They’ve earned $20,000 a month, sometimes $60,000 a post, and even better, $4 million from an audience hooked in pearls.
They are China’s uber-famous internet celebrities, also known as wang hong.
Since they came into the spotlight, many have been curious as to how they make money.
While most of them cash in by livestreaming mundane activities — be it chatting, eating or playing games — little is known about what happens behind their social media posts and mobile cameras.
As we found out, it’s not a sight for entertainment.
Fan Fan, 26, clocks in at least 10 hours a day to tend to her followers.
In an interview with the South China Morning Post, Fan shared how stressful her celebrity life is, which led her under the knife to ensure her relevance, and she’s not alone right there.
Like many other livestreamers, she earns by receiving virtual gifts from fans, which can later be redeemed for real money.
Fan, who tells her fans that she’s 23, told the outlet:
“Age, face and figure are the top three key factors for the success of a female broadcaster. No matter how hard you try, you can only make a living by live-streaming for five years at tops.”
Fan wakes up at 9 a.m. and works until midnight. In between her livestreams — which take up to six hours — she takes about two hours to prepare her clothes, hair and makeup.
More importantly, she has to maintain active engagement on social media, where about 400,000 followers expect entertainment.
With over 100 livestreaming platforms in China, Fan is only one of countless wang hong, powering the booming economy estimated at 100 billion yuan ($14 billion).
As some 3.5 million broadcasters compete for attention, it’s not surprising to hear stories of those who take things to the extreme — dancing on the streets, sleeping on IKEA and playing on top of skyscrapers.
“A beautiful face and a curvy figure are not enough any more. When I started to do live-streaming in 2015, there was not much competition. Now anyone with a smartphone can live-stream, so you only have a minute if not seconds to impress and secure a new fan,” Fan said.
Such allure of attention reminds us of the unfortunate case of China’s “first rooftop daredevil,” Wu Yongning, whose moment of death from the top of a 62-story building was caught on camera.
Wu’s fans were worried when he suddenly stopped posting videos, and as his girlfriend confirmed on December 8, he died a month earlier. He was 26 years old.
Lele Tao, an “online goddess” who makes $450,000 a year, started livestreaming when she was 18. But unlike fan, she has a boss to answer to.
Speaking to BBC, Lele revealed how much she’s “constantly stressed.”
“I feel the pressure because there are more and more cute girls joining,” she explained. “I used to livestream for 10+ hours every day. Because i know others are prettier and better than me, i have to work harder to be liked by more people.”
When Lele first started, she used two to three hours to prepare for her livestream, an hour to learn new songs, an hour to look for top news and another hour to find jokes.
Because she is managed by an agency, she does not stream from her bedroom, but from a building with other livestreamers. She also trains before her broadcast, and after that, she’s left with no breaks.
“Any streamer who wants to be successful needs to keep up with new trends and never stop learning. That’s why it’s such a stressful and tiring job,” Lele said.
Lu Mingming, a 25-year-old rookie, must agree. She told the Washington Post that the hardest part of her job is to muster the energy to appear delighted for hours, seven days a week.
Thankfully, her fans want to hear the same songs over and over again. “They want to see you singing from the heart,” she said.
China’s livestreamers are indeed making good money, but the price they pay for virtual gifts, at the end of the day, seems much more expensive. To ensure success in the long term — and in the grander scale of things — they must be reasonable even without eyes watching.
Fan recognizes that fame is not forever, and she hopes for a career change.
“I am actively looking for new ways of making money and a change of career path is inevitable,” she said. “I have made some investments in restaurants and I am working to boost my fan base on Weibo to transform myself into a fashion blogger.”
But for now, the show must go on.