Sun, 12 Jul 2020

by Xinhua Writers Bai Xu, Ren Liying

SHIJIAZHUANG, May 31 (Xinhua) -- Liu Shichao dipped his index finger into burning liquid to light a cigarette, conjuring up a magic trick that would endear him to his fans.

After being posted by a foreign blogger on Twitter last year, the video went viral and was viewed more than 10 million times. The 34-year-old farmer from north China's Hebei Province gained fame as "Hebei Pangzai," which means the chubby man, in Hebei.

Now boasting more than 160,000 followers, Liu is fondly called "the king."

"Internet and social media have given opportunities to ordinary Chinese people, especially the farmers at grassroots level, so that they could make their lifestyle understood and voices heard by others around the world," said Liu's wife Li Meijing.

Li did not initially like seeing her husband flirt with social media, because many of the video clips then were about consuming liquor, which she believes is "bad for health."

Liu likes to appear cool in his videos. But in private, the man in a simple T-shirt and jeans is a typical Chinese farmer: honest, rustic and not so eloquent. He was the owner of a restaurant in 2016, when he started posting clips on Kuaishou, a Chinese video sharing app.

"At first, I filmed myself smashing a brick with bare hands, or opening a beer bottle in various ways," he said. The footage of him guzzling beer and other types of liquor in minutes attracted thousands of followers.

In 2019, after he became known on Twitter, Liu saw a rapid increase of followers on his Kuaishou account, some of whom sent him messages in English.

"It suddenly occurred to me that foreigners use Kuaishou as well," he recalled.

A middle school graduate, Liu used translation software while replying to the messages. Sometimes when translation was too Chinglish, he would ask friends for help.

In the process, he found that his overseas followers were interested in the daily life of ordinary Chinese, especially farmers. "They know so little about us," Liu said.

He opened his Twitter account in August 2019 after which the content of his videos went beyond the dinner table.

"Once I filmed my shopping experience with my son in a county supermarket, which, to my surprise, was viewed for nearly one million times. Many viewers had no idea what supermarkets in rural China look like," he said making no attempt to hide his pride.

A video of him playing with his family on the snow was viewed more than 209,000 times. People from Canada, the United States and elsewhere exchanged their snowy day experiences in the comments.

After posting another footage, in which he baked sweet potato, Liu asked his followers about their favorite food. Followers shared their childhood memories full of emotions, from toasted bread on home fire in Britain to kumara of New Zealand, from blackberry picked in the forest to grandmother's popcorn, from roasted crayfish with friends to hotdogs cooked on a small fire in the yard.

"I want to tell my overseas followers there are tens of thousands of people at the grassroots level like me, who are enjoying their lives with passion in every part of the country," he said.

Comments about his posts are always heart-warming.

"I admire your hardworking parents," says Lara Parpan, a Filipina. "You are a good son. Stay strong and continue to inspire others!"

Liu even had followers from Turkey who offered to send him beer.

When China was hit by COVID-19, Liu received lots of messages from across the world, asking him to take care of himself and praying for his safety.

Liu's wife's attitude gradually changed, and she is now supportive. "China is home to numerous farmers," said the 31-year-old mother of two. "Although we are all called 'farmer,' every one is a unique individual. I will be happy if the video clips could help foreigners know more about life in rural China."

Liu said he is always compared with Li Ziqi, a Chinese blogger who shot to fame with short YouTube videos recording her traditional and idyllic lifestyle in China's countryside.

"Our styles are different," he said. "I admire her persistence, but my style is more casual with the common touch."

"I think we are showing people different aspects of the Chinese culture," he said.

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