LIVE video streaming may be all passe now, but one particular platform, Kuaishou, seems to be an exception.
The streaming platform hit the headlines last year with footages that showed a middle-aged woman swallowing non-edible stuff — light bulbs, live mealworms, glasses — among other things.
The footage was tracked to a Kuaishou account called Food Sister Feng. The account owner claimed to be a 48-year-old woman living in Handan, Hebei Province. In her profile, she claimed she was retired, unmarried and childless, and her hobby was to “eat weird things.” She had more than 130,000 followers.
The footage sparked alarm online. Netizens speculated that she suffered from allotriophagia. Others believed she was kidnapped and coerced by a man, who could be heard — but not seen — in the footage.
Handan police, acting on the online controversy, said the man, 24, was the woman’s son, and that they had both planned the livestream to “draw attention and make money.”
Although no one was arrested for the incident, Kuaishou hit the spotlight for bringing to light a world that was generally ignored by the mainstream media.
People were astonished to find that many of the accounts on the site highlighted graphic, cruel self-abuse like eating hazardous things, lighting firecrackers on their bodies or binge drinking.
The most shocking aspect was not the outrageous stuff on offer, but that most of the account holders were basically from the countryside or small, remote cities and towns of China. As per their profiles, most of them were school dropouts or didn’t have a stable job.
Even more worryingly was the accounts on child marriages. One such account, Born in 2000 and Mother-to-be, had pictures of a heavily pregnant girl, who claimed to be just 15 years of age. She said she was born in 2000, and her husband was a year older.
“My husband and I are both from Henan Province. The baby is a boy,” the site posting said. “We are married ... the marriage certificate can wait.”
Voice for the neglected
Netizens called the young couple out, urging them to “go back to school.” They said their marriage was “illegal because they were underage,” and that having sex with girls under the age of 14 was “rape despite their own will” and “fetal gender determination is banned in China.”
She had her explanations carefully planned out.
“You have good parents, but I don’t,” she wrote in her reply. “My mom left home soon after I was born and never came back. My dad left me with my grandparents and went out to work. I never felt loved until I met my husband.
“My family didn’t approve of our marriage, so I decided to have a baby first to shut them up.
“I was right. After I got pregnant, they held a wedding for us. We’re very much in love and he is good to me.”
Soon after, several similar posts, reportedly of girls between 13 and 15 years of age, suddenly popped up — all of them pregnant.
It is obvious that Kuaishou thrives as a voice of a section of people neglected by society. Their poor education and the lack of well-paid jobs meant that Kuaishou offered them an alternate platform to attract public attention and improve their lives.
A 23-year-old livestreamer, whose screen name is Shandong Xiaochuang, said he did crazy things like eating raw pork lungs and intestines only to make money.
“I didn’t go much to school, and I can’t really find jobs,” he said. “But now I have more than 200,000 followers on Kuaishou, and they sometimes pay me as encouragement. I now earn about 20,000 yuan (US$2,906) to 30,000 yuan a month.”
Yu Hai, a sociology professor at Fudan University, says the Kuaishou phenomenon reflects the great divide in the Chinese society. According to him, the development of the country was so unbalanced that a great proportion of the people could not enjoy the fruits of the economic success.
“The inequality in our society partly led to miserable conditions of people in the bottom of the society,” says Yu. “They had to torture themselves for a living and could not enjoy the same life as people in big cities.”
But there were exceptions.
Xiaowei Carrying Bricks is a rare positive example. Xiaowei, who quit school at the age of 16, is a construction worker. His posts highlight his gymnastic skills at the construction site.
“I am a fitness enthusiast,” said Xiaowei.
“It is great to see so many people enjoy working out as much as I do. I don’t envy those who live in big cities and their life has nothing to do with me. I’m content with what I have.”