Subscribe to our newsletter

     By signing up, you agree to our Terms Of Use.


    • About Us
    • |
    • Contribute
    • |
    • Contact Us
    • |
    • Sitemap

    In Sichuan, Influencers Jailed for Exploiting Rural Hardship

    An investigation by local police revealed that the influencers, working with an agency, used fabricated tales of rural China to sell agricultural goods on e-commerce platforms.

    A local court in southwestern China’s Sichuan province has convicted eight people, including well-known livestreamers and executives of a multichannel network agency, for selling products online using false narratives.

    These narratives often involved fabricated stories of hardship in rural areas or claims of assisting farmers to promote agricultural goods on e-commerce platforms. Influencers, through videos and livestreams, depicted themselves in desperate conditions to encourage viewers to buy the endorsed products.

    In recent years, the rise of influencers adopting fake personas for livestreams has led state media to highlight such business models that exploit public sympathy with misleading narratives. In response, China’s top internet watchdog launched a campaign in December to address the false information and unsuitable content on domestic short video platforms.

    Following an investigation by local authorities that revealed the MCN agency had illicitly earned more than 10 million yuan ($1.4 million), the Zhaojue County People’s Court in the Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture sentenced eight agency officials to nine to 14 months in prison. They were also fined between 20,000 yuan to 100,000 yuan each.

    The influencers involved, including Liangshan Mengyang and Liangshan Aze — both have millions of followers on social media — were handed sentences of nine and 11 months in jail, respectively, and hefty fines. Both accounts have since been blocked.

    Liangshan Mengyang, whose real surname is Axi, presented herself online as a young woman from rural southwestern Liangshan who had lost her parents early and was raising her siblings alone.

    Her social media account rapidly grew to about 4 million followers on Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, and she began selling agricultural products as local specialties through her livestreams.

    According to a report in the state-owned People’s Daily, in more than 500 videos, she depicted herself living in a rundown house. She was often seen in tattered clothing, chopping wood in the mountains or working in the fields.

    “Don’t give me gifts. Instead, use the money you would spend on gifts to buy mountain walnuts. It will support many uncles and aunties here,” she once said during a livestream.

    However, the spike in sales quickly led to consumer complaints about the quality of the products. Amid the growing scrutiny, it was discovered that her parents were, in fact, alive, and some even spotted her well-dressed at expensive venues.

    The revelations triggered an investigation in June into the MCN agency managing their social media operations. Local authorities found that the merchandise sold during the livestreams was actually sourced from a wholesale market.

    The investigation also uncovered additional false marketing tactics, including hiring individuals to pose as potential buyers to create artificial demand around specific products.

    This isn’t the first such investigation into false marketing practices in Liangshan.

    Last September, authorities identified 54 individuals involved in creating short videos with fabricated narratives. And last December, nine people associated with an MCN agency that managed the accounts of two star celebrities in Liangshan were sentenced to prison on false advertising charges.

    Editor: Apurva.

    (Header image: Left: A screenshot of Liangshan Mengyang off-screen; left: A screenshot from her livestream showing her carrying firewood. From Weibo )