Film: People’s Republic of Desire (Hao Wu, 2018).
The film ‘People’s Republic of Desire’ directed by Hao Wu, explores the popular digital universe of live streaming in China. The documentary follows the journey of three young performers who earn as much as $150,000 per month by entertaining millions of people on the online platform ‘YY,’ through talk shows, singing or dancing. An annual competition is held to see who is the #1 creator and fans must vote for their favourite host by donating money.
According to the China Network Performance Industry Associations 2020 Report, 617 million people were using live streaming platforms in China, accounting for 62.4% of all internet users in China. Furthermore the number of live streamers exceeded 130 million. The online streaming platforms seem to provide an opportunity for Chinese migrants and the working class to acquire money and stardom. The report also showed that online celebrities are idolised in China so much, that some live streamers have resorted to streaming vulgar content such as burglaries and sex acts, in a bid to capture the attention of more viewers.
I found this documentary really interesting, as I had no idea that online streaming platforms were so popular in China. The film follows the journey of three hosts – a comedian, a singer and a migrant worker, who are all trying to earn an income to support their families. However a common theme stood out to me, the hosts were all seeking human connection and validation and were exhausted after being subject to so much scrutiny and abuse in the public eye. I found this a good reminder that money can’t buy happiness. Host Shen May says “I feel disconnected from society. I don’t go out, or even see the sun. All I know is how to make money.” It also seems that the hosts measure their self esteem based on how popular they are as a livestreamer. Li says “People say I have nothing to prove. But I need this #1 to prove to myself, for that recognition. I don’t have any other dreams.”
Ultimately, live streaming platforms are a form of social transaction which has revolutionised the way that people interact and earn money online. However, the commodification of communication also has negative implications as seen through the documentary, such as public scrutiny, mental health issues, and hosts feeling disconnected from society and reality; which is ironically the opposite of what the platforms seek to do.
Athique, Adrian (2019). Digital Transactions in Asia. Digital Transactions in Asia: Social , Economic and Informational Processes. (pp. 1-22) edited by Adrian Athique and Emma Baulch. New York, NY United States: Routledge
Global Times 2021, ‘China’s livestreaming industry boomed in 2020, says report,’ The Global Times, 19th May, viewed 1 August 2021, <https://www.globaltimes.cn/page/202105/1223886.shtml>.
I really enjoyed reading your blog this week.
I agree with you that there is a common theme in the film centre around ‘human connection’. I found parts of the film to be rather unsettling. It appears these hosts are exhausted both online and offline taking any means necessary to receive some sort of validation or gratification – regardless of how authentic this really is.
I also noticed that 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.
It was a fascinating film and really eye-opening.