Chinese netizens have been left clueless after the live streaming session hosted by China’s top live streamer Li Jiaqi on Friday was cut off abruptly. The program was a special promotion for snack food dedicated to the Dragon Boat Festival on 3 June and was also part of Taobao’s campaign efforts in the lead-up to China’s second-largest e-commerce shopping extravaganza on 18 June (aka ‘618’).
Shortly after the incident on 3 June, the host posted a quick update on Li’s official Weibo account that said, “there is a technical glitch and the team is dealing with it, please bear with us for a moment”. However, the live event was never resumed with a subsequent post explaining that “due to internal equipment failures, we cannot continue the live streaming.” There have been no further updates since and the live stream archive video where it shows more than 19 million had joined has also been deleted.
Public confusion has been furthered as Internet users woke up to a no-show at a scheduled live stream on Sunday 5 June, which was supposed to introduce travel-related sun protection products.
Netizens have been flocking to Li’s Weibo account which is followed by over 30 million, trying to figure out what happened to the live stream unicorn, propelling hashtags including “Li Jiaqi Live Stream” and “Li Jiaqi No Show” to garner tens of millions views on the biggest microblogging site. This series of “abnormal” activities also concerned many savvy online shoppers who had already made a list of products and were hoping to get a better bargain by purchasing from Li’s live sessions, with many crying out that “my ‘618’ is ruined without Li Jiaqi”.
While the real reason for this incident remains unclear, some Internet users have discovered that a “tank-like” cake that appeared in the live session may have been behind the mystery. The shape of the sweet, made into a sensitive object is particularly controversial especially on the eve of 4 June (or June Forth), a day that is associated with a student-led demonstration held in Tiananmen Square in 1989, which also gave birth to the iconic ‘Tank Man’ photo.
The lack of clarification together with some Chinese articles related to the cut-off being deleted, indicate the possibility of censorship around this topic, fuelling online speculation with many worried that the career of China’s only top live streamer may be on the line.
Li had pulled off a total viewership of 153 million (compared to 14 million at Honeybee Surprise Club, second-ranked, a team consisting of former members of the then top live broadcaster Viya) during a four-and-a-half-hour live streaming event on the first ‘618’ presale day on 26 May that was architected by Taobao, one of China’s e-commerce giants under Alibaba. With the uncertainty around this dubbed “Big GDP Contributor” continuing, the cloud also casts a shadow on this year’s mid-year shopping spree.