LONDON – China’s top livestream star Austin Li, dubbed the “lipstick king” in the West for selling 15,000 lipsticks in five minutes, is still missing since his livestreaming session on Taobao was abruptly cut short on 3 June.
He is believed to have triggered China’s censorship system by promoting Viennetta ice cream, decorated to look like a tank, a day before the 33rd anniversary of the 1989 protests in Tiananmen Square.
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Still considered indescribable in China, any mention of or association with the protests, however remote or vague, will most likely result in censorship or prosecution.
Li explained on Weibo immediately after the hiatus that it was caused by a “technical issue”, and that the rest of the products that were scheduled to be shown will be available in the near future.
His social media account has not been updated since, and his whereabouts remained unknown on Monday, two weeks after he stepped down from public view.
According to industry sources, Li had been lined up for a slew of engagements with beauty brands including L’Oreal, Estée Lauder, YSL, Armani Beauty, Jo Malone, Bobbie Brown, Fenty Beauty, Olay, Decorté, Nars, Aupres, Clé de Peau, Olaplex, Kiko, Moroccanoil and Caudalie, for the 618 shopping festival, which recorded its slowest growth to date, as well as a series of collaborations to celebrate its 30th anniversary on June 7. He didn’t show up to any of them.
Since its main competitor Wei Huang, better known as Viya, fell due to tax evasion last December, Li has been the sole leader in China’s booming live-streaming industry. He has more than 64 million followers on Taobao, 30 million followers on Weibo and 44 million followers on Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok.
It generated 10.65 billion renminbi, or $1.56 billion, in gross merchandise value, the equivalent of what several brick-and-mortar retailers earn in a year combined, during the year’s Single’s Day shopping festival. last. Sales of beauty and skincare products amounted to 8.26 billion renminbi, or $1.24 billion.
Netizens believe Li was temporarily banned as punishment for his political callousness, as his social media pages are still visible even though millions of people have unfollowed him since the incident. Those who commit serious misconduct in Beijing’s eyes would usually have their social media presence completely wiped out immediately, which turned out to be the case for Huang.
Others suggest that Li is too valuable for China’s e-commerce ecosystem to be taken down for a single political misstep. Its rise has become synonymous with the success of China’s digital economy during the COVID-19 pandemic. Any public punishment for him would come at a time when China is dealing with waves of lockdowns, high unemployment and shrinking retail sales.