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🔦How 2 influencers with 32 million fans shed light on a neglected demographic in China | Following the yuan
While consumer brands are forever courting the youngest generation, I believe the phenomenon offers invaluable insights for businesses that aim to connect with a senior audience as China ages.
Writer’s Note 📝: This piece is written in collaboration with, the author of , where we pick apart a phenomenon that has been neglected for too long in (English) media: How do senior citizens in China entertain themselves? What are their emotional outlets and aspirations?
We discussed the rise of one male and one female influencer (who had a combined 32 million fans on Douyin before one of them got canceled), reactions from the youth, and what we think this phenomenon means.
The rise of influencers targeting at senior citizens:
In his thirties, a Chinese man tends his flower field. When you catch him by surprise, he smiles, slicks back his hair, and serenades you with a melody.
Such heartwarming videos have charmed millions of middle-aged to elderly women in China, earning “Scholar” 秀才, the man’s stage name, over 12 million fans on TikTok’s Chinese sister app Douyin since 2020. According to a third party data platform Chanmama, nearly 87% of whom are women.
In the comment section of Scholar’s social media account, elderly women express admiration like "handsome boy, how are you so good-looking?" while others offer genuine blessings like "wishing you happiness every day, with beautiful songs and memories." The majority are caring messages akin to those of an elder sister or mother, urging him to eat well and enjoy life.
One ardent 72-year-old female admirer traveled 1,700 km from the northeast Jilin Province to eastern Anhui Province to meet him. When questioned by a bystander, she passionately responded, “I just have to see him.” Another 62-year-old female fan reported online that she rewarded Scholar 500,000 yuan online (about 68,000 U.S. dollars) and only chased tens of hundreds back when regretting later.
To everyone’s surprise, Scholar’s Douyin account disappeared on September 2. A Douyin representative told the financial publication Lanjing that the account had violated platform regulations and was subsequently banned.
On the same day, Jiupai Financial News wrote that an anonymous individual reported the influencer, whose real surname is Xu, to the Haozhou local inspection bureau of the State Administration of Taxation, resulting in action being taken.
Likewise, Yixiaoqingcheng 一笑倾城, whose name means “a smile that overwhelms a city”, has also gone viral this summer. While Scholar is followed by elderly female fans, Yixiaoqingcheng is chased by elderly male fans.
In her comments section, enthusiastic fans leave straightforward comments like "Marry me; I love you so much," "You sly fox, you make my heart itch," or "I genuinely adore you," while some gentlemen prefer referencing classical literature or even writing acrostic poems to convey their affection.
Interestingly, as Scholar stopped uploading videos in late August before the official ban, Yixiaoqingcheng hasn’t posted on her account since Aug 21.
The social impact and reaction from the youth:
While comparing the two influencers side by side, domestic entertainment media Domore observed that Yixiaoqingcheng maintains her smile throughout nearly five hours of streaming, never showing a displeased expression even when losing a challenge with another livestreamer. In contrast, Scholar is more straightforward and would directly ask for donations from viewers. His frustration is evident when he loses challenges.
Among the two, Scholar had garnered more attention with his three iconic gestures – slicking back his hair, covering his mouth, and sticking out his tongue – which are described as “greasy” by the young viewers and mimicked on other short video and streaming platforms.
As media coverage elevated Scholar to nationwide recognition a few months prior, younger individuals started joining in, primarily to poke fun at the fervent comments from his senior fans (see video below). Some even posed as elderly fans and left inappropriate comments, which might have contributed to the account's ban.
Discussing emotional needs remains a taboo in Chinese society, a sentiment passed from older to younger generations, says Zhou Xiaola, a Bilibili vlogger in a recent video commentary.
“What's striking about vloggers like Scholar is how they've uncovered the suppressed emotional needs that many Chinese have concealed throughout their lives," Zhou observed. "It seems discussing emotions is still a forbidden subject.”
The rise in Scholar’s popularity highlights a deeper societal issue: the unaddressed emotional needs of these women who have faced hardships and been confined to traditional gender roles all their lives. The comments they leave range from rose and kiss emojis (which the younger generation often mocks) to heartfelt confessions about family troubles, expressing how Scholar brings warmth into their lives, as seen in previous media report screenshots.
Personally, I think that the phenomenon around Scholar is far more unique and significant than that of Yixiaoqingcheng.
Culturally speaking, Chinese women have always been under the male gaze, so it wasn’t surprising that older Chinese men find a target they like online. But a popular idol for senior women? I haven’t seen that phenomenon since Taiwanese-American singer Fei Xiang (English name Kris Phillips) debuted at the Chinese Spring Festival gala in the 80s. The comments surrounding Scholar provide a rare insight into the psyche of women from rural areas who are more aligned with traditional societal roles.
Business-wise, it's crucial to understand what resonates with this particular demographic. While foreign brands are forever courting Chinese millennials, Gen-Zs and whoever the youngest generation is, I believe the two phenomena offer invaluable insights for brands aiming to connect with a senior audience.
The results of China’s seventh national census in 2020 show that China’s population aged 60 and above is 264 million, accounting for 18.7% of the total population. While a widely quoted number is that the total size of China's silver economy was approximately 5.4 trillion yuan in 2020, a recent report by China Research Center on Aging believes that the consumption potential of China's elderly population may reach 40.69 trillion yuan in 2050, accounting for 12.2% of GDP. Now, which businesses are going to win their hearts and wallets?
🎙️Jiang Jiang says:
I first came across Scholar on Douyin, where several of the younger generation's videos amusingly poke fun at him with the backdrop of a Jay Chou’s song. As someone who grew up in the '90s with Jay Chou's tunes, the song instantly struck a familiar chord with me. I later came across a video where Scholar himself showcased his signature moves to the very same song. Someone says it is a secondary creation because he normally use songs more familiar to older generations. But there was a surprising harmony in how it all came together, making me eager for more—even if some might label it as "boring."
In today's digital era, thanks to algorithms, we often find ourselves in our own personalized content bubbles. But creative content like this, which blends elements from different age groups, has the potential to break through these barriers. It's quite a sight, witnessing one generation getting a taste of another's world. 🔚
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