China economy: What anger over top influencer says about China today – BBC

One of China's most popular influencers has come under fire for dismissing a young follower's complaint over high makeup prices as "nonsense".
Livestreamer Li Jiaqi's retort – that those who couldn't afford the 79 yuan ($11; £9) eyebrow pencil did not work "hard enough" – struck a raw nerve as China's youth struggle to find jobs in a sputtering post-pandemic economy. The 31-year-old has apologised but his remarks continue to fuel debate.
"What stung people was not the 79 yuan price tag, but your attitude and opinions on us," reads a comment on Weibo, which has been liked thousands of times.
"You don't know about the current economic climate. Many people are still working hard and struggling, just to keep their jobs," it read.
The past six months has brought a stream of bad news for China's economy. Youth unemployment has hit a record high. As of July, more than one in five 16-to-24-year-olds were jobless. The following month, officials said they would temporarily stop publishing unemployment data.
The property sector, which until recently accounted for a third of China's entire wealth, has long been teetering on the brink of a full-blown crisis. Economists have downgraded their forecasts for China's economic growth, many to below the government's target of about 5%.
Li – who first rose to fame in 2017 when he started hosting online sales sessions on shopping platform Taobao – is one of China's most successful salesmen. He hawks a range of products from food to cosmetics and homeware, and reportedly sells millions of dollars' worth of items every night. He earned the moniker Lipstick King by once selling 150,000 lipsticks within five minutes. Over the years, Li has garnered some 150 million followers across multiple platforms – that number has shrunk since his controversial comments.
Given the bleak prospects millions of young Chinese face, Li's comments are proof that his celebrity status has desensitised him to their struggles, critics said. But the anger has also provided a window to the disillusionment rampant among the country's youth – one tweet read: "In social media comments responding to the Li Jiaqi incident, I saw a China that's collapsing."
The controversy began on Sunday when Li was livestreaming a sales pitch for an eyebrow pencil from Chinese cosmetic brand Florasis.
In response to a viewer who commented that the eyebrow pencil was too expensive, Li said: "How is that expensive? This has been the price for so many years. Stop spouting nonsense," he said, adding that domestic companies have been struggling.
He went on to tell the viewer off, "Sometimes you have to look inward, reflect on why you haven't received a pay raise after so many years. Have you been working hard enough?"
"It's been the same price all these years! This is driving me crazy," he concluded in an outburst, which also shocked his co-host, according to a widely-circulated clip of the exchange.
Criticism erupted online shortly after the livestream, soon spurring a series of hashtags on Weibo. A large proportion of Li's millions-strong following is young Chinese women who have also been hit hard by the slowdown.
Many users posted about how they have been struggling to make ends meet and how their wages have not been proportional to the effort they put in at work.
"No pay increase is not because we don't work hard. I have not had a pay raise for three years, and the prices for everything have been surging high… These days I only buy daily necessities, I no longer participate in the big sales," another user wrote.
State media also weighed in, with CCTV criticising Li. "Many Internet celebrities and anchors were humble before making money, and became very inflated after making money… and are doomed to be disgusting," it said in a commentary on its website.
Li is no stranger to controversy. In June last year, he displayed a tank-shaped ice cream cake on his show just hours before the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown.
Decades on, all references to the Tiananmen protests or what followed remains a censored topic in China. Li's broadcast of the tank-shaped cake was abruptly cut and he disappeared for three months, before reappearing on screen in September last year.
Following this week's uproar, Li issued a written apology on Monday morning, acknowledging his "inappropriate remarks". He wrote: "I am well aware that everyone's work is tough… I'm really sorry that what I said failed you all."
He addressed the issue again later that day via livestream, where he said that it was "not [his] place to judge" anyone on the Internet.
Still, the furore did not subside. Li's comments continued going viral on Tuesday, with many people calling for a boycott of his livestream channel. A Weibo user with the handle Baixiwen said they "do not expect Li to be empathetic to our situation".
"Many of us work just as hard as [Li] does. We are just not lucky enough to achieve his level of success. For many people, being broke is not a choice," wrote another Weibo user.
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