One day late last month, Liu Shichao, a 33-year-old farmer in China’s northern Hebei province, awoke to a flood of messages that he had become famous on a foreign social networking platform called Twitter. Liu had never heard of this app; social media giants like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter have been blocked in China for nearly a decade thanks to the ruling Party’s desire to maintain a tight control on information. But Liu was no stranger to online celebrity.
Two years earlier, behind the Great Firewall, he had already gained renown on video app Kuaishou for videos he had filmed of himself expressionlessly imbibing unimaginable quantities of alcohol, usually as part of a ghastly concoction involving beer, candy-colored liquor (often on fire), and a raw egg. Unfortunately, many of those videos have since been deleted by Chinese censors.
If you use social media in America, though, you’ve probably been exposed to one of Liu’s videos. This is a particularly popular one:
Kuaishou is one of the two major short videos apps along with Douyin (called TikTok in its supposedly uncensored international version) that dominate China’s insular online ecosystem. Though Douyin is the favored app among the urban set, featuring videos of fashionable young women pouting in front of various exotic locales, Kuaishou is the app of the people. Its market is China’s third-tier and below cities—places most westerners have never heard about, much less visited. Kuaishou videos tend toward the rural and the outrageous: a typical viral Kuaishou video might feature a guy playing two trumpets through his nostrils, or a man jumping into a frozen pond in his underwear. In this sense, Liu’s videos might be considered the apotheosis of Kuaishou content. They are full of eye-popping stunts, depict acts harmful to the user’s personal safety, and are without exception set to loud Chinese pop music.
It’s this taste of Chinese countryside culture that captivated Twitter when a Russian user started posting Liu’s old videos to the site in August, gaining thousands of likes. Liu learned of his viral fame a few days later when newly registered Kuaishou users started messaging him to inform him. Thinking that he might post his old videos himself, Liu looked up how to use a VPN to surmount the firewall and registered a Twitter account. That account has picked up steam in recent weeks, and now Liu (@hebeipangzai) has over 67,000 followers. He’s been using Twitter’s surprisingly good translate function to communicate with his many fans, some of whom praise his abilities and some of whom express concern for his health.
Deadspin caught up with Liu by phone on Sunday afternoon. We talked about his origins, his plans for the future, and why exactly he cracks a raw egg into his beer.
Deadspin: Many people are curious about who you are and what you do. You said that you’re a farmer?
Liu Shichao: Yes, I help my parents on their farm. In Hebei we mostly farm corn and wheat so that’s what we grow as well. I also used to run a restaurant serving zizhucan [kind of like a buffet] but business wasn’t so good so it closed down three years ago. Before that I ran a barbecue stall. Right now I do some small business selling my homemade sausages and smoked meats on WeChat.
DS: How do they sell?
LS: They sell okay.
DS: How did you come up with the alias, “Hebei Pangzai”?
LS: Well I’m from Hebei. And I’ve always been a little bit fat [chuckles]. “Pangzai” was the name of my restaurant [note: “Pangzai” is a kind of cute pun on “Pangzi,” or “fatty”].
DS: How did you get the idea to start making Kuaishou videos?
LS: Three years ago when I was still running my restaurant I started watching Kuaishou, which had just come out then. I watched other people’s drinking videos and thought, “I can also drink a lot. I can do this too.” So I started making videos for Kuaishou and slowly I started to get more and more fans.
DS: About a year ago more than 100 of your videos were taken off Kuaishou. Do you know why?
LS: Yes, in China for these short video apps there are regulations that forbid drinking—especially drinking a lot. Because it can have a negative impact on young children and teenagers. Back when I would make those videos a lot of people would comment, “I want to imitate this.”
DS: Were you able to accept it when these videos were taken down? Were you angry?
LS: Even if I don’t accept it there’s nothing I can do. These are the rules.
DS: Have you always been able to drink that much?
LS: Yes, around the time I was 18 I started drinking and I found I could drink more than other people.
DS: How about all of those tricks you do in the videos? How did you learn them?
LS: They just came out of experimentation and research over time. It’s completely self-studied.
DS: Do you get drunk when you make those videos?
LS: No. I never feel drunk after I finish filming. Just a little full.
DS: What’s your favorite thing to drink?
DS: Favorite brands of beer?
LS: I like Yanjing [a light domestic beer from Beijing] and Laoshan [light domestic beer from Shandong].
DS: Why do you crack a raw egg into your beer?
LS: It’s kind of a tradition where I’m from. We have a saying for when you crack a raw egg into a beer: “to see flowers in the fog” (wu li kan hua; figure of speech for blurry vision). When we set a shot of baijiu [Chinese sorghum spirit] on fire and drop it into a beer that’s called a “depth charge” (shen shui zha dan).
DS: How did you find out your videos had blown up on Twitter?
LS: Last month I started getting messages from newly registered accounts on Kuaishou telling me that I had become famous on Twitter. I didn’t know what Twitter was. But then someone explained it to me and so I made a Twitter account.
DS: Were you surprised when you found out?
LS: I was really surprised. I thought it was unbelievable. My heart was very affected. I really have to thank those people who shared my videos on Twitter.
DS: Why do you think your videos are so popular?
LS: I don’t know. Maybe when people see my videos, they think they’re unbelievable. I don’t understand English. I use translation software to reply to people. In the future I will try to send more videos, maybe videos about my everyday life. Just normal videos of what I do every day.
DS: I think those will be very successful. I think foreigners are very curious about the lives of ordinary Chinese people.
LS: Yes, I can see that from my replies.
DS: What replies have you found most memorable?
LS: A Turkish friend asked for my address so he can send me some liquor from his country. And there was that challenge to drink ten pints of beer. Also, a lot of people call me “king.” [laughs] Pretty funny.
DS: I’ve noticed people really like your music selections. How do you choose the song to go along with your video?
LS: I just try to think what kind of song will best fit the video. Many people like these songs and they want to know the name.
DS: It seems like you favor rock music.
LS: Yes. It’s very energetic and gives me lots of energy for drinking. I particularly like Chinese male singers who have a very cool, “manly” vibe.
DS: You had never met any foreigners before you became famous on Twitter a few weeks ago, and now you have thousands of foreign friends. What is your impression of foreigners?
LS: No particular impression. I think they seem very interesting and very kind. I can see that from their replies. It’s crazy to have all of these foreign friends all of a sudden. Some of them have offered to help me make money [note: shortly after this interview was conducted Liu registered a PayPal account, which he now shares in his tweets]. I really have to thank them a lot. If I have a chance I will find them and we can drink together.
DS: I noticed a tweet the other day that said you could help to solve Sino-American relations, which have been strained lately.
LS: I saw that too [laughs]. But I think that this the big affair of our two countries. I’m just bullshitting. This is my personal thing. I think Americans are very nice. I thought the relationship between our two countries was always good. But I’m in the countryside and we don’t really get much information about these things.
DS: Do you have a favorite Hebei dish?
LS: I like so many dishes, it’s too hard to choose one. Here in the north we eat a lot of food made from wheat flour (mianshi) like buns and dumplings. I especially like to make dumplings for the new year.
DS: I know donkey meat is a Hebei specialty. Do you like to eat donkey?
LS: Yes, I really like some roast donkey. One of the smoked meats I sell is donkey meat.
DS: Do you think you’ll ever go back into the restaurant business?
LS: I think about it sometimes. Because I really like to make food. In my home I’m the one who does all the cooking.
DS: Your wife doesn’t cook?
LS: She can, but I like to be in the kitchen.
DS: Does your wife worry about your health?
LS: Yes. Back when I was making those videos, sometimes one every day, she really didn’t like it. After I would film she would be really mad. We would get into fights [laughs]. But I know it’s because she wants the best for me. So recently I haven’t filmed anything like that.
DS: How is your health, by the way? Many of your fans are concerned.
LS: It’s fine. Back when I was making those videos I would go to the hospital pretty often to get check-ups. They never found any big problems. People in China were worried about my health, too. I know it looks intense in my videos but I don’t do it that often. It’s not a long-term problem. When I drink with my friends I don’t drink that much.
DS: What do you like to eat when you drink beer?
LS: Peanuts. Any kind of nut or bean. Also barbecue.
DS: Are you planning to film any more drinking videos in the future?
LS: Yes, I think I will make some videos about how to drink faster and how to open bottles in different ways.
DS: Is there anything else you would like to express to your fans?
LS: In the future I will send more videos, maybe some from my daily life in Hebei. I hope that we can come closer together this way. I really thank you all. I see your comments when you say you’ve been waiting for me. Thank you so much for being concerned about me.
DS: Thank you for your time!
LS: No problem. If you want to understand anything else about drinking beer, just WeChat me.
Lauren Teixeira (@lrntex) is a writer based in Chengdu, China.