China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
Recently, the smart phone app Kuaishou emerged with more than 400 million registered users and over 100 million daily active users as the top video-sharing app in China (Yeskey.com, 2018; Zhai, 2017). An app where users upload pre-recorded videos and a small number of vetted ones live-stream, Kuaishou distinguishes itself from the rest of the pack with the unabashed earthiness of its contents. Invoking Senft’s (2008) concept of the “micro-celebrity,” I examine in this essay how the app’s performers attract, cultivate, and retain their fans to make money off their activities. I maintain that while micro-celebrities can earn money and derive emotional satisfaction from their work, they ultimately provide free and easily exploitable labor to Kuaishou under a façade of innocuous play. As such, this essay deepens scholarly understandings of China’s rapidly expanding digital economy.