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INDEPENDENT LENS: People’s Republic Of Desire

Airs Monday, Feb. 25, 2019 at 11 p.m. on KPBS TV

Popular online singer Shen Man.

Credit: Courtesy of Jingyang Cheng

Above: Popular online singer Shen Man.

Enter China’s Stranger-than-Fiction Online World, Where Young People Gather to Worship Live-Streaming Internet Stars

Disturbing and provocative, “People’s Republic Of Desire” explores the strange world of China’s live-streaming “showrooms,” where the most popular stars can earn hundreds of thousands of dollars a month from adoring fans who “tip” them with “digital gifts” paid for with actual cash.

Produced and directed by Hao Wu, a tech industry executive-turned filmmaker, “People’s Republic Of Desire” premieres on INDEPENDENT LENS on Feb. 25, 2019.

Trailer | People's Republic Of Desire

In an age where the power of technology helps us connect, are we as isolated as ever? "People’s Republic Of Desire" exposes the baffling reality of how virtual relationships are replacing real-life human connections through China’s video-based social network YY––a hugely popular gathering place for over 300 million people in China.

While live-streaming has been available in the U.S. for years, it has found a rapid – and rabid – following in China where over 422 million viewers watch ordinary people-turned-celebrities as they sing, eat, dance or talk.

Photo credit: Courtesy of Junbing Sun

Young Chinese gathering online to watch talk shows.

One of the most popular live-streaming platforms is YY, which attracts an enormous young audience, who spend hours with their online idols and call themselves the diaosi (“loser”) generation.

Like their Hollywood counterparts, the idols’ agents negotiate promotional opportunities, manipulate their client’s public personas, and take a 20 percent cut of their earnings.

Photo credit: Courtesy of Hao Wu

Songge watches online streaming.

But have these virtual relationships replaced actual one-on-one connections?

The film focuses on two of the most popular online stars: Shen Man, a nurse-turned-singer whose success is sullied by online trolls and family members who expect her to support them, and Big Li, an online comedian willing to risk almost anything to keep his fame alive.

People's Republic of Desire - Vote$ for Livestreamers - Clip

In this excerpt from the INDEPENDENT LENS film "People's Republic Of Desire," despite often destitute circumstances, fans of the most famous livestreaming performers in China--like Big Li and Shen Man--spend loads of their own money to see them become number one. Dabao, a talent manager and wife of Big Li, tearfully wonders what he's done to deserve such fervent followers.

Adored and supported by free-spending nouveau rich and poor migrant workers, these live-streaming stars are brought together in a series of high-stakes online idol competitions, where they discover that happiness in their virtual world may be as elusive as in the real one.

"While the characters and the platforms are Chinese, Hao Wu's provocative film shows us that, on the internet, infinite possibilities and crushing disappointments are universal," said Lois Vossen, executive producer of INDEPENDENT LENS. "His film is a fascinating look into a curious online popularity contest determined by real fan dollars, along with the story of a new generation grasping for fortune, fame, and belonging in today’s hyper-connected yet alienating social media world. People's desire to log on begs the question, ‘what is authentic human connection online?’"

Watch On Your Schedule:

This episode will be available for streaming on demand for a limited time after broadcast beginning Feb. 26, 2019. Extend your viewing window with KPBS Passport, video streaming for members ($60 yearly) using your computer, smartphone, tablet, Roku, AppleTV, Amazon Fire or Chromecast. Learn how to activate your benefit now.

Join The Conversation:

INDEPENDENT LENS is on Facebook, Instagram, and you can follow @IndependentLens on Twitter. #IndieLensPBS


Directed, Produced, Filmed and Edited by Hao Wu. Executive Producers: Jean Tsien, Sally Jo Fifer and Lois Vossen. Graphics, Animation and Visual Effects: Eric Jordan. Original score: Michael Tuller.

Photo credit: Courtesy of Jingyang Cheng

Filmmaker Hao Wu on location in China.


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