5 Chinese social media stars using their influencer fame for good, fighting climate change, and giving Covid-19 tips

Weiya is the most successful streaming host on the e-commerce platform Taobao and has gained recognition for her poverty alleviation work.
PHOTO: Weibo/Weiya

Rather than promoting fashion, food and beauty brands’ products, a new breed of social media influencers in China are using their celebrity status to champion causes such as environmentalism and to share medical and legal knowledge.

Here are five of the biggest ethical key opinion leaders, or KOLs, active on Chinese social media platforms.

1. Howey Ou

Howey Ou (left) is the only public climate striker in China.
PHOTO: Howey Ou

Howey Ou would be an ordinary secondary school student from the southern Guangxi province in China, if not for the fact that she is the only public climate striker in China .

She first made headlines for a one-person climate strike in May last year in front of the local government office in Guilin, the touristy city where she lives. The strike lasted a week before she was stopped by police and questioned.

She was not cowed and continues to stage strikes, which cause regular has run-ins with the law. In July, she was barred from returning to school because of her activism.

While Ou, 17, does not have a large following in China, her efforts have attracted a lot of international press coverage, with many praising her bravery.

“I don’t want China to not do anything about this. China’s youth must accept this historical responsibility,” Ou told the South China Morning Post in an interview in July.

2. Weiya

PHOTO: Weibo/Weiya

Weiya, whose real name is Wang Wei, is the most successful streaming host on the e-commerce platform Taobao. (The Post is owned by the same parent company, Alibaba, as Taobao.)

Weiya sold the largest amount of products in this year’s Singles’ Day shopping event on Taobao , grossing over US$813 million (S$1.1 bilion), according to statistics by market research firm Zhigua.

She has also gained recognition for her poverty alleviation work. She has been working since 2016 with Alibaba to help promote agricultural products from impoverished areas in China, according to a profile by the magazine China Economic Weekly . Her goal is to use her platform as an advertising channel to provide the farmers with another revenue stream.

In the space of less than two years, Weiya, 35, has helped to sell around US$85.5 million worth of agricultural products, the report said.

Weiya was quoted as saying she wants to improve society’s perception of streaming hosts and encourage those who want to be streaming hosts to find value in their work and help others.

3. Liang Yu

Liang Yu rose to prominence when she decided to take the lead in helping provide female health care workers with sanitary products.
PHOTO: Liang Yu

Liang Yu was an ordinary Shanghai office worker with a modest following on Weibo before finding her calling. She rose to prominence when she decided to take the lead in helping provide female health care workers with sanitary products.

The needs of women medical workers, such as access to sanitary pads, were ignored when Covid-19 began spreading throughout the city of Wuhan last winter.

A charity drive she spearheaded, dubbed the “anti-epidemic sisters relief operation”, sent more than 613,000 pairs of incontinence underwear (a superior alternative to adult diapers, worn under personal protective equipment), 320,000 single-use briefs, 160,000 sanitary pads and 10,850 bottles of hand lotion to more than 84,500 staff in around 200 hospitals and medical teams across China.

Liang’s campaign raised questions about why it took an ordinary citizen to organise supplies for women health care workers rather than the authorities. Later, the state-linked All-China Women’s Federation started a similar supply run.

With the pandemic largely under control within China, Liang, 25, has turned her attention to reducing “period poverty” for those who cannot afford or access sanitary products.

4. Luo Xiang

Luo Xiang posts videos about how the law applies in unlikely situations on Bilibili.
PHOTO: Luo Xiang

Luo Xiang has become famous for making criminal law lectures fun through humour and trivia. The China University of Political Science and Law professor posts videos about how the law applies in unlikely situations – such as whether it is illegal to murder someone in space (it is).

In March this year, Luo, 43, opened an account on the popular Chinese video-sharing platform Bilibili and accumulated a million followers faster than anyone ever has on the platform, according to The Beijing News .

5. Zhang Wenhong

Zhang Wenhong earned the public’s admiration by saying that Chinese Communist Party members should be the first to take on the hardest and toughest jobs without negotiations.
PHOTO: Weibo/Zhang Wenhong

Shanghai doctor Zhang Wenhong, 51, gained popularity for his no-nonsense comments during China’s fight against the Covid-19 outbreak . He eventually became an authority on the subject and the public began to follow Zhang’s advice.

In January, he earned the public’s admiration by saying that Chinese Communist Party members should be the first to take on the hardest and toughest jobs without negotiations.

The comment came when there was a public confidence crisis in the government, and many thought local party cadres were mishandling the coronavirus outbreak.

Since then, he has been interviewed regularly by Chinese media for Covid-19 tips, such as how to prevent a return of the virus during the winter. Zhang remains committed to his job despite his new-found fame, according to an interview with People’s Daily , the largest newspaper group in China.

“I actually don’t really like it that everyone calls me a KOL doctor,” he was quoted as saying.

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.