Asia in the Digital Age: People’s Republic of Desire

Film: People’s Republic of Desire (Hao Wu, 2018).

The film ‘People’s Republic of Desire’ directed by Hao Wu, focuses on China’s live streaming culture, specifically one of China’s leading streaming platforms – ‘YY’. The film centres around three live streamers who seek fame, money and ultimately a genuine desire for human connection.

Statistics claim that 433 million Chinese watch live streaming – generating $4.4billion in revenue in 2018 (Turan, 2018). Viewers log in to watch various hosts entertain them through a variety of means. Annual competitions are held to see who is the most popular host. To support their favourite hosts, fans must donate money. 

The concept is quite unsettling and the amount of money being thrown around seems rather absurd. It appears that both the host and viewer are seeking a sense of connection and this is achieved through money… whether that be giving or receiving.

Despite the desire for human connection, ‘People’s Republics of Desire’ ultimately highlights the harsh reality of social isolation that comes with China’s live streaming culture. The contrast between the expected connection provided through technology and the stark isolation that hides within.

The hosts seem to share similar socioeconomic backgrounds and have the intention of using the money they receive from their fans to support their families. Watching these hosts is rather sad – it appears they are exhausted and unhappy both online and offline. Hosts compete with one another taking any means possible to achieve support – regardless of how authentic this support really is.

China’s live streaming culture serves to enrich those who utilise their platforms. Shockingly, during the films conclusion it is stated that 60% of profits generated through the streaming platform goes to YY – whilst the host and agencies share the 30-40%.

Digital Asia in China and the film ‘People’s Republic of Desire’ provides a glimpse into a future that blurs the lines between online and offline. 


Turnan, K. (2018). ‘Review: The sassy documentary ‘People’s Republic of Desire’ captures China’s mania for live streaming.’ Los Angeles Times. Available at:


  1. Hi Grace,

    I enjoyed reading your reflection on the film, ‘People’s Republic of Desire’, and I feel we had a very similar interaction with the documentary. I was also astounded at the sheer amount of money on the line in the live streaming events and found it difficult to comprehend that this is a reality in China, yet so separate from our reality here in Australia.
    Family values were certainly an overarching motivation for both Big Li and Shen Man to do well in the YY events, and this is a reflection of Chinese culture in general – everything is done for the benefit of the family.

    You can read my reflection here if you decide you’d like to –

    Thanks Grace!


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