A prominent Chinese live streamer who may have come under government scrutiny for showing off a tank-shaped cake ahead of the 33rd anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre suddenly resurfaced this week after a three-month digital disappearance.
Streamer “Lipstick King” Austin Li Jiaqi reportedly returned to a channel on Alibaba’s e-commerce platform Taobao Marketplace, where it continued as usual, showing off household necessities, underwear and other goods The South China Morning Post. The spectators came in droves, with the post It is estimated that the streamer had around 50 million viewers within two hours.
Li’s warm welcome comes three months after his last show was reportedly cut short mid-stream over a piece of cake. In early June, just a day before the 33rd anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, Li and his co-host held up a plate of ice cream with chocolate chip cookies on the sides and a chocolate stick that, if you squeeze long enough, looks like like a cartoon tank. The live stream suddenly stopped, leading many to speculate if Chinese government agencies stepped in to censor the streamer. According to insiders, Li attributed the deactivation to a technical error. Around 100 days of digital silence followed.
— SuperPlayer🎮大玩家 (@bigguguji1) June 4, 2022
Chinese regulators have spent decades erasing reports of the Tiananmen Square massacre that killed hundreds of protesters on the streets of Beijing, in part by tanks. As The Citizen Lab notes, references to the massacre are one of the most heavily censored subjects on the already largely restrictive Chinese internet. These efforts include keyword filtering, as well as not uncommon social media takedowns that are sometimes passed off as “system maintenance.” VPN shutdowns, digital surveillance and increased social media censorship are reportedly being pushed even further in anticipation of the anniversary of the massacre.
Some observers like China Digital Times Analyst Eric Liu suggests that Li may not even have been aware of the significance of the date.
“That alone shows how successful China’s censorship apparatus is,” Liu told Vice News in June.
Regardless of his intention, Li’s Panzerkuchen stream reportedly sent waves of millions of followers searching Weibo and other social media for answers about his takedown. According to Liu, regulators never took the extra step of restricting Li’s name for search results, possibly to avoid a snowball of interest regarding the issue.
This isn’t the first example of a prominent Chinese public figure going mute after a perceived political controversy. In late 2020, not long after a controversial speech in which he reportedly criticized China’s financial system, Alibaba founder and mega-billionaire Jack Ma disappeared from the public spotlight. Ma, who had gained a reputation for speaking critically of the government, was not heard from for three months, leading some to wonder if he was even alive.
For Li, the unexpected break doesn’t seem to dampen the intensity of his fans. Corresponding The South China Morning Postthe products featured in his live stream sold out so quickly that he had to tell his viewers to slow down and “shop wisely.”
“Please don’t buy the products just to support us,” Li reportedly said.