China’s Li Jiaqi offline amid rumors of ‘tank cake’ censorship

  • Hugely popular e-commerce influencer Li Jiaqi has remained silent since his disappearance on Friday.
  • His stream was interrupted after he brought a container-shaped ice cream dessert onto the screen.
  • Social media users suspected it was censored because the tank could be read as a nod to Tiananmen Square.

A hugely popular Chinese e-commerce influencer was radio silent for days after his live stream was abruptly interrupted on Friday as he shared a tank-shaped dessert on screen. His disappearance has led to speculation on social media that the Chinese government may have censored or arrested him because the confection could be perceived as a reference to the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.

Austin Li Jiaqi, known as the “Lipstick King” and boasting over 64 million followers on live streaming platform Taobao Live, did


on Friday night when his broadcast was shut down. He, along with a co-host, had released a plate of British brand Viennetta’s ice cream, stacked with Oreos and other chocolate, all coming together to form a tank shape, according to CNN.

After the live stream shut down, Jiaqi wrote in a Weibo post that there were technical issues, but he never returned and didn’t stream his next scheduled show on Sunday. He still hasn’t resurfaced or informed fans of the reason for the sudden disappearance.

Some Chinese social media users on Weibo and commenters on Twitter like the Hong Kong-based independent journalist Sum Lok-kei seem to think the government pulled it from the air because the tank shape could be read as a reference to the Tiananmen Square massacre, when troops shot dead civilians and student demonstrators who were protesting against the government. Tanks are a particularly tense icon in China, as one of the most famous images from the crackdown was of a man named “Panzermann” standing alone in front of a tank to block its passage.

The massacre is not allowed to be discussed and censored online in China, and many younger generation citizens are unaware that it happened. The anniversary of the raid took place over the weekend on Saturday, a day after Jiaqi’s ice cream stream. Many people don’t believe that Jiaqi was intentionally alluding to the horrific event, according to The Wall Street Journal, which reported that Chinese who inadvertently referred to the massacre previously faced consequences.

Jiaqi’s disappearance has sparked a heated debate on Chinese social media, with Weibo hashtags related to the situation amassing over 100 million views Monday, according to Singapore-based news outlet The Straits Times. Some viewers and social media users apparently did not learn about the massacre from Jiaqi’s ice cream lineup, but instead by investigating online why he disappeared and seeing mentions of Tiananmen Square.

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