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What an app reveals about the brutality of life in rural China – by Xu Zhiwei

ShireenWalton25 January 2018

Recently, the smartphone app Kuaishou emerged from China’s cutthroat online entertainment market with more than 400 million registered users and an estimated worth of some two billion USD. It is now the fourth largest social media platform in the country, after WeChat (an instant messaging, and e-commerce and payment app), QQ (instant messaging), and the Sina Weibo micro-blogging site. The majority of the content on Kuaishou is made up of self-harm videos with “comic” twists, rather like the American TV show “Jackass.” Viewers can watch daredevils do everything from swallowing lightbulbs to lighting firecrackers under their own backsides. Those taking part are almost all from smaller, third-tier cities or rural-urban fringe zones. They seek internet stardom by harming their bodies in unconventional ways.

Middle-aged woman eating lightbulbs and worms

In China’s cosmopolitan cities, Internet celebrities are able to rake in tens of thousands of yuan every month by live-streaming themselves eating or shopping. Kuaishou users emulate their urban counterparts, hoping to making a fortune by becoming famous. However, for these people, without wider networks or resources, the results are generally disappointing, and mostly they remain mired in poverty.

For rural China, kuaishou culture expresses, in a particularly eye-catching manner, both this population’s desire for achieving a better life, and more importantly, the cultural difficulties of being poor in contemporary China. Through these practices of bodily harm and self-insults, these people reveal, among other issues, just how unacceptable they find the condition of poverty.

– Xu Zhiwei