China’s Webcam Economy Is a Modern-Day Gold Rush


I’m Chantel
from the VICE office in Brooklyn. In China there’s a booming industry
driven by physical beauty. With webcam hosts
making millions and cosmetic surgeries
catering to internet celebrities, it’s is easy to become obsessed. Our colleagues at VICE China
dive into this lucrative culture in this episode of
What We Buy: Economy of Beauty. Although people joke that
society is obsessed with beauty, with the rapid spread
of fragmented information and one-click shopping, this saying has gradually
become reality. All kinds of beautiful
Internet stars are very active on
social media platforms. They can quickly turn
the fans following them into a considerable income. We traveled to a few cities to try to get to know the stories
behind this massive industry. Live streaming has now become
a kind of gold rush. Some popular streamers can earn millions of Renminbi
in cash and gifts each month. However, there is more
to this industry than just pretty girls
live streaming from home. Mr. Bian is an IT administrator
for a live stream agency in Beijing. He manages three streamers
at a house in suburban Beijing. Please come in. Since Beijing is the capital, some things are a bit edgy. Like my industry,
it’s pretty avant-garde. This room on the 1st floor
is where Xiao Nanfeng’s streams. Come. She is doing a live stream now. I have had malatang
[boiled skewers] before. I want some now. No, it doesn’t matter. I’ll take any gift too. Come in. This is Jingjing.
She is live streaming now. This is Kaka’s room. She is live streaming
and playing drums. I started running this platform in June of last year. The studio is mainly in charge
of these girl’s daily lives. If we buy some equipment
that is too heavy for them, I’ll come set it up. Sometimes there are
technical difficulties. if they can’t handle it,
I’ll help them. I’m still using the old browser. Switch to Firefox,
the Firefox browser. Does Firefox work well?
– Yes. Is Firefox made by Sohu? No, it’s just Firefox. Do you live here every day? Yes, I live here. Because there has to
be a man here. They are showing off
their talents for the cameras. But in their normal lives,
they are pretty naive because they are still young. All of them were born in 1994.For instance, I’ve come to
this new platform.I didn’t bring any fans over from
my previous platform.Now I have to rebuild
my fanbase here.I’m lisping, lisp lisp…What do you think
about this phenomenon? Is it all about beauty,
or is it about making a living from it? As long as you are pretty, guys will be willing
to lick your shoes. I thank my parents for giving me
such a beautiful face. Many streaming agencies have risen
across the country. More and more people are trying
to get into this industry, trying to make some money
off this “gold rush.” We visited Changsha,
the entertainment capital of China, to meet up with Fang Gulu,
graduate student and live streamer. I studied performing arts
back in college. Actually, I never really thought
about acting or becoming a star. My daily life was simple,
I just woke up, brushed my teeth,
and did ordinary things. I go to school when I have class. And I don’t really
have much spare time. After that I go live stream. -And this pillow? They gave it to me, yes. -For your one year anniversary?
-Yes, my one-year anniversary gift. They even bought me a cake
and some other gifts. I am grateful to all the people
that support me. Thank you, Mr. Dan.
Thank you, Mr. Dan. Mr. Dan is the best! I couldn’t imagine this before,
because I didn’t know them. The things they do
warm your heart. Because I’m a graduate student, everyone thinks
that I’m different. My mom absolutely wants me
to focus on studying, since I’m still in school. I don’t really know if I can do
this for three years. Maybe I’ll be out of style
next month. We were on site for a recruitment
session by Fang Gulu’s agency to see how popular
this emerging industry really is. Could you introduce yourself? My name is Chen Jieling. I’m from Hunan University. I’m 20 years old. Why do you want to interview
to be a live streamer? To make money. If you really become
a live streamer, what would you stream about? Singing. That’s what I do. Some of our signed streamers can make $100,000 a month at most Besides live streaming, I worry about all the
other stuff for them We spent a lot of
money training them. Now I feel like
the live streaming business is like an emerging
show business industry. Xiao Xin, started as a cosplayer then went on to be an expo model,
before becoming a live streamer. Although live streaming
can make you a lot of money she decided to change
her career path to become an eSports commentator. Stick to it, Spider you’re invited
to come here to E. Beat it. The popular live streaming shows are not highly regulated. Even though there are strict rules, there are loopholes around them
like indirectly talking about it. They can imply from what I say. The boundaries can still be crossed. I can get more fame and money but I won’t risk
my entire career for it. I wanted to focus more
on being a commentator. This warrior version
is really expensive. He’s slowing down. Do you regret switching careers
now that you’re a commentator? Not really. I can make money
whenever I want. Being a commentator
is what I care about right now. I hope to move up this year
or the next. And be a commentator
for a major network. With the world focusing
so much on face beauty, China’s plastic surgery industry
is booming. To be honest,
minimally invasive surgeries aren’t well developed
or supervised. Many don’t know they have to
go to real hospital for this or at least to see a specialist. They think a beauty salon
can handle this because that’s what the
beauty salons are doing and there is no oversight. You can tell when a
surgery was botched. They’ll have one bump here
or another on their nose. Their eyelids will look twisted. That’s actually very common However, even in South Korea
with its advanced technology there are still many incidents
from their plastic surgery. In 2010, Chen Yili’s plastic surgery
went wrong in South Korea. Her face was disfigured.
And after many years and setbacks she spent a fortune
on corrective surgeries for her face. What do you think of it? Very pretty. At least you are
a beautiful woman now. -Normal person.
-Yes, normal person Her situation was very difficult. Yes, my situation was
very critical. My mouth was slanted. -What about your jaw?
-My jaw was also slanted. My forehead was protruding,
like a big bun. I had a bump here. And the sides were dented in. When did you realize that
your face was ruined? When I woke up from anesthetic,
I felt like my nose was… Fake. It looked very fake. I knew for sure that it wasn’t natural. It was like a stick standing here. The red part on my lip
was bleeding. All my friends were scared
when they saw me. They even stepped back. After this malpractice,
what did the hospital say? They apologized on national TV. The Korean TV station helped me. They apologized to me like this,
bending over. And they held my hands. We are sorry Chen Yili. They said they were sorry
and that it was their fault. I’m giving you $30 million
in compensation. As soon as the NBC director left she changed her face. What about the $30 million? It’s gone. What do you mean it’s gone? It’s all gone. They told me, “You should leave now,
before I call the police.” The recovery fee I spent in
South Korea and here was about $600 to $700,000. I thought they were going to fix me
and make me beautiful. And my face would be more enhanced
and prettier in the end. But that didn’t happen. And I didn’t want to continue
getting more surgeries because then you can’t stop. We met with Qiao Qiao, a part-time model.
After she graduated from high school, her parents brought her to get the
double eyelid surgery. Today we’re going to try
and make her eyelids look more European. All these so-called models, will more or less get some
kind of plastic surgery done. If you are looking for improvements getting double eyelid surgery
is the first step. Do you think after today’s surgery
you will get more? One at a time
to get closer to perfection. Yes, after I recover,
in about 7 days, I think I know I’ll be thinking about
what to get done next. Now I’m thinking about
filler implants which I never thought of before. Soyoung, is a new online
plastic surgery community. Chen Dada used to be the
operation manager. She had her entire face operated on
back in South Korea in 2013 and she shared her plastic surgery
story with this community. She’s pretty popular
in this community. My first surgery in South Korean
was to contour my nose, I spent over $100,000. Actually, almost $150,000. I wanted to use this money
to study abroad. How many plastic
surgeries did you have? About 50 to 60
different kinds of surgeries. Including skin care
which was a minimal invasive surgery. For example, I got botox injections
around the area of my nose and I also got
double eyelid surgery. I also got liposuctions
because I had a double chin. And I got some filler injections
on the top of my cheeks. -Everything was done at once.
-How much did you spend? I believe it was about
about $700 to $800,000. What does beauty mean to a girl? It’s easier when you’re
doing about business. People see that you are pretty
so I feel like they they treat you better, you know? This is something that no one
wants to accept or admit, but that’s the reality. Some popular fashion bloggers are also making a lot of profits. According to the sales report
for the 11/11 Taobao event Some popular womenswear stores made about
$20 to $50 million in sales. How do these pretty faces relate
to the increase in sales? We came to China’s
e-commerce center, Hang Zhou to visit Taobao shop owner, Da Jin. I bought this when
I was shopping in South Korea. And I’ve seen
many of my fans wearing it. Back in 2014, when I first opened
my womenswear shop 11/11 made about $12 million
in profits, which is a lot. After I started selling clothes
I started to feel isolated from the world.I’m on the way to the warehouse,It’s so cold.Now it’s 8 o’clock.I’m going to buy something to eatthen I’ll stop by to see thembecause they are all working overtime today.If it was only me, I couldn’t make
all this happen. it was very difficult. We visited Ru Han e-commerce,
they’re similar to Da Jin. They helped market
all the Taobao shops. We are here to understand
how internet celebrities are born. For example Da Yi and Da Jin, they put a lot of effort
into being stylish. How to combine colors. They taught others
how to look pretty. How to look and dress like them. It was a lot of work. It’s hard to see
all the hard work behind it. Whenever there are new arrivals
what’s the general protocol? One week before the new arrivals we might get some samples. Then we’ll take some photos. And one day before it’s out on Weibo or some other
social media platform, we will showcase all the new pieces with differnet links and posts. Then on the day of
it’ll be crazy. These are all the Taobao clothing
that will be showcased soon. Yes. Sporty shorts are very popular now. The baby blue color is in
at Taobao this year. And vertical striped loose pants are also very popular. This generation developed
their own delivery tools and I believe they will develop
their own channel too. This generation will have
their own channel. Hua Tingting is
a loyal fan of Da Jin she’s been following her
since she was a model. She buys all the new clothes
when it’s available online. Why do you think Da Jin is so unique? How is she different
from other pretty girls? Her style is similar to mine. She likes nude makeup and she’s very natural. She was discovered
by a photographer. We went to a studio in the
Chaoyang District of Beijing where we met with internet celebrity
photographer, Lai Meng. She spoke to us about the
internet celebrity phenomenon. What’s the most important
element of taking a good picture? Most of them are taken on a smart phone. They’re simple and casual. They’re rocking the latest fashion trends
and they travel to different places. This is it. This is what customers want
and what they like. And this causes clothes to sell out. Hua Tingting asked me
to pass this album to Da Jin. They collect different styles of her. Wow, these photos are ancient, this is when I was still a model. I feel like I’m just an ordinary person. But many people accept me and I am very thankful for it, but I don’t deserve this. Very touching. Finally, we scheduled an informal
plastic surgery consultation. I want to know how
I can enhance my looks and to become a prettier girl. You’re overthinking it
and it’s blocking your judgement. You chin here, you seem to hide everything there
at your chin which makes these two parts
stand out. During my interviews with
the Internet celebrities, whether it was the live streamers
or people from Taobao, they all follow this old
marketing strategy. It’s easy to buy pretty things, but in every different facet
of this industry, we uncover many interesting stories. A pretty face is just the beginning
of this new industry.

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