BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s top livestreaming sales influencer Li Jiaqi reappeared on screens on Tuesday, ending an over three-month-long absence that began after he was cut off abruptly, mid-show, on the eve of the anniversary of the country’s Tiananmen Square crackdown.
Also known by his English name Austin, Li was known for his livestreaming channel on Alibaba Group’s Taobao Marketplace where he would almost every evening sell products from cosmetics to food for brands such as L’Oreal. Last year, he sold $1.9 billion worth of goods in one session.
He vanished from public sight on June 3, when his show was suddenly cut short after he promoted an ice cream product that was decorated as a tank.
He blamed a technical error but many online users speculated that this was uncomfortably close to the June 4 anniversary of the 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators, when the military sent tanks into Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. The day remains a sensitive one for China with internet censors quick to block related content.
Li’s reappearance on his livestreaming channel on Tuesday evening for roughly two hours occurred with little advance notice, with the news spreading by word of mouth. In the first hour, Taobao users paid nearly 30 million visits to his channel.
Among the 26 products he marketed were modestly priced ones such as a mobile phone holder and rolls of garbage bags, most of which quickly sold out as viewers flooded the screen with comments welcoming him back.
He gave no explanation for his absence and his studio did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Reuters.
Li, whose nickname is “Lipstick Brother”, was considered to be the last surviving mega-livestreaming influencer after his biggest rival Viya was fined 1.34 billion yuan and shut down over tax evasion in December. Analysts say their disappearance from screens have hurt online sales.
Li’s return is favourable for upcoming big shopping festivals such as Alibaba’s Singles’ Day, the world’s biggest online shopping fest also known as Double 11, said Jacob Cooke, CEO of e-commerce consultancy WPIC Marketing + Technologies,
“Given Austin Li’s popularity among consumers, his return gives Alibaba an enormous boost heading into 11/11,” he said.
($1 = 7.0118 Chinese yuan renminbi)
(Reporting by Beijing Newsroom; Editing by Mark Heinrich)