TikTok In Kham
A seven-second video on Tiktok has transformed Ding Zhen, a simple Tibetan yak herder, into an Internet star overnight. This hasn’t just changed Ding Zhen’s life; it's also had a profound impact on his hometown.
Dingzhen’s sudden success inspired local youth to use social media to share their stories, and power their dream of becoming influencers. Through social media, the outside world got to learn more about this remote village. In turn, social media allowed the village to gain an awareness of global trends, and to start to reconsider traditional thinking and customs of the past.
The celebration of birthdays and other parties, which weren’t part of the local culture, became vital parts of the social calendar. Thanks to webcasting, whether it was the spectacle of birthday parties or the mundanities of daily nomadic life, locals obtained both attention and monetary gifts on social media platforms. The direct connection they enjoyed to followers also made it possible for them to sell their local produce to consumers without the intervention of middlemen.
Meanwhile in the offline world, streams of visitors to the village have sparked new business opportunities for the locals, who now work as guides when tours of village attractions are booked and placed on itineraries. Locals are also adapting their houses, transforming their living space in order to host visitors. In the past, the locals' communication was generally limited to friends and family within the village or in neighboring villages; but now, thanks to social media, locals can communicate with people from different regions and nationalities. This allows their social lives to penetrate previous fixed geographical restrictions, and to realize at last the benefits of cross-regional communication and information exchange.
Common people living in a remote village have become a digital tourist attraction, and have garnered thousand of followers who admire them for their way of life. Female fans, predominantly, leave their big-city lives to visit their idols in the autonomous Tibetan prefecture of Garzê in southwest China's Sichuan. Many of them live with local families for months, learning Tibetan and helping out around the house, in order to immerse themselves fully in the romantic life they believe the locals live.
This is a great example of social media reshaping the daily reality both virtually and physically. The longevity of social-media-stardom and its consequential impacts on the village are for time to tell. This project is currently ongoing and will continue to document the story as it unfolds.