The Reclusive Food Celebrity Li Ziqi Is My Quarantine Queen
In isolation, the D.I.Y. fantasy world of the Chinese YouTube star is a dreamy escape, and a lesson in self-reliance.
Like so many home cooks in quarantine, after I’ve used up the green tops of my scallions, I drop the white, hairy roots into a glass of water to regenerate, feeling pleased with my own sense of thrift and pragmatism.
But last week, after the Chinese internet star Li Ziqi posted a new cooking video to YouTube called “The Life of Garlic,” I wished I could graduate from scallions on the windowsill.
In the minute video, which already has over seven million views, Ms. Li pushes garlic cloves into a patch of earth outside her home. A time lapse shows the sprouts growing, reaching up toward the sky.
Ms. Li sautées the young, fresh green garlic shoots with pork. When she harvests the bulbs, she plaits the stems, hanging them up to finish the drying process, pickling and preserving the rest, and using some to season chicken feet and dress salad.
Ms. Li, who lives in a village in Sichuan Province and rarely speaks to press, looks not unlike a Disney princess in her crown braids, wearing a silvery fur cape, trudging gracefully in the snow. At 29, she is famous for her mesmerizing videos of rural self-sufficiency, posted on Weibo and YouTube.
For a worldwide audience in isolation, her D.I.Y. pastoral fantasies have become a reliable source of escape and comfort.
I usually plan to watch one — just one — but then I let the algorithm guide me to another, and another, until, soothed by bird song and instrumentals, I’m convinced that I’m absorbing useful information from Ms. Li about how to live off the land.
If I’m ever stuck with two dozen sweet potatoes, I now have some idea how to extract the starch and use it to make noodles. This is what I tell myself. Leave me alone in a lotus pond, and I know how to harvest and prepare the roots.
Ms. Li doesn’t explain anything as she goes. In fact, she tends to work in silence, without the use of any modern kitchen gadgets. Her sieve is a gourd. Her grater is a piece of metal that she punctures, at an angle, then attaches to two pieces of wood. Her basin is a stream, where she washes the dirt from vegetables.
Her kitchen is nothing like mine, in Los Angeles. But watching Ms. Li on my laptop, while eating a bowl of buttered popcorn for dinner, I think maybe I could be happy living like that, too, soaking in the sheer natural beauty of the countryside, devoting myself to extremely traditional ways of cooking.
Ms. Li makes peach blossom wine and cherry wine, preserves loquats and rose petals. She makes fresh tofu, and Lanzhou-style noodle soup with a perfectly clear broth, and ferments Sichuan broad bean paste from scratch. She butchers ducks and whole animals.
She is not known for taking shortcuts. A video about matsutake mushrooms begins with her building the grill to cook them, laying the bricks down one at a time, scraping the mortar smooth, then hunting for mushrooms in the woods.
In a video about cooking fish, she first goes fishing, in the snow, patiently throwing back any catches that are too small, as snowflakes freeze into her hair.
Like the main character in some kind of post-apocalyptic novel, Ms. Li is almost always alone, though she doesn’t seem lonely, riding her horse through fields of wildflowers, or carrying baskets of sweet potatoes under citrus trees. She seems tireless, focused, confident, independent.
The videos are deeply soothing. But it’s not just that — they reveal the intricacy and intensity of labor that goes into every single component of every single dish, while also making the long, solitary processes of producing food seem meaningful and worthwhile.
It’s the complete opposite of most cooking content, the kind that suggests that everything is so quick and easy that you can do it, too, and probably in less than 30 minutes.
But Ms. Li also romanticizes the struggles of farm life, and, as any savvy influencer would, monetizes that appeal. In her online shop, she sells a curved cleaver, similar to the ones she uses in her videos, as well as loose Hanfu-inspired linen clothing, Sichuan ginseng honey and chile sauces.
Skeptics are suspicious of her access to YouTube in China, where the platform is blocked. And though it seems unlikely, some people have wondered in the comment sections if her videos are propaganda.
Ms. Li’s story, as she tells it, is that she left home as a teenager to find work, but returned to the countryside to take care of her grandmother, then began documenting her life. Though she used to shoot her videos alone, on her phone, she now works with an assistant and a videographer.
“I simply want people in the city to know where their food comes from,” Ms. Li said, in a rare interview with Goldthread last fall. (She never responded to my requests.)
But most of the world’s food, whether in China or the United States, doesn’t come from anyone’s backyard, and isn’t made from scratch. Noodles are produced and packaged in factories. Chickens and pigs are gutted on fast, dangerous lines.
The fragility of our industrial supply chains, and the immense risks for the people who work in commercial plants and slaughterhouses, have been laid bare in the last few weeks.
Ms. Li sidesteps the existence of that broken system entirely. This is the powerful fantasy of her videos right now — people growing and cooking all of their own food, not wasting anything, and not needing anything more than what they already have around them.
In isolation, watching Ms. Li gather rose petals and ripe tomatoes, I catch myself thinking, is this sequence set in the past, or the future? Are these videos a record of the collective food knowledge we’ve already lost, or an idealized vision of its recovery?
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Li Ziqi (vlogger)
Chinese vlogger, entrepreneur and Internet celebrity
In this Chinese name, the family name is Li.
Li Ziqi ([litsɹ̩.tɕʰi]; Chinese: 李子柒; born 6 July ), is a Chinese video blogger, entrepreneur, and Internet celebrity. She is known for creating food and handicraft preparation videos in her hometown of rural Pingwu County, Mianyang, north-central Sichuan province, southwest China, often from basic ingredients and tools using traditional Chinese techniques. Her YouTube channel has more than billion views[a] and 16 million subscribers, as verified on 21 August , which is a Guinness World Record for "The most subscribers for a Chinese language channel on YouTube".
Li was born on 6 July in Sichuan, China, originally named "Li Jiajia" (Chinese: 李佳佳; pinyin: Lǐ Jiājiā). She was orphaned at a very young age. In an interview with Goldthread, Li stated that she moved in with her grandparents after her stepmother mistreated her.
Li started posting her videos on Meipai in  Initially, Li made her videos by herself, but her video editing skills at the time failed to "capture the creativity" she tried to express. In , one of Li's videos titled Peach Wine caught the attention of a video-making platform CEO, who featured the video on the platform's front page, which soon elicited more followers for Li's channel. She released her first video to YouTube in with the title "Making a dress out of grape skins." As of June , she had million subscribers on YouTube, over million followers on Sina Weibo, over million followers on Facebook, and has inspired many bloggers to post similar content.
Her mainland audience includes urban millennials. Li's popularity may be attributed to fugu (复古, retro-nostalgia), a growing appreciation in modern China for traditional culture. In an interview with Goldthread in September , Li stated "I simply want people in the city to know where their food comes from."
A majority of Li's videos focus on traditional foods and antiques. Besides food preparation videos, other popular videos of Li's include creating makeup and dresses from grape skins. Li rarely speaks in her videos, and the sounds of nature, cooking, and calm music are most prominent. Hemispheres magazine stated, "The only narration is friendly banter between Li and her grandmother, but the sounds—the singing of birds, the crunch of frost underfoot, the thwack of a cleaver, the sizzle of frying garlic—lure you into an ASMR trance, so you don't even notice how many videos you've binged."
In , she launched a food brand under her own name and sold prepackaged food through e-commerce.
She was awarded the People's Choice Award by the Chinese Communist Party's official People's Daily newspaper in September  In August , Li was nominated as a member of the All-China Youth Federation. Li, along with Ms Yeah and Dianxi Xiaoge, are the only Chinese Internet celebrities who have reached international prominence.
State-run China Central Television praised her and stated "Without a word commending China, Li promotes Chinese culture in a good way and tells a good China story." Scholars have described her videos as a channel for Chinese government soft power. Li's videos have also been criticized for gentrifying contemporary rural life in China.
Li lives with her grandmother, who occasionally appears in videos, in the countryside of Mianyang in Southwest China's Sichuan. When Li was in fifth grade, her grandfather died, thus her grandmother was unable to pay for her education, this prompted Li to drop out of school at the age of 14 to work in the city, some of the jobs she worked at include being a waitress (–), a disc jockey (–), and a singer (–). In , she moved back to take care of her grandmother, who was sickly at that time.
At the start, Li sold agricultural products on Taobao as a way to earn a living before moving on to be a blogger.
Initially doing all photography and editing by herself, as she gained popularity and experience, her recent online videos are produced with the help of a personal assistant and a videographer.
- ^2,,, views as of 21 August  Of her publicly listed videos on her channel, the most popular has 78 million views, with the lowest view count at million, and she has 16 million subscribers (as of 21 August ).
- ^ ab"About". 李子柒 Liziqi. Archived from the original on 13 March Retrieved 2 March via YouTube.
- ^ ab"About 李子柒 Liziqi". YouTube.
- ^Yamaguchi, David (14 March ). "SANSEI JOURNAL: Everything Comes From China". North American Post. Archived from the original on 9 May Retrieved 9 May
- ^Simonienko, Maxim (26 March ). "Une artiste chinoise propose un tutoriel pour fabriquer des outils de calligraphie". ActuaLitté (in French). Archived from the original on 9 May Retrieved 9 May
- ^Shi, Yinglun, ed. (2 August ). " Chinese selected as "good young netizens"". Xinhua News Agency. Archived from the original on 8 May Retrieved 8 May
- ^Rahmil, David-Julien (5 March ). "L'une des plus jolies chaînes de YouTube serait en réalité un outil de propagande massive". L'ADN (in French). Archived from the original on 9 May Retrieved 9 May
- ^"揭秘最火网红"古风美食第一人"李子柒". ifeng.com (in Chinese). 27 July Archived from the original on 8 May Retrieved 8 May
- ^"Li Ziqi breaks YouTube subscribers record for Chinese language channel". Guinness World Records. Guinness World Records Limited. 3 February Retrieved 10 February
- ^Che, Hui (30 December ). ""李子柒现象"背后的网红出海". Workers' Daily (in Chinese). p.5. Archived from the original on 24 February Retrieved 17 September
- ^Cao, Jing (31 December ). "All You Want to Know about Li Ziqi (李子柒)". DigMandarin. Archived from the original on 1 March Retrieved 3 April
- ^ abcWu, Venus (13 September ). "Exclusive: Behind the scenes with Li Ziqi, China's most mysterious internet celebrity". Goldthread. Archived from the original on 25 April Retrieved 3 April
- ^ abDumke, Erin (13 April ). "Li Ziqi: The Online Celebrity Bringing Ol' School Traditions to the Modern World". Chinosity. Archived from the original on 9 May Retrieved 9 May
- ^"Li Ziqi breaks YouTube subscribers record for Chinese language channel". Guinness World Records. 3 February Retrieved 22 February
- ^"李子柒的微博". Sina Weibo (in Chinese). Retrieved 3 April
- ^"李子柒". Facebook. Archived from the original on 18 March Retrieved 3 April [non-primary source needed]
- ^Li, Weida (25 January ). "Top YouTube channels to learn about China". GBTimes. Archived from the original on 26 April Retrieved 9 May
- ^ abDoyen, Léa (3 October ). "This Chinese youtube girl teaches us how tofu is made". Emotions. Archived from the original on 9 May Retrieved 9 May
- ^Nigari (7 May ). "La youtubeuse Li Ziqi et la tradition chinoise ancestrale". AgoraVox (in French). Archived from the original on 9 May Retrieved 9 May
- ^ abcMatei, Adrienne (28 January ). "Country life: the young female farmer who is now a top influencer in China". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 23 March Retrieved 3 April
- ^Yang, Chunmei (6 November ). "China's Cultural Revivalists: More Than Just Quirky Throwbacks". Sixth Tone. Archived from the original on 16 February Retrieved 3 April
- ^Zhang, Shen, ed. (12 December ). "美食博主李子柒为什么收获关注?中纪委网站这样说". Sina News (in Chinese). Archived from the original on 30 December Retrieved 3 April
- ^Li, Ziqi (24 August ). Making a dress with grape skins, what kind of experience is it?. 李子柒 Liziqi. Archived from the original on 18 March Retrieved 3 April via YouTube.
- ^Freeman, Ellen (1 December ). "How One Chinese Vlogger is Inspiring Armchair Wanderlust". Hemispheres. Archived from the original on 14 April Retrieved 3 April
- ^Wang, Jeffrey (6 August ). "Li Ziqi has Set Up a New Food Company and May Export Chinese Food". Panda!Yoo. Archived from the original on 23 August Retrieved 6 August
- ^Yan, Alice (11 December ). "Chinese state media approves of YouTube star Li Ziqi". Inkstone News. Retrieved 2 April
- ^Zhang, Wanqing (18 August ). "Chinese Web Celebs Appointed to Party-Backed Youth Organization". Sixth Tone. Archived from the original on 19 August Retrieved 18 August
- ^Li, Jill (12 August ). "As China's Vloggers Draw International Fans, Beijing Sees Soft Power Opportunity". Voice of America. Archived from the original on 23 August Retrieved 18 August
- ^诸未静 (23 December ). 林涛 (ed.). "网红出海热 谁能成为下一个"李子柒"？" [Internet celebrities are become popular overseas. Who can become the next "Li Ziqi"?]. Southern Metropolis Daily (in Chinese). Archived from the original on 11 October Retrieved 11 October via Nanfang Daily.
- ^ abYan, Alice (11 December ). "Chinese state media joins rural life blogger Li Ziqi's millions of followers". South China Morning Post. Archived from the original on 14 December Retrieved 15 December
- ^Kim, Jo (5 May ). "Will Internet Celebrities Become China's New Channel for Projecting Soft Power?". The Diplomat. Archived from the original on 28 October Retrieved 18 January
- ^"Escape to the country". Week in China. No. 24 January pp.13– Archived from the original on 23 September Retrieved 2 September
- ^Li, Ziqi (17 December ). A multi layer sole shoes for my grandma, in memory of good old days给奶奶做了双千层底，重温儿时一针一线的旧时光. 李子柒 Liziqi. Archived from the original on 29 February Retrieved 3 April via YouTube.
- ^ abDuan, Xiaoer (17 December ). "「農村網紅」李子柒衝出國際並獲中國官媒加持，你有看過她的影片嗎？" ["Rural Net Red" Li Ziqi rushed out of the world and was blessed by Chinese official media. Have you seen her video?]. The Initium (in Chinese). Archived from the original on 30 December Retrieved 3 April
- ^"【放過李子柒】李子柒爆紅幕後團隊與全商業版圖". chinaqna.com (in Chinese). 12 December Archived from the original on 22 June Retrieved 17 November
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I ask you to whip him completely naked.Another Vlog after Such a Long Time – Our Refurbished Old House
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