“This is China? It looks like a fairyland,” was Nessy’s first reaction to Li Ziqi’s (李子柒) vlogs. Our team watched, entranced, as Ziqi scurried through the misty morning air of her village, dutifully followed by not one but three baby animals (two puppies and lamb); we observed her gather nuts and fruits in a dewy field, getting home just before sunset to cook them into candies for the “Spring Festival.” She does all of this, for the record, without getting a hair from her Disney Princess-esque head out of place. Naturally, we decided we’re in love. And we’re not alone. In China, Ziqi is queen: a reclusive influencer (words we never thought we’d pair) whose cinematic webisodes on simple and ancient country living have garnered her 15.3 million Weibo (the Chinese version of YouTube) followers. The degree to which her content is soothing also pretty much surpasses sane description. Ziqi’s not just a food and lifestyle vlogger. She’s a 21st century Snow White, and this is her kingdom…
“She actually has a whole crew helping her, I heard” Shenzhen, China native Zhaohemei Gao, 26 and currently living in NYC, told us about Ziqi when asked if she knew who this life-sized fairy really was. “She is growing so big now and she [even] has her own merchandise,” she said about her presence in China, “She started [out] mad early. I think she’s about 30 now maybe.” For those looking to get their feet wet in her content, we suggest, well, everything. But especially the following:
Whether or not we, as viewers, will actually attempt to make 60 candied apples is beside the point. In only a few years, Ziqi has created an unprecedented visual encyclopaedia of traditional Chinese craft and cook, from basket weaving to ye olde makeup-making (she plucks the flowers for her very own blusher, thank you very much). Ever since she blew up in 2017 with a video of her cooking in traditional Chinese clothes, she’s captured what every New Yorker op-ed, ever, says is our generation’s craving for back-to-the-roots living. Ziqi’s life is an IV drip of that tranquility; a magical world where the puppies never seem grow up, and the only glimpse of modernity is the rare cameo of a computer or iPhone screen. Other than that, days are passed making golden preserved eggs or catching fish in a velvet red cape:
Her culinary chops include (but aren’t limited to) making peach blossom wine, watermelon cake, and traditional Sichuan moon treats, while a craft-based day sees her dying clothes in grape skins, making shoes for her grandmother, or building a wood-firing oven out of clay. Life in the slow lane – at least on camera.
“She used to be a DJ,” Zhaohemei says about Ziqi’s past. Indeed, a bit of internet digging on the Chinese media sites like “Ifeng” (讲堂_凤凰网) reveals that she was born in the 1990s in the Sichuan mountains, and, as if we couldn’t fall in love with her any more, confirms that she was in fact a dive-bar DJ for a while.
A Spring 2018 interview with the Chinese magazine Zhuanian, amongst other publications, reported that she was orphaned after her parents divorce and experienced an abusive childhood. She dropped out of school at 14 to work when her grandmother, who helped rais her, fell ill. She then opened up an online store on an Etsy-esque platform to sell her creations, but with little success – it was the video content for the shop that really peaked the public’s interest, snowballing her persona into what it is today: a linen-clad wunderkind on a self-proclaimed Taoist mission to help people slow down, and savour the rituals of the everyday (if the everyday is the Qin Dynasty).
And all that crisp footage? Mostly captured on her iPhone. Seriously. “I myself, I have to take this shot, wash my hands, adjust the tripod, take a good shot, and take another good shot,” she told Zhuanian, explaining that “usually the dough is scrapped after the lens is adjusted” if she’s doing a baking piece. These days, she does have a team to help her – although she can count its members on one hand.
Currently, she’s signed with the MCN media organisation, and posts a new video every week on her Weibo channel. When she’s not making content, she says she’s pretty much doing everything in her videos, albeit in more contemporary clothing.
With the success of cinematic food-porn shows like Chef’s Table, combined with, y’know, globalisation, the Internet, etc., we’re surprised Ziqi’s brand of mindfulness hasn’t had more of a spotlight on the western stage like fellow influencer du jour, Marie Kondo (note: reppin’ Japan). Which isn’t to say Ziqi hasn’t made her mark. Currently, she has 3 million Facebook and YouTube followers combined – but an American program with Ziqi would be the next great step in representing Asian communities in Western media, taking the torch from Kondo’s hot new Netflix show, Tidying Up With Marie Kondo, which was somewhat revolutionary when it premiered in January, 2018: rather than ask Kondo to learn and present her show in English (in which she has basic notions) Netflix chose to employ subtitles and an interpreter of Japanese descent. So Netflix (or Hulu, or Amazon, or whoever) producers, if you’re reading: take this as our official bid to bring Ziqi to the small screen. Trust us. You’ll never see a cleaver used with so much elegance.