It's now easier than ever to upload a video and get famous in China. As the wanghong (Internet celebrity) business flourishes in China, a lot of foreigners living in China have also joined the trend. Most people, be they Chinese or foreign, know or even follow one or two wanghong. But this will be the first time you'll learn things that people don't tell you about this seemingly glamorous and lucrative business.
Internet celebrities in China Amy Lyons (left), Saul Stollery (right) and Max Power take a selfie together.Photo: Yin Lu/GT
Metropolitan invited three foreign Internet celebrities to share the behind-the-scenes secrets of the business. This is all you need to know if you are thinking about getting into it yourself, or if you want to know the juicy secrets behind the cameras.
Meet the wanghong:
Saul Stollery: British, 24. He became a live streamer on several platforms after graduating from Tsinghua University. He has 44,000 followers on live-streaming app Yingke and another 12,000 on Sina Weibo. He sings and chats with fans in Chinese during live streaming.
Amy Lyons: Australian, live streamer on Meipai. Most of her streaming programs are about exercising and traveling. She has about 50,000 followers on Meipai.
Max Power: American, a video blogger with more than 90,000 followers on video-sharing website bilibili.com under a username that literally translates to "the most handsome laowai." His most watched videos include Chinese snack taste tests, English tips and comments on topics such as feminism and the US President Donald Trump.
Secret # 1: Every wanghong has their niche.
Lyons: I think you need to find your niche, something that separates you from the others. For me, it's exercising, health and fitness.
Stollery: I did a lot of singing, a lot of live broadcasting, talking about all the cultural differences and crazy experiences that come along with that.
Power: The thing that sets you apart could be your personality, content, or angle. I want to do different videos, some political, and some so dumb that you lose brain cells watching it.
Secret # 2: Wanghong has to go the extra mile to attract fans.
Lyons: I have done something that is a little bit crazy, but not too crazy. When I started to post videos, I wanted to get people's attention, and you know, sex sells. So, I wore a tiny top and tight pants, and I did a little bit of dancing.
Power: I haven't done it yet, but I am thinking about going shirtless on a subway and just saying, "Hi everybody. Scan for my WeChat." Or, I might take Amy and Saul with me and we can dance on the street with our QR codes painted on our bodies.
Some Chinese Net users watch foreign Internet celebrities to get a different perspective. Photo: IC
Secret # 3: Some fans are crazy.
Stollery: Once, some people managed to find where I live. Fortunately, that was just a nice fan who just wished me a happy birthday. But it's a bit scary. You don't want to open the door to see somebody who might take one of your fingers. Some people support you because they have material motives. I actually have a fan who told me that she wanted some "Saul time," which I made very clear was not for sale, and she got angry. Some people asked me how much it costs to get my sperm because they wanted an biracial baby. That's not for sale! Some would tell me that they would give me a house and a monthly salary, and there might be some conditions. Once again, that's not something I am interested in.
Power: Some fans ask me weird questions, or say weird things in the comments. Sometimes you get hate messages. But it's not country-specific. You can get it everywhere.
Secret # 4: Some people want to practice their English; others just want to watch beautiful foreigners.
Stollery: I have fans who ask me to teach them English, but it's difficult to have one-on-one conversation with everyone. But looks are important too. Some people can earn a living just from their looks. I have this friend who was a waiter. He is attractive, and now he earns about 80,000 yuan ($12,032) a month from live streaming. There's the concept of wanghong face these days, which is a combination of double eyelids, a pointy chin, a tall nose and fair skin. These days many people get plastic surgery and injections on their faces to achieve that.
Power: The beauty standards are very different. Some people complimented my nose and said that "it's really tall." I never ever thought about my nose being tall until I came to China. Actually, I was made fun of for my nose being too big.
Secret # 5: Looks count. But it takes more than just being pretty.
Stollery: Looking good and platform choice are important, but the ability to speak Chinese is the most important. We are in the Chinese market, and the majority of our audience wants to listen to Chinese. Plus, a lot of the most popular foreigners aren't the best looking ones. I think they attract people because of their content, or because they have a talent.
Lyons: Personality is more important. Also, a lot of foreigners are doing videos speaking English. A lot people in China want to learn English, so the language is not necessarily in Chinese. It works as long as there are Chinese subtitles.
Power: Being attractive does help. There are people who just want to see that, and there are people who want to see interesting content. So, hopefully you get both of them.
Secret # 6: People might ask you if you are gay.
Lyons: I think I've never seen a male wanghong who doesn't get comments or inquiries about being gay.
Power: I like to dance and show it in my video. The thing I like about gay culture is that you can be artistic and you don't have to worry about it. I think you should show that you are open to different cultures, but be honest to fans. I've been told that most of my fans are girls and gay guys. There is an influential gay culture on bilibili.com. Maybe it also has something to do with how I look. I am not sure. But I don't think saying that somebody looks gay in the Chinese context is a negative comment.
Secret # 7: There's no place like China when it comes to the possibility of becoming rich and famous.
Lyons: There's live streaming in the West, but it's not as crazy as in China. Here they give gifts (digital gifts that will appear on the interface during live streaming), that are worth huge amounts of money.
Stollery: I think it's related to the gift giving culture in China. For instance, for the Spring Festive people give hongbao (red envelopes with money inside), as a way to show support. Some of my fans told me that "I hear you sing and I feel like I have to give you an entrance ticket. Live streaming is no different from theater or cinema." For me, it doesn't matter, and there are many other ways to show support including to share or interact more.
Secret # 8: The competition can get ugly.
Stollery: It depends on the people. Some foreign wanghong know each other for a while and they are cool. But I know a person who would privately message my top gift givers and say, "I am more handsome than this guy. I can give some extra services, so come and send your gifts in my room." There are people who play dirty. It's more about doing what you enjoy. There are always more people out there who could be more handsome or probably sing better than me. So, at the end of the day, if you are true to yourself and keep your content good, people will continue to follow you.
Lyons: By coming to China to be a wanghong, you are cutting the competition down a lot. A blond woman doing exercising videos, that's still a niche market.
Secret # 9: People love foreigners because they offer a different perspective.
Stollery: I think one of the benefits of being a foreign wanghong in China is that you can help people understand other people's culture. I think that's something you don't learn at university. We give you honest, to-the-point opinions, which you are sometimes going to like and sometimes not.
Power: The young people are very curious. A lot of fans are really cool and you want to talk to them. You wish you could do more of it.
Secret # 10: The label laowai is overused.
Power: It's a large shoe to fill. I chose the name "the most handsome laowai because when you search online, laowai often comes up as a keyword. So for marketing it's good. I actually don't like wai (outsider).
Stollery: We are very confident, and we don't have to hide behind the laowai name.
For me, I don't like the word laowai because it is too general. One person can't represent laowai. Britons, Americans, Australians and other nationalities are all very different. Also, wai means coming from outside and it makes me feel distant. Sometimes brands would come to foreign wanghong and ask them to say that they use the products, but one person doesn't represent all foreigners.