences, the joy of live streaming is about the fresh thrill of interact with a mysterious hot girl, a possible glimpse into her life, or sometimes just simply seeking companionship. In October, a streamer on Huya TV fell asleep during live streaming, and viewers’ number reached 300,000 over 20 minutes.

The live streamer who fell asleep during live streaming. Photo from Baidu Images
The live streamer who fell asleep during live streaming. Photo from Baidu Images

From December 1, Chinese authorities started to implemente a new regulation for live streaming, mandating tighter control over the industry. Live streaming platforms must obtain licenses if they want to continue to operate. Only big live streaming platforms, industry insiders say, will survive.

For performers and viewers, live streaming platforms will require their real name and other related information, including their mobile phone numbers.

Although this booming communication genre might seem meaningless to outsiders, for performers and viewers involved, live streaming undeniably offers a cure for boredom.

(Top photo is a screenshot from NetEase Cloud Music)

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