China’s Lipstick King reappears, months after Tiananmen ‘tank cake’ row | China

China’s leading shopping livestreamer, Li Jiaqi, has returned to online trading platforms nearly four months after his feed was suddenly interrupted, which viewers suspected was related to the wandering appearance of a tank-shaped cake.

Li, also known as the Lipstick King for his ability to move massive amounts of product across his sales channels, briefly appeared on Alibaba Group’s Taobao marketplace on Tuesday night.

The two-hour appearance was unannounced, but news quickly spread online about his return. From 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., the audience reportedly grew from about 100,000 to over 50 million. Sitting next to co-anchor Wang Wang, Li seemed more subdued than usual as he promoted a range of staple items, including cell phone holders, sneakers and cleaning supplies.

He began by welcoming viewers and thanking them for their support, urging them to spend “rationally”, before quickly moving on to the sales portion of the broadcast.

“I feel like it’s not open,” one commenter noted. “They looked very careful,” said another. “It’s so sad!”

Few comments were made about his disappearance, but some made references suggesting general caution. After a person asked, “What happened to Li Jiaqi?” Another replied: “It’s not his fault, but it’s better not to know. Who knows the inside story of his disappearance and why did he return? Please give me more details!”

Li has not been seen online since June 3 this year, when his feed was abruptly stopped. He blamed technical difficulties, but there was rampant speculation among viewers that the stream was intentionally terminated by operators after a pie was presented on-screen resembling a military tank. Images of tanks are often used in connection with the Tiananmen Square massacre on June 4, 1989, and the date is very sensitive in China.

Li Jiaqi, known as China's Lipstick King, discusses what appears to be a tank-shaped cake in June.
Li Jiaqi, known as China’s Lipstick King, discusses what appears to be a tank-shaped cake in June.
Photo: Taobao Live

Discussion of the incident, in which Chinese authorities killed unknown numbers of student protesters in Beijing, has been banned and the censorship is so strict that many in China have little to no knowledge of the event. Ironically, the cutting off of Li’s stream prompted many viewers to search for the meaning of the tank reference at the time. His return seemed to trigger similar quests for clarity.

“What happened? I can’t find anything about Baidu,” one person commented on Tuesday. “Something can’t be said, Baidu can’t find it.”

Li was one of China’s top three shopping live streamers, who have become national celebrities for their ability to move mountains of products by anchoring broadcasts that resemble high-tech versions of TV shopping channels from the 80s and 90s.

On platforms like Taobao and Douyin – China’s TikTok – billions of dollars are spent on the anchors’ interactive live streams. According to management consultancy McKinsey, live streaming accounts for 10% of China’s e-commerce revenue and forms the basis for major retail and sales events.

Li’s management firm, Mieone, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Additional reporting by Chi Hui Lin

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