China’s top livestreaming influencer Li Jiaqi has angered part of his fanbase after losing his temper with a consumer who questioned a product’s high price during a recent live broadcast. Li asked the viewer of the sales pitch to question if they had worked hard enough to afford the item, rather than niggle about the cost. 

Why it matters: The social media uproar about Li’s remark comes a year after the influencer returned to the public eye following an unexplained three-month absence for livestreaming platforms. The incident also comes less than two months before China’s largest annual shopping extravaganza, Singles Day, where domestic and international brands do their utmost to leverage the huge following top influencers like Li enjoy, in order to expand sales.

Details: Li was forced to apologize twice as his remarks created a PR storm, as the popular celebrity lost nearly a million followers in a day on the Twitter-like social media site Weibo, even though this number represents less than 5% of his total fans on the platform.

  • On Monday night, Li apologized during his livestream a few hours after issuing a written apology. He cried, acknowledging that his inappropriate remarks were “disrespectful” to others and that everyone had the right to express their opinions about products marketed on livestreams.
  • The controversial eyebrow pencil from Chinese cosmetics brand Florasis was priced at RMB 79 ($11) during Li’s livestream that day. After seeing a comment saying “Florasis products are getting more expensive,” Li responded “How could that be expensive? Domestic brands are struggling.” A clip of the comments spread widely on Chinese social media.
  • Established in early 2017, Florasis positions itself as a brand combining “Chinese trends” and “Eastern makeup,” and is a top brand promoted by Li Jiaqi in his online live room. In 2018, Li earned the nickname ‘Lipstick King’ for his performance testing various lipstick colors,  making him the most popular salesperson online during China’s live e-commerce boom.
  • Li first promoted Florasis goods in March 2019, with the brand collaborating closely with him ever since. The cosmetic maker’s gross merchandise volume (GMV) increased 5.4 times between 2019 and 2021, reaching total sales of RMB 5.4 billion RMB in 2021.
  • Top domestic cosmetics brands that frequently collaborate with Li, including Florasis and Perfect Diary, told local media outlet Caixin that Li’s contribution to their income was less than 5%. Florasis has yet to issue an official response to Li’s outburst.

Context: Chinese netizens’ dissatisfaction with Li is largely due to their belief that his comments made a mockery of low-income groups, as consumers are particularly sensitive to prices amid domestic economic sluggishness. His first apology was also widely viewed as insincere and failing to grasp the source of many users’ anger.

  • Li earned RMB 1.855 billion ($2.5 billion) in 2021, according to a September 11 report by Chinese news outlet Shanghai Securities News.

Correction: An earlier version of the article miscalculated the income of Li Jiaqi which is RMB 1.855 billion rather than the RMB 18.553 billion as mentioned.

Cheyenne Dong is a tech reporter now based in Shanghai. She covers e-commerce and retail, AI, and blockchain. Connect with her via e-mail: cheyenne.dong[a]