The great pickled vegetable debate: China’s mysterious food vlogger Li Ziqi wades into kimchi controversy with Koreans

Legendary Chinese food vlogger shares pastoral cooking to incredible online success Image Credit: Liziqi YouTube channel:

Millions watch as Li Ziqi raises ducklings just to make a sauce from egg yolk or dyes beeswax from her apiary with rose petals plucked from her garden to make lipstick. Now, the food vlogger best known for showcasing the tranquillity of her pastoral lifestyle has recently caused an outrage amongst the Korean community for apparently appropriating a Kimchi recipe. A Sino-Korean pickle showdown is at hand – is there a cure?

Li Jiajia, better known by her online name Li Ziqi does not speak a word in her videos that are popular amongst those who are looking to virtually escape into her tranquil existence.

Who is Li Ziqi?

Before we get into how her recent video, which got over five million clicks in a week, caused an army of enraged Koreans to comment, let’s get to know Ziqi first.

The 29-year-old has been rumoured to make $24 million (over Dh88 million) a year. However, she has dismissed those claims recently, according to the South China Morning Post, a Hong Kong-based English-language newspaper.

While there are speculations about how much she exactly makes, her millions of fans predict it’s a hefty amount. But, she did not always come from a wealthy background.

The native of China’s south western Sichuan province was orphaned at a young age and started living with her grandparents in the country after being mistreated by her stepmother. Soon after, she had to go back to the city to work.

In 2012, after her grandfather passed away, she moved back with her ailing grandmother to take care of her.

After trying a number of ways to earn a living like selling agricultural products online, Ziqi decided to be a food vlogger.

Now, the influencer has rapidly growing social media channels – 28 million followers in China and 8 million internationally, of which 14 million subscribers are on YouTube alone. While many from China enjoy watching her portray the rustic lifestyle of the countryside, her unique style of content has attracted millions of international followers as well.

Tranquil scenes, ASMR and aesthetic food…

The videos Ziqi makes revolve around anything like a single condiment to multiple course meals. Moreover, she not only produces content around food but she also showcases traditional Chinese crafts such as making bamboo furniture and embroidery.

While the only narration is friendly banter between Ziqi and her grandmother with gentle music in the background, it’s the overall theme of her videos that keeps her fans coming back for more.

A fan of Ziqi’s, @ayyyyyymmy on Twitter, shared a link to her video and wrote: “This is one of my favourite YouTube channels. If you’re into relaxing videos/ASMR, definitely check Li Ziqi out. The video quality is outstanding and it’s so easy to get lost in what she’s working on (plus her elderly nan is ADORABLE).”

Her channels are popular amongst those who enjoy ‘ASMR’ (autonomous sensory meridian response) content. ASMR videos focus on audio elements and the sounds are often amplified using sensitive microphones placed close to the origin of the noise.

From the chirping of the birds, the crunch of the leaves Ziqi walks over, the thwack of a cleaver, to the sizzle of her frying pan, the videos create a unique multisensory experience for the viewer.

Replying to a one of Ziqi’s videos shared on Twitter, tweep @QuietJulie wrote: “Thank you for sharing that Li Ziqi video. That was the most satisfying, calming and relaxing 22 minutes that I have had in a very long time.”

Speaking to Goldthread, a publication focusing on culture in China, Ziqi said that the goal of her videos is to show people living in urban areas how their food is grown by simply filming her daily life.

She said: In today’s society many people feel stressed. They face alot of pressure in life and at work. I want them to relax and experience something nice to tale away some of their anxiety and stress. Wouldn’t that be nice? 

Pickled vegetables turned sour

However, the reception has not always been positive. A video she posted on January 9 has been in the centre of a controversy, sparking outrage from the Korean community.

Screengrab - Liziqi/YouTube
Screengrab of the picked vegetables made by Chinese blogger Liziqi in her recent video that sparked controversy with Koreans Image Credit: Liziqi – YouTube channel:

The controversy began after South Korean TV drama True Beauty had product placements of Chinese items. Many Korean watchers complained that the show, which is immensely popular amongst the Chinese community, did not feel “Korean enough”.

The issue gave birth to an online cultural debate about the origins of everything from traditional Korean clothing known as Hanbok to the difference between Chinese and Korean pickled vegetables.

Ziqi found herself sucked into this battle after posting a cooking video in which a dish that appears very similar to Korean pickled vegetables, or kimchi, appeared.

The video has gotten a significant amount of ‘thumbs down’, mainly from angered Koreans who expressed their dismay in the comments section.

A YouTube user Hyun Rohmoo commented in Korean: “You should be ashamed.”

While some, like user PKY, thanked her for making the dish: “You made Kimchi Korean food. Thank you, Li Ziqi. Do you like Korean Kimchi and Kimchi stew?”

The description of the video does not claim the dish to be Chinese or Korean, while the title is simply “The life of a radish.”

Liziqi 2
Chinese food vlogger Liziqi lives in rural China, in the southwestern province of Sichuan, with her grandmother Image Credit: Liziqi YouTube channel:

This is not the first controversy Ziqi has been a part of.

In the past, she was accused of having a production team, while she maintained that she filmed herself on a tripod.

Now, she films with a videographer and an assistant, according to her recent interviews.

Whether her recipe was inspired by Korean cuisine or not and if she truly started as a one-woman band is a debate to be solved online, it is undeniable that she is loved by millions. Her content only seems to grow her followers by the million, giving them a look into a lifestyle that is unique in a world of pranks, cars and fast food centred mukbangs (eating incredibly vast quantities of food).