Chinese influencer ‘the Lipstick King’ was trying to sell ice cream to his fans—instead he set off a wave of curiosity about the Tiananmen Square massacre

2022-06-11 00:40:29 By : Mr. TOM WONG

One of China’s biggest e-commerce influencers, Austin Li Jiaqi, has come under scrutiny from censors over a promotion that inadvertently sparked online chatter among his young fan base about the Tiananmen Square massacre.

Li, known as “the Lipstick King,” was promoting Viennetta, a British brand of ice cream made by Unilever, via livestream using a layered cake decorated with Oreo cookies and a chocolate stick, modestly resembling the shape of a tank.

Li came online at 9 p.m. on June 3 and went offline minutes later.

To older viewers, the reason for the sudden blackout was clear: The dessert sculpture too closely resembled a reference to the Tiananmen Square massacre, the Chinese military killing of pro-democracy protesters on Jun. 4, 1989, which is symbolized in history through the iconic image of an anonymous Beijing man staring down a tank.

The Chinese government has suppressed all discussion of the massacre—scrubbing all images of the incident and tanks from the Chinese internet—which left younger streamers with more questions than answers following Li’s video.

“What could possibly be the wrong thing to say selling snacks?” said a Weibo user, according to the Wall Street Journal, who posted under the name Margaret and listed her birth year as 1992.

Li, who has more than 64 million followers on Taobao Live, the online shopping site where Li’s show was livestreamed, said the cut was due to a technical glitch that was being fixed.

He then told his fans he’d be back, writing online: “Everybody please go to bed early. We will bring you the products that have not been broadcast [tonight] in future livestreams.”

However, his next live promo on Sunday didn’t air either, prompting fans to dig deeper to find answers on why the stream was cut.

Early speculation suggested that Li’s broadcast was cut as he was being punished for tax evasion, the Wall Street Journal reported.

“What on earth happened to Li Jiaqi? All of a sudden his livestream is gone. Can anyone who knows about it tell us?” a user asked on Weibo.

Slowly the tank theory began to gain a foothold in chats across Weibo.

Some users commented that they had learned about sensitivity around tanks and incidents from family members as the information wasn’t found in textbooks or online.

Others suggested Li, who was born in 1992, may not have been aware of the incident himself.

The Tiananmen Square massacre still remains one of the most taboo subjects in China.

For decades the Chinese government has sought to erase all memories of the protests from the internet and the public consciousness.

Countries neighboring China still host an annual vigil to remember those killed, which has resulted in crackdowns in Taiwan and Hong Kong each year.

Eric Liu, an analyst at China Digital Times, a U.S.-based news website tracking censorship in China, told CNN that the Chinese government is caught in an awkward position: If they censor Li more, which is a mammoth task in its own right, they risk drawing more attention to the case.

“This is the Streisand effect,” Liu told CNN, referring to the phenomenon where any attempt to hide or censor information has the unintended consequence of increasing awareness of that information.

“Censorship is all about keeping the truth from the public. But if people don’t know about it, they are bound to keep making ‘mistakes’ like this.”

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