One of China’s biggest internet stars, Li Jiaqi, has been silent for more than a week after showing a tank-shaped cake in a live broadcast, just hours before a new anniversary of the Tiananmen crackdown.
Li Jiaqi broadcasts live streams daily, seeking to sell the products he has been successfully marketing for several years, such as skin care products, baby items, jewelry, and makeup.
With more than 64 million followers on the popular Chinese social network Taobao Live, Li has quickly become one of the leading figures in the world of online sales in China. This industry has developed exponentially in recent years.
The 30-year-old, known for his K-Pop style, always dressed fashionably and with an effeminate image, has achieved online success, always talking about banal issues and related to the trade of their products but never commenting on politics or sensitive topics in communist China.
The exception was last week, a few hours before a new anniversary of the terrible Tiananmen massacre on June 4, 1989. When showing a cake in the shape of a war tank, he referred to the historical event in which the Chinese communist regime murdered thousands of citizens peacefully protesting for freedom and fundamental human rights in cold blood.
After showing the tank-shaped cake, the transmission was cut off and did not reappear. Hours later, Li Jiaqi, from his Weibo account, argued the suspension of the broadcast was due to “technical problems.”
It should be noted that the war tanks became a symbol of that sad day, which continues to be a taboo subject in China since the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) continues to ignore the facts or censor and lie about what happened.
Therefore, it is suspected that the regime’s online “observers” have interpreted the fact of showing a tank just on that date as an offense or a defiant message.
The famous “tank man” photo, showing a man alone in front of tanks sent to suppress dissent in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989, is so censored in China that many young Chinese do not know of its existence or meaning.
Li Jiaqi’s foray into sensitive issues seems to have cost him dearly. Since Friday, June 3, there have been no posts or news about the influencer, and some internet search results with his name have been censored.
Many of his young followers are dismayed by his silence, especially after he failed to appear during a broadcast he had scheduled for Sunday.
Huge debates about the possible reasons for the show’s interruption took place on the social media platform Weibo this week, with hashtags reaching more than 100 million likes. Many users speculated that Li had been permanently banned from live streaming.
Speculation about his disappearance increased on social media after he failed to appear on two other scheduled broadcasts this week, including one of the country’s most significant online shopping events.
Many of Li Jiaqi’s followers do not understand the seriousness of the matter.
Even from the history books, the Chinese regime had done its best to erase the memory of June 4, 1989, when the government sent troops and tanks to put down peaceful protests in Beijing Square.
As a result, generations of Chinese have grown up without knowing about the massacre, and many of Li’s followers and those who comment on his disappearance on social networks belong precisely to these generations affected by the CCP’s censorship, which seeks to reformulate history at its convenience.
The BBC noted the confusion of Li’s audience, demonstrating that they generally do not understand the significance of the tank or why the Communist censors prevented them from knowing anything about the Tiananmen massacre:
“What does the tank mean?” asked one confused viewer.
Another said, “What could he have said incorrectly while selling snacks?”
Others asked, “What’s with the shape of that cake—can someone send me a PM (private message)? I looked hard but still couldn’t find out the answer.”
One commenter replied by referring to the famous picture of the man with the tank, “Our own account will be in trouble only if we send him the picture via private message. Who would dare to do that?”
Some of Li’s fans sought to defend him by suggesting that the young influencer was ignorant of Tiananmen history like most of his age and had no idea why the tank might be a controversial symbol around June 4.
Others even claimed that competitors gave him the tank cake as a perverse strategy to blacklist him from the CCP and remove him from the networks.
While there is no evidence that the theory is true, it is quite plausible that something like this happened as the world of internet sales in China is extremely competitive. In addition, some significant streamers were recently ruined by tax scandals or other situations in their private lives.
Another theory, published by Foreign Policy on Wednesday, is that the Chinese regime was looking for any excuse to crack down on Li, arguing that the CCP is becoming increasingly homophobic as its demographic crisis deepens.
“Li does not discuss his personal life, save for his five Bichon Frises. But in his public persona—a man selling feminine beauty products to an audience he addresses as “sisters”—he operates in an established but fragile space for entertainers who don’t conform to conventional masculinity,” the media outlet noted.
What does the CCP say about the Tiananmen massacre?
The answer is absolutely nothing. The regime, since the events of 1989 and up to the present, has used all kinds of ruses to hide what happened, to deny and/or minimize the massacre.
Today, although thousands of mothers mourn their children who died or disappeared during the event, the Chinese communist regime prohibits commemoration. Moreover, it has blocked all information about it on the Internet.
Every time international human rights groups and some local activists try to remember the events; the regime intensifies censorship on Chinese social networks. It uses various strategies, including some ridiculous ones, such as removing certain emojis associated with peaceful grievances (candles, leaves, mourning ribbons) on the Weibo chat app.
Given this and the CCP’s track record of involvement in the disappearance and murder of political dissidents, it is not surprising that the CCP is the one behind Li Jiaqi’s disappearance. Only when he returns to his program, if he returns at all, will it perhaps be possible to unravel the mystery and answer the questions raised.