Oriental Review
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Oriental Review

Foreigners’ Wealth Code in China

Chinese-speaking foreigners are making millions of yuan every year by expressing their love for China.

China’s clampdown on the education sector has undoubtedly affected the job prospects of many expatriates — as teaching foreign languages is the easiest way for foreigners to land a job in China. While some netizens speculate about foreigners’ fate in China, others have noticed that more and more foreigners are active on China’s social media platforms. These foreigners document their lives in foreign countries or share content for fun. Some tapped on the “foreigner’s wealth code” to make a fortune.

The Popularity of Volaf

Russian Internet celebrity Volaf has long been capitalizing on the wealth code by shouting “I love China” to his benefit. After graduating from Beijing Language and Culture University in 2016, Volaf worked for a Sino-Russian trading company. He was then spotted by the owner of a Taobao wine store. After joining the company, he began posting videos on Douyin to promote wine knowledge.

In the early days, he was packaged as a successful person on Douyin, sharing his love for red wine and how to enjoy life. His videos received little attention back then, which made him turn to promote scientific knowledge of wine instead. Along the way, he became aware that his followers were much more interested in his “foreigner” identity than wine knowledge. After this discovery, he left the company to start his own business.

Source: Douyin

Volaf’s new Douyin account documents his experience as a foreigner in China. For instance, his videos include himself as a foreigner reading Tang Poetry, singing Chinese songs and playing mahjong. His “foreigner + Chinese culture” video theme garnered him hundreds of thousands or even millions of views.

A few months later, Volaf quickly rose in popularity. On 7 December 2018, Volaf released a video that spoke deeply of his love for China and shouted, “I love China!” The video has more than 100 million views, and he has been firmly on the road of “I love China” ever since. From QR code payment, express delivery, unmanned supermarkets, to hot pots, Volaf praises everything he encountered in China. Over time, his expression and voice got increasingly exaggerated and commercialized. His performance allowed him to receive Decos and Yili milk advertisements within half a month. He has 9.9 million followers on Douyin, 8.5 million on Kuaishou and nearly 80,000 on Bilibili. His advertising price reached hundreds of thousand yuan per video.

Source: Kuaishou, Douyin

If you search “I love China” in Douyin or Kuaishou, several foreigners with different nationalities post similar videos as Volaf. Some of them cannot even speak Chinese, but they gain social traffic easily by including the phrase “I love China” in their videos.

Source: Douyin

Foreigners Living Abroad Can “Love China” Too

Apart from extolling the conveniences of living in China like Volaf, another group of foreigners have done the opposite — complaining about the inconveniences of living abroad.

A Norwegian vlogger Kris has posted a series of videos named “The Daily Life of a Foreigner Who Returned Home after Living in China”. He gained a considerable following by describing the pain of not having food delivery and mobile payments in Norway. He even began to exaggerate the praise he received when he cooked Chinese dishes in his hometown, which became widely popular on the Internet. Currently, his Douyin account has 17.1 million followers, and his family members have also opened similar Douyin accounts for commercial gains.

Source: Tiktok

The “China-Loving” Foreign Army

Nowadays, “I love China” has become an open password of wealth for foreigners on social media, and many people have discovered this business opportunity. Foreigners do not need to know and love China and its culture. They just need to prepare a script and perform with enthusiasm to get traffic and money.

These famous foreigners are backed by commercial promoters. Some set up a Chinese team or operate accounts with Chinese partners, while some directly sign a contract with Chinese MCN companies. China’s local MCN companies are tapping on this opportunity, actively recruiting new people and bringing in established vloggers from overseas who already have a fan base. These MCN organizations can quickly produce a popular IP by localizing content to fit the Chinese taste and preferences.

In 2019, Bart, a Los Angeles vlogger who already has millions of fans on Youtube, decided to enter the Chinese market. All he had to do was translate popular Chinese songs into English and adjust the rhymes to sing them out. To cater to his Chinese fans, he dyed his black hair blonde. This helped him gain 11.9 million fans on Douyin and 9.1 million fans on Kuaishou easily.

Source: Kuaishou, Tiktok

The Mixed Response of Chinese Netizens

The “China-loving” videos have also drawn mixed reviews. Many think this kind of flattery is aimed at satisfying the vanity of some Chinese people, and it reflects the low level of confidence of the Chinese people — as they desperately need recognition from outsiders, especially from the West whom they once worshipped. Others, however, see these videos as a sign of national strength.

Anti-Volaf as the New Trend

The dazzling performances of Volaf remain heavily criticized. When Ms Volaf ‘accidentally’ knocked over a Chinese cake she had prepared for her wedding, the couple dramatically squatted on the ground to lick the cake. After buying the new Huawei phone, Bart threw the original iPhone on the ground and trampled it in front of the store. Such contrived performances pushed “China-loving” foreigners to the cusp once again.

Volaf’s former partner released a series of videos on Douyin to expose Volaf’s inconsistent behaviour. For example, Volaf claimed that he uses the Huawei phone, but early videos showed him saying “hey, Siri” to an iPhone. Furthermore, Volaf also claimed that his account is personal, but he was found to have a production team supporting him. As a result of these videos exposing Volaf, many users on Bilibili began to put together compilation videos of Volaf’s exaggerated performances aimed at mocking him. The wealth code eventually became a buzzword mocking fake patriotism.

Source:Bilibili

Informative Content Wins the Crowd

Due to Internet restrictions and geographical limitations, many Chinese expect more transparent information exchange with the outside world. They are eager to know what life is like abroad and what foreigners think of China. They resent the performance put off by “China-loving” foreigners, and they prefer multi-angled and in-depth views.

Waiyanhui, a company affiliated with Beijing Weiwo Technology, has captured this opportunity, and they mainly create three types of videos. The first type of videos is about foreigners’ perception of China, such as interviewing foreigners on the street covering funny and light-hearted content. The second type of videos covers overseas products and knowledge, promoting consumption. The last kind of video covers the Chinese people’s views and values as video content for foreigners.

With their high-quality content, Waiyanhui videos quickly gained popularity. Waiyanhui was founded in 2016, and now it owns several popular social media accounts such as “Wanguoren Research Association”, “Wanguo Native Products”, and “YChina”. It has accumulated more than 100 million fans on Weibo, Bilibili, Douyin, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and other social media platforms. Tianyan’s data show that Beijing Weiwo Technology, the parent company of Waiyanhui, has completed four financing rounds.

Source: Tianyancha

As of today, Waiyanhui has produced more than 40 Cultural Opinion Leaders (COL) from Israel, United States, Australia, Spain, Argentina, Japan, Thailand and other countries, covering more than ten areas of interest — such as food, beauty, fashion, travel and so on. With a deeper understanding of “I love China”, Waiyanhui stands out from the crowd when it comes to developing foreign Internet celebrities in China.

Conclusion

As the number of foreign bloggers in China grows, so does the competition. Foreign bloggers need to find the correct positioning, keep up with the preferences of the Chinese audience and bring in more valuable information. Many foreign bloggers who have travelled to China for profit have learned that superficial praise is no longer enough to win applause. Chinese users are only willing to pay for “compliments” if they are sincere and insightful.

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