3 young Chinese creatives on navigating the ups and downs of internet fame

IG isn't all likes and love, but it's an incredibly useful platform for sharing your creations with the world. These three women -- based in Berlin, Melbourne and New York -- share their experiences.

by Qiuzi Zhang
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13 August 2020, 2:51pm

The amount of time we spend on our phones and computers has far exceeded what is considered to be healthy. We’re all guilty of it. But the draw is too much: constant discovery and education in a magical land that holds the power to make or break anyone.

Depending on where you’re looking, the internet can be a savage, unsettling, and even disturbing place. Though it’s also a space where talent is scouted, creatives are appreciated, and voices get heard. i-D had a quick chat about navigating this balance with three young Chinese creatives living across the world. Although united in the support they receive from their own social media followers, they agree that the digital world can be a toxic one.

3 young Chinese creatives on navigating the ups and downs of internet fame, Kicki Zhang, Clair Bai, Ma Ming

Kicki Zhang (张旸)

Born in Germany and raised in Shanghai until the age of five, Kicki later returned to Berlin where she currently lives. Working as a model early on gave her a good insight into the fashion industry and led to her developing a series of creative interests. One of these is illustration, for which — alongside these incredibly detailed diary-like images — Kicki uses her own face as a canvas, leading to colourful collaborations with the likes of Gucci Beauty.

It can be very easy to get the wrong impression of somebody online. What do you think is the most bizarre misconception people have about you?
I don’t know if it counts as bizarre, but once you have a bit of success as a woman, a lot of people always assume there’s either rich parents, a rich boyfriend or a sugar daddy paying for everything — especially when people don’t get how you make money. But bitch, I make my own cash.

If your following completely disappeared today, what would you do?
I think I would become a tattoo artist. I would love to be an illustrator but it’s really difficult nowadays, since unfortunately print media isn’t as popular as it used to be. Having the honour of placing artwork on people’s bodies for a lifetime is an awesome thought.

Have you had any kind of special interaction with your followers?
It’s always funny to find out you’re not the only one with certain experiences when you’re a third culture kid. One time I shared a photo from my childhood in Chinese traditional clothes, which was super staged and for me just looked funny. After a while, a bunch of Chinese and Vietnamese kids sent me photos of them from their childhood in traditional clothes, which I didn’t even know was a ‘thing’! The Internet can be a dark place, which makes me appreciate my followers that much more — they shower me with love and support.

3 young Chinese creatives on navigating the ups and downs of internet fame, Kicki Zhang, Clair Bai, Ma Ming

Clair Bai (白欣)

Clair was born in New Zealand but lived in Shenzhen until the age of 11, when she moved to Australia. Clair is a mood board darling who has been inspiring brands and fashion insiders with her bold personality for years. She is currently producing her own music in collaboration with Kendo and DJ Ali from super cool Melbourne-Beirut record label Al Gharib.

It can be easy to get the wrong impression of somebody online. What do you think is the most bizarre misconception somebody has had of you?
The most bizarre one is probably that photo of me where someone photoshopped Selena Gomez’s face over mine — a lot of people thought it was real and it got so many reposts.

3 young Chinese creatives on navigating the ups and downs of internet fame, Kicki Zhang, Clair Bai, Ma Ming

Have you ever experienced any kind of racism on your platform?
I definitely have. I’m very vocal about being proud of my Chinese heritage, and usually when you’re vocal about something on social media, it always attracts people who disagree with you. More often than not, they will take it to the next level. I just laugh it off though!

Have you ever have a special interaction with a follower?
In summer 2018 I was travelling in Europe by myself. When I was in Barcelona, I hung out with one of my followers that had reached out to me. Her name is Cheny and she was super cute. Anyways, I had booked myself into this very small hotel and it turned out that my room had no working air con... it was nearly 38 degrees one night and I was sweating my entire existence off (beware of false hotel advertising), so I reached out to Cheny and she rescued me! She let me stay in her apartment near the mountains for the rest of my time in Barcelona. We spent a lot of time together and really got to know each other — it was a very nice experience.

3 young Chinese creatives on navigating the ups and downs of internet fame, Kicki Zhang, Clair Bai, Ma Ming

Ma Ming (马鸣)

Born in Sichuan, China, Ma Ming is a digital artist based in New York. She is currently finishing her studies in interactive design while making fun filters on Instagram — colourful makeup looks anyone? Ghost butterflies? Sci-fi face adornments? Yes please. When she’s not doing that, Ma Ming geeks out creating 3D printed versions of her favourite Animal Crossing furniture and programming adorable-looking interactive games for her audience. Is there anything she can’t do?

When did you start building an online following?
After I dyed my hair pink in 2017, I started to gain more attention on social media. I began to show more of my personality, and now I feel more and more liberated to be my true self.  Although the photos or videos posted online are only distant representations of myself, I think the feeling of genuine happiness from me makes others relate.

**It can be very easy to have a false impression of somebody online. What do you think is the most bizarre misconception people have about you?**Some people assume I have had plastic surgery done on my face. When I was a child, I fell on my face and the muscles inside stuck together, which means my cheeks are not symmetrical when I smile. This never bothered me, but there was a period on the Little Red Book (a social media platform from China) where many people either said I have a strange smile, or attacked my cheeks, or commented that I had problems with fillers. But of course I have those who defend me and compliment me on my features.

If your following completely disappeared overnight, what would you do?
I would dedicate all my time to developing software together with my friends, and try to become a complete tech person and concentrate on interactive art. I really want to develop a game that has excellent interactive user experiences.

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