The news that Papi Jiang, a 29-year-old online comedian, had securing a whopping 12 million RMB (US$ 1.84 million) investment made headlines in Chinese media last month.
People may hold different views about whether Papi Jiang’s brand is worth such a huge amount, but no one denies that internet celebrities are a hot money maker right now.
Online celebrities are a fairly new concept to Chinese culture, but they’ve gained traction quickly, driven by the nation’s increasingly entertainment-hungry society. If something clicks, whether it’s a novel, a funny video or song, or even simply being a good looking, silly or egocentric character, netizens love taking online identities to the next level.
Baidu Zhidao recently released a top-10 list of China’s online celebrities in the past decade according to search data. Papi Jiang reached only 9th spot, let’s see who else made the cut:
1: Annie Baby (安妮宝贝)—1998
As one of the earliest online writers in China, Li Jie began writing under the pen name of Annie Baby since 1998. Her works became an instant success on the internet for Li’s a sexy and mysterious writing style. With her books selling exceptionally well, Annie Baby was crowned one of China’s top-earning authors over several years. Although Annie Baby found fame by publishing her works on the internet, she has turned to more traditional publishing channels in recent years. Unlike most online authors in China, Annie Baby is regarded as a highbrow writer and has received a lot of critical praise.
2: Sister Furong (芙蓉姐姐)-2005
Sister Furong, or Sister Lotus, a woman with no obvious talents except for being a self-proclaimed dancing expert. She found fame through her assertive and flamboyant weblog.
3: Wang Sicong (王思聪)
Wang Sicong, the only son of China’s richest man Wang Jianlin, has made constant splashes on the internet as a outspoken and promiscuous playboy who’s known for engaging in verbal wars online. He gained a large female fan base and was nicknamed ‘The People’s Husband.’ Wang is also being recognized as an aspiring investor and chairman of private investment firm Prometheus Capital. Five of the companies he invested in have since listed, mostly in gaming, including Forgame, iDreamSky and TianGe.
4: Guo Meimei(郭美美)-2011
Claiming to work for the state-backed Red Cross Society of China, Guo Meimei first gained notoriety in China by openly flaunting her wealth and extravagant lifestyle on social media. She has since been sentenced to a five year imprisonment for running an illegal casino.
5: Sister Feng/Luo Yufeng (罗玉凤)-2009
Sister Feng gained notoriety in China for passing out flyers in search of her Mr. Right, who was required to meet excessive qualifications. To meet all of her requirements, he needed to be a good looking young man upwards of 176 centimeters tall with a masters degree from one of China’s top Universities. She has an unabashedly inflated ego, claiming to be the brightest human being in the past three centuries.
6: Tong Hua (桐华)-2006
Tong Hua is a Chinese contemporary romance novelists. A Slew of successful TV shows were based on her works, including Bubu Jingxin, Ballad of the Desert, Song in the Clouds and The Most Beautiful Time.
7: Milk Tea Girl/Zhang Zetian (章泽天)-2009
Zhang Zetian, more commonly known as “milk tea girl”, came to fame in 2009 at the age of 19 and is quite popular among students for her natural beauty (discovered originally posing with a cup of bubble tea). After studying at top Chinese university, Tsinghua, she furthered her studies at Columbia University, where she met Richard Liu, the founder of e-commerce giant JD.com.
The romance between the two who have an age difference of 19 years has become hot topic among Chinese netizens. The couple reportedly married last year. Through the relationship, Zhang has become quite active in China’s internet industry. She once worked as the product manager of Microsoft China’s Siri-like tool, Xiaobing, and is now an investor in Uber China.
8: Brother Sharp (犀利哥)-2010
Brother Sharp is the nickname given to Chen Guorong, a homeless man. He became a national celebrity for his handsome look after a photograph of him wandering the streets was uploaded online. Although dressed in tattered clothes, his style is still molded by fashion icons and celebrities. Eventually, the Chinese netizens tracked down and helped him to find his home.
9: Papi Jiang/ (Papi酱)-2015
Papi Jiang, a graduate from China’s Central Academy of Drama, became a hit by uploading funny videos online. Her videos have been widely circulated across platforms, getting tens of millions more views.
10:Wang Nima (王尼玛)-2013
Wang Nima is the host of a Chinese internet talk show which makes sharp comments on a variety of topics including hot news, history, politics and more. He wears headgear with a comic face during the show.
This list is just a small slice of the vast world of Chinese internet celebrities, which reportedly amount to over 1 million. They generally fall in three development periods according to their most popular medium: words, pictures and multimedia, Baidu’s report concluded.
The first group of Chinese online celebrities mainly attract their fans through the power of language, represented by Annie Baby, Han Han, Guo Jingming and Tong Hua. When the picture era came, the web star tide swung towards an odd appetite for appreciating the ugly, so Sister Furong and Sister Feng became phenomenonal stars of the period. The arrival of multimedia has granted grassroots identities a more convenient way to build up their fan bases.
Chinese web celebs have more diversified channels to commercialize their fame than westerners. Of course, Chinese online celebs also endorse branded products, but the most easy and productive way for a fresh internet face to make money is through Alibaba’s Taobao marketplace.
Many Chinese online stars have developed their own brands and sell their products, usually clothes and cosmetics, on their own Taobao stores. Data from the retailer platform during last year’s Single’s Day sale event shows that 7 out of the top 10 women’s clothing stores are owned by internet celebrities.
Other channels include pushing advertisements for enterprises through social media platforms including Weibo or WeChat, hosting live streaming shows and generating revenue from virtual gifts and appearances.