The Voice of the Chinese Countryside
Kuaishou has given the often-forgotten people outside of the Chinese metropolises a platform on which to express themselves. Amateur family cooks and farmers have found themselves hundreds of thousands of followers on the app.
In Kuaishou, the Chinese app for online video-sharing, young people who live in the countryside have found a space to make their voices heard, to bridge the economic and cultural divide with the elite of the metropolis. Kuaishou attracts investors precisely thanks to its users; those who represent a slice of neglected but emerging population in China.
In the technological and digital age, sociology also adapts to the times, and the analysis sample moves ever more often from the field of reality to the virtual one. This also happens to be the case of the social network Kuaishou (or Kwai), a Chinese video-sharing app whose success gives pause to the experts of organizations and structures of the most important Asian country.
With a total of 400 million users, of which 40 million are active posting 10 million videos every day, the platform has become a phenomenon not only from a technological point of view but also a social one. It is no coincidence that the Wall Street Journal described the social network as an instrument that allows us to understand “how life is outside the largest cities in China.”
As a matter of fact, compared to other communication services in China, Kuaishou is the only one with a strong prevalence of users from rural and less-developed areas of the country. “In part this happens,” the CEO of the platform explained in April 2017, “for the national demographic structure in which only 7 percent of Chinese live in megacities.” Yet, due to lack of adequate infrastructure, for years the “provincials” have remained a market segment almost unexplored by technology companies that only now seem to notice them. The news aggregator Toutiao, for example, has recently grown with the enrollment of inhabitants of rural areas as well as the microblogging service Sina Weibo that since 2016 has redirected its investments toward young people in small cities.
Kuaishou, instead, targeted these users from the onset. Founded in 2011 as a service to create GIF’s (very short video animations), in 2013 it was converted simply to a video platform. Around the same time, other companies were adding video capabilities to their apps, but all of them focused on bringing celebrities to the platform and thus centralizing web traffic mostly around famous people. Kuaishou’s algorithm, on the other hand, does not reward users with millions of fans, but suggests videos that are similar to viewed content, allowing users to discover run-of-the-mill people’s accounts predominantly. This mechanism has created an informal space in which the users of the province have found the ideal place to make their voices heard.
Leaving out those who try success with low-quality content; for example, one can find the account of a 30-year-old mother who works the land in a mountain village in the southwestern province of Yunann. In short videos, the woman tells the story of her work on the farm with her husband and what she prepares for dinner, while at night she chats in streaming with her followers on Kuaishou. None of the videos in this gallery have anything striking, yet this rural everyday life has attracted 250,000 users! It is not the only case: an overweight girl has gained visibility with the account “story of a fat girl” while others shoot videos during the demonstrations against poverty or to bring to the fore social problems such as teenage pregnancy widespread especially far from megalopolises.
Kuaishou’s data also confirms that 70% of their users, in addition to living in the less developed areas of China, earn less than $460 a month and 88% never attended a university. It is an interesting pool that in China is gaining positions on the social scale, benefiting from the weakening of the historical gap between cities and countryside. The smallest cities in China already produce 59 percent of the national gross domestic product and they are attracting more and more government investments, so that the demographic groups that live there are destined to have a growing influence on the economic and cultural future of the country. As for Kuaishou, inhabited by the overlooked majority of China, is ready to become the voice of this emerging class presently ridiculed by the educated, urban elite. Investors think otherwise: the Tencent company has invested $350 million in the platform last March, while the developer of the app is looking for new funding to turn Kuaishou into one of the most precious start-ups in the world.