China’s online ‘tank’ cake snafu raises questions in Tiananmen Square

HONG KONG – An online snafu involving China’s favorite e-commerce livestreamer and a cake shaped like a tank has questions from some Chinese about the crackdown on pro-democracy Tiananmen Square protests in 1989 raised.

Ordering People’s Liberation Army soldiers to shoot at unarmed civilians is a sensitive issue that has long been heavily censored by the ruling Communist Party.

Li Jiaqi, China’s most popular e-commerce live streamer, is known for selling everything from lipsticks to skillets on its online show, where viewers can purchase items directly at a discount.

Rising in popularity in 2018, he earned the nickname “Lipstick King” after trying on 380 lipsticks during a seven-hour stream and selling 15,000 lipsticks in just five minutes during an online shopping festival.


But last Friday, Li’s online show, which draws tens of thousands of viewers, was cut short after a woman appeared on camera holding a small white cake decorated with waffles and cookies to look like a military tank, according to those posted Screenshots appearing on social media platforms.

The abrupt ending left thousands of his fans confused. Li briefly became a popular search term on Chinese social media.

The show was on June 3rd, the eve of Anniversary of June 4, 1989, crackdown on thousands of students who had gathered in the huge square in the heart of Beijing to demand more democracy. Hundreds, if not thousands, of protesters are said to have died.

One of The most famous photographs of the military crackdown, commonly referred to as “Tank Man,” depicts a man carrying plastic bags standing in front of a line of tanks that appear to be blocking their approach on Beijing’s main east-west thoroughfare, the Avenue of Eternal Peace, or Chang’an Avenue. All these images are censored in China.


Shortly after his stream ended on Friday, Li posted on his Weibo platform, similar to Twitter, that the stream ended early due to a “technical error.” A replay of the stream was also not uploaded.

Neither Alibaba nor Li’s agency, MeiOne, have responded to requests for comment.

His absence has sparked a flurry of online speculation among Chinese people, many of whom were born after 1989 and, because almost all mentions of the crackdown in China are censored, don’t know much about what happened then.

Keywords and phrases associated with the incident are censored. Searches for “Tiananmen June 4” or “Tiananmen 1989” return no results on search engines and social media platforms in China.

“Who can tell me what happened to Li Jiaqi?” said a user on Weibo. “I can’t seem to find any information.”

By Monday, Chinese censors had deleted all photos of the armor-shaped cake and every clip of the live stream from the Chinese internet. Li has not appeared in any other livestream session since then.


Using cryptic references to June 4th to evade censorship, those in the know about the Tiananmen Square massacre questioned whether Li was aware of the sensitivity of featuring a tank on a show like his.

“It’s Li Jiaqi’s fault for not knowing about an incident he’s not allowed to know about, and now he has to prove he really didn’t know about an incident he doesn’t know about,” a Weibo user commented with the Named “MaxWell_2000”. , noting the catch-22 nature of the situation.

The apparent attempt to block people from watching the show prompted some people to say that they were learning about the Tiananmen Square crackdown for the first time.

“I didn’t know before, but now I think I know,” said one user on Weibo, where self-censoring posts using vague language related to sensitive topics are commonplace to circumvent censorship and avoid account suspensions .

The apparent censorship of Li’s show has had the opposite effect of drawing more attention to it and what happened in Tiananmen Square in 1989, said Shaun Rein, founder and executive director of the China Market Research Group in Shanghai.


“For many Chinese users, taking Li offline at this time could have the opposite effect of drawing attention to an incident that no one normally talks about in China,” Rein said.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed without permission. China’s online ‘tank’ cake snafu raises questions in Tiananmen Square

Sarah Y. Kim

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