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    Two Years After Curbs, Binge-Eating Streams Rebound in China

    Though China restricted binge-eating videos in the online sphere in 2021, domestic media has reported that several accounts linked to the practice have been actively livestreaming such content again, primarily after midnight.
    Dec 21, 2023#social media

    More than two years after China introduced regulations to curb binge-eating, or mukbang, videos online, influencers who broadcast themselves consuming copious quantities of food are facing renewed criticism. 

    According to a report in the domestic media outlet Legal Daily, over 30 accounts were actively engaged in livestreaming binge-eating videos, primarily during midnight hours, often combining food promotions and conversation. 

    In such livestreams, influencers often consume a variety of foods such as dumplings, noodles, fried chicken, and barbecue in a single sitting. Their social media pages typically feature posts of visually appealing, brightly colored foods, such as spicy instant noodles or fried chicken, to draw viewers’ attention.

    Prior to the curbs, influencers, widely known as “Big Stomach Kings,” would broadcast themselves eating substantial amounts of food. Zhang Yumi, also known as Mizi Jun, one of China’s original mukbang streamers, gained fame in 2016 after consuming four kilograms of rice in an eating competition and set records for eating large single-meal portions like 10 bowls of pineapple rice, eight bowls of rice noodles, and 10 portions of pig’s feet.

    But now, when users search for terms like “Big Stomach King” or “eating livestreams” on Chinese video platforms such as Douyin — China’s version of TikTok — Kuaishou, and Bilibili, messages discouraging food waste pop up, such as “Cherish Food and Say No to Waste,” at the top of their search results.

    Legal Daily reported that the audience for binge-eating livestreams becomes most active around 12 a.m. And they vary in content, with some featuring the consumption of large amounts of food, while others introduce novelty by showcasing the eating of unusual items like bullfrog, octopus, or silkworm pupae. 

    The report stated that such streams can be monetized through various means, including partnerships with multi-channel network organizations, advertising, and direct sales. 

    One livestreamer told Legal Daily that she could earn 15,000 yuan ($2,340) per month and that the food she consumes during the livestream is typically unrelated to the products she sells. “Eating is merely a means to attract an audience ... selling products is the ultimate objective,” she was quoted as saying.

    Amid the resurgence in mukbang content, the state-run Beijing News has called for more stringent regulatory measures. In a recent commentary, it advocated for a ban on livestreams that violate ethical standards, emphasizing the need to cleanse the online environment and prevent “Big Stomach King” influencers from engaging in potential misconduct. 

    One contributing factor to the popularity of these videos is their role as an outlet for viewers’ food cravings, especially late at night. “People watch mukbang videos as a psychological compensation for not being able to indulge in big meals themselves,” Chen Jing, a psychological counselor based in Beijing, told domestic media. 

    In 2020, state broadcaster CCTV criticized the mukbang phenomenon for promoting food waste and engaging in practices such as “fake eating” — when livestreamers bite food but don’t swallow it — and vomiting. This prompted social media platforms to implement specific regulations targeting videos and livestreams related to binge-eating.

    The following year, four government bodies, including the National Development and Reform Commission, introduced stringent rules explicitly prohibiting online video platforms and television from producing, publishing, or disseminating content that encourages excessive eating, binge drinking, or food waste. 

    Several influencers subsequently either deleted their accounts or pivoted away from livestreaming binge-eating sessions to restaurant reviews. 

    Mizi Jun has now transitioned to food blogging, amassing over 18 million followers on the microblogging platform Weibo after deleting all previous content featuring excessive eating. 

    On Bilibili, the original videos of influencers consuming large amounts of food have now become scarce. In their place, reuploaded content featuring foreign influencers engaging in similar activities has risen in popularity, with one video featuring a Korean influencer engaged in a mukbang session amassing approximately 15 million views. 

    Editor: Apurva. 

    (Header image: A screenshot from a binge-eating stream on Kuaishou. From Weibo)