wechat_bg

2019-10-07 06:49:25  + video 

This article is the first in a three-part series on some of China’s most venerable internet celebrities. 

GUIZHOU, Southwest China — Night falls and the speakers start to pulse. There are dozens of square-dancing grannies gathered in front of Huichuan Stadium, but Wang Xianqun is easy to spot. Dressed in a baggy t-shirt, her gray hair cropped into a high and tight fade, the 67-year-old Zunyi resident hardly looks her age. She looks even younger when she slides into one of her now iconic silky smooth dance breaks. A hundred or so spectators circle her as she sweats in the mid-August heat, smiling and snapping photos. But they’re not her only audience; online, hundreds of thousands of fans log on to short-video apps Kuaishou and Tiktok to catch her latest performance. 

Better known as “Auntie Long” — a reference to her zodiac sign, the dragon — Wang went viral this January after passersby started taking videos of her dancing and uploading them to the internet. She has since set up accounts on both of China’s top short-video platforms, where she’s garnered a combined 4 million followers. 

As of June 2019, China’s two main short-video apps boasted a total of 648 million users. While TikTok and Kuaishou are generally associated with younger demographics, a number of older Chinese have also been swept up in the craze. Their paths to stardom vary: some are scouted and signed by marketing companies for their easygoing camera presence; some are entrepreneurs looking to build a brand; some — like Wang — strike gold purely by chance; and some never make it at all. 

Eight months after Wang Xianqun went viral, she invited one of her newfound fans to spend nine days living with her in her hometown. By Tang Xiaolan and Xu Wan/Sixth Tone

In the months since Wang went viral, many of her less famous followers have asked her for help plugging their own accounts. At Wang’s invitation, one such fan, Yang Haihong, traveled all the way from China’s southern Hainan province, over 1,000 kilometers away, to spend time with her idol. This is their story. 

Editor: Kilian O’Donnell.

(Header image: Wang Xianqun dances in Zunyi, Guizhou province, August 2019. Tang Xiaolan/Sixth Tone)