One of China’s top livestreaming sales influencers has been absent for a week on Friday, disappearing soon after apparently marking the June 4, 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre with an image of a tank.
Li Jiaqi, also known by his English name Austin Li, has more than 64 million followers of his Taobao Marketplace channel, where he sells a wide range of products from cosmetics to food for a few hours in the evening, usually six days a week.
He was considered to be the last surviving top-tier livestreaming influencer after his biggest rival Viya (Huang Wei) was fined 1.34 billion yuan and shut down over tax evasion in December.
Brands like L’Oréal and Louis Vuitton regularly engage internet celebrities such as Li to market products in China.
The livestreamer’s last appearance online was on June 3 when he was hawking items on Taobao before he was abruptly cut off.
Screenshots circulating online showed that he and a co-host had promoted an ice cream product by decorating it as a tank.
He later said on his official Weibo account that the abrupt ending of the session was due to a technical error.
Uncomfortably Close to June 4
However, online users speculated that it was due to the tank and the date of the livestreaming being uncomfortably close to the 33rd anniversary of the crackdown on pro-democracy protesters, when tanks crushed protesters in Beijing’s most famous square.
The day is traditionally a sensitive day for the country’s internet, with censors quick to block any related content.
Li’s company did not respond to requests for comment on Friday. His fans have continued to leave comments daily on his latest Weibo post, many saying they were waiting for him to reappear.
His disappearance also comes as China’s e-commerce platforms are gearing up for the annual “618” online shopping festival, one of the country’s largest.
Merchants and livestreaming celebrities such as Li have in recent weeks been heavily promoting products in hope of enticing shoppers amid a slowing economy.
- Reuters, with additional editing by George Russell
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