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Aspiring Livestreamers Come to the Fore in New Chinese Documentary

The world of livestreaming is highly performative, and nowhere is this more obvious than in a little village called Jiangbei Xiazhu in Yiwu city, Zhejiang province

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3 days ago 1 mins read

It’s no secret that China’s top e-commerce livestreamers, such as Li Jiaqi and Viya, often seize headlines for pulling sensational stunts or getting embroiled in scandalous situations. Meanwhile, ordinary livestreamers are often ignored in the media, and their contributions to the country’s booming livestream industry have been trivialized.


Long Live The Soul, a new documentary that shines the spotlight on several ordinary content creators living in Yiwu city in Zhejiang province, East China, premiered at this year’s FIRST International Film Festival on August 2. At the festival’s conclusion on August 4, the film walked away with the prestigious title of best documentary.


The city, which has been dubbed ‘The World’s Capital of Small Commodities,’ houses a small village — also an industrial park specializing in ecommerce — called Jiangbei Xiazhu. Thousands of ecommerce workers call it home.


Film poster of Long Live The Soul, image via Douban

Film poster for Long Live The Soul. Image via Douban


According to the Chinese publication The Paper, the village’s community is made up of some 5,000 livestreamers, many of them immigrants from rural China.


Filmmaker Hao Yang chose to highlight the life of Yuantou, a content creator cum entrepreneur, in his film. As viewers discover, the tricenarian is well-known among his peers for aspiring to elevate China’s ‘insignificant people,’ and has successfully courted favor from his followers after putting on several ostentatious online performances.


Yuantou

Yuantou entertaining his 296,000 Douyin followers. Screengrab via Douyin


Nevertheless, Yuantou has yet to discover a formula for monetizing his content. Not only does it look as if his team might disband, but he is also constantly in discord with his investors.


As the film progresses, Yuantou, in a state of agitation, reveals the worst side of himself. The self-indulgent and conceited man ends up lost, and loses his foothold in the burgeoning livestreaming industry.


In addition to telling the story of Yuantou’s struggle, Long Live The Soul reveals a peculiar, utopian-like landscape on the streets of Jiangbei Xiazhu. The highly performative world is packed with people shooting short videos or peddling small commodities to a livestream audience.


Jiangbei Xiazhu

A short video creator peddling trash bags in Jiangbei Xiazhu. Image via Youtube


During a Q&A session at the film screening, the director described the documentary as “spectacle-like.” After all, everything there seemed extremely unusual when juxtaposed with ‘the real world.’


Hao’s documentary has been well-received since premiering at FIRST; not only did audience members praise it during the Q&A session, but the film has also scored high ratings from media representatives — which only confirms RADII’s observation that content with rural subjects and themes is increasingly popular.


However, we lament the fact that the film doesn’t go a step further to explore subjectivities touching on rural-urban immigration, modernization, and urbanization, important themes that were successfully addressed in We Were Smart, a 2021 documentary on China’s shunned subculture shamate.


Keep an eye out for imminent screenings of Long Live The Soul. In the meantime, stream People Republic of Desire (2018) by director Hao Wu for another take on China’s livestreaming culture.


Cover image via FIRST International Film Festival

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