The Internet Celebrities Who Went Viral in China in 2019

From the “Father of Hybrid Rice” to Greta Thunberg, these names were all over the Chinese internet in 2019

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2:00 PM HKT, Tue December 10, 2019 2 mins read

China’s internet can be a whirlwind of colorful personalities and trivial drama, and 2019 was no different. This year ushered in a diverse spectrum of newly minted web celebrities (网红人 wanghongren). Some grew to fame for posting videos that added a touch of extraordinary to everyday life, and others caught the internet’s attention unexpectedly.

This year’s viral sensations, which you can watch in a video posted to Weibo, include a plagiarizing movie star, a humble winner of the Nobel Prize, a performer who seems to float in midair, and a hilarious beauty blogger, among others.

Here are some of China’s new household names:

Li Jiaqi

The king of livestreaming, famous for his unmatched ability to sell cosmetics. He shot to fame through his over-the-top videos, yelling with excitement about his products.

Dong Baoshi (Gem)

This singer became one of the hottest names in music this year for his hit single “野狼 Disco, or “Wild Wolf Disco.” The song is now a favorite at KTV parlors across the country.

Li Guoqing

The co-founder of e-commerce literature website Dangdang hit the limelight after an emotional video interview about his estrangement from his wife (Dangdang’s other co-founder) and departure from the company. In the October interview, Li said his wife, Peggy Lu, forced him to resign. This led to a heated online exchange in which Lu accused Li of having relationships with men and contracting syphilis.

Zhai Tianlin

This movie star lost his Ph.D. as a result of a gaff in a video posted online. The actor, who held a Ph.D. from the Beijing Film Academy (BFA), revealed in a video that he wasn’t aware of the academic database China National Knowledge Infrastructure (CKNI, or 知网), prompting netizens to question the legitimacy of his academic credentials. One of his earlier essays was found to be heavily plagiarized, and BFA subsequently rescinded his degree.

Greta Thunberg

The Swedish environmental activist grew to prominence on the Chinese Internet when videos of her fiery climate change speech at the United Nations went viral.

Feng Jiachen

An elegant street performer in Xi’an, Feng dazzled netizens with videos of her otherworldly performances, in which she dances atop a semi-circular device that allows her to bob from one side of the audience to the other.

Zhang Pengfei

Zhang is an elementary school principal who taught students at his school to dance. A video of him flanked by hundreds of students, all dancing to a catchy ballad, took the internet by storm.

Yang Caiming

The down-to-earth construction worker won digital affection for a video in which he danced down a street chanting, “happiness is my usual disposition.” Later videos further cultivated his embodiment of optimism in the face of arduous blue-collar work.

Du Fuguo

Du is a veteran who lost both his hands when conducting a mission to remove land mines. A video of him saluting touched the hearts of many internet users.

Yuan Longping

The Chinese agronomist is famous for developing hybrid rice varieties in the 1970s, which have helped dozens of countries reduce vulnerability to famine. Known as the “Father of Hybrid Rice,” Yuan has recently become a beloved internet personality for videos that show his charming and humorous nature.


His name is increasingly associated with jokes that play on the idea that you are only alive today because of Yuan’s special rice that allowed you to escape malnourishment.

Tu Youyou

Tu is one of only five Chinese winners of a Nobel Prize, which she won in 2015 in the Physiology or Medicine category for discovering artemisinin and dihydroartemisinin, which are used to treat malaria. Videos in which she humbly expresses devotion to science and her homeland have gained countless likes and favorable comments in the past year.

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