TikTok in Kham

A seven-second video on Tiktok transforms Ding Zhen, a simple Tibetan yak herder, into an Internet star overnight. This simple action hasn’t only changed Ding Zhen’s life, but also had profound impact on his hometown.

Ding Zhen’s sudden success inspired local youth to utilize social medias to share their stories with the dream of becoming influencers. Through these communication tools, the outer world got to know this remote village. Meanwhile, the interactive nature of social media also makes the village absorb new trend of the world and change the traditional thinking and customs of the past. Many new folk traditions such as celebrating birthdays and throwing parties, which weren’t part of the local culture, became important events to celebrate.

Through webcasting, either of birthday parties or of nomadic daily life, locals obtain both attention and monetary gifts on social media platforms. Moreover, the direct connection to their followers made it possible for locals to sell their local produce to consumers without middleman.

Meanwhile in the offline world, stream of visitors to the village has prompted new business for locals who now work as guides when tours of the villages attractions are booked. Locals are also adapting their houses, transforming their living space to host visitors. In the past, the villagers’ communication was generally limited to friends and relatives in the village or neighboring centers, but now through the social media, locals can communicate with people from different regions and nationalities, with no geographical restrictions.

Common people living on a remote village have become an attraction and have thousand of followers who admire them for their way of life. Among the predominantly female fans, some leave their big-city lives to visit their idols in the Tibetan autonomous prefecture of Garzê, in southwest China’s Sichuan. A few live with local families for months, learning Tibetan and helping out around the house, in order to immerse themselves as deeply as possible in their idea of the romantic, wild life of the local ethnic minority.

This is a great example about how social media is reshaping the daily reality both online and off-line. And the longevity of the social-media-stardom and its consequential impacts on the village is for time to tell. This project is currently ongoing and will continue with the documentation as the story unfolds itself.

Photo copyright: © Xiangyu Long.

Xiangyu Long is a Tibetan photographer, born and raised in the Autonomous Prefecture of Aba, China. He is currently based in Chengdu and Shanghai. Xiangyu studied at the College of Chemical Engineering, at the Zhejiang University. Upon graduation, he moved to southern Africa and worked in Zambia and Tanzania for half a decade as administration adviser in the cooperation field. In 2016, he moved to Spain and pursued photography at L’Institut d’Estudis Fotogràfics de Catalunya. In 2019, he was awarded a scholarship by Hannover University of Applied Sciences and Art to further his studies in documentary photography. This project was awarded a Picture of The Year International (POYI) Asia and was exhibited at Hellerau Photography Portrait Award in Germany. His work focuses on the superimposition and metamorphosis of group identities in a globalized world.

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