In the streets of Zibo, mobile live streaming is ready to start at any moment. A woman wearing pink sunglasses and a short skirt jumps onto a bench and starts dancing passionately, swaying her hips and singing hoarsely, “Follow my left hand, right hand, slow-motion.” The crowd with their phones held high gathers around, recording videos. In early March, a short video blogger posted a Zibo exploration video that received over 4 million likes. In this currently hottest city, various internet celebrities and livestreamers come to capture attention and generate online traffic using their own skills.
It was the first time that Zhang Lihua realized the intensity of online attention. Holding a sign with information about her lost child, she approached the livestreamers, asking if she could appear on their broadcasts. Most livestreamers agreed. Zhang Lihua, 50 years old this year, had been separated from her 3-year-old son when they were trafficked in 1994. She came from Shandong to Yunnan to visit relatives but fell victim to abduction. She was taken to a rural area and forced into marriage, going through many hardships until she was eventually rescued by the police. She said that for many years, she only wore two colors of clothes—white during the day and black at night—in order to be ready to escape at any time.
Someone kindly led Zhang Lihua to find the most popular livestreamer on the square, hoping that they would make a video for her. However, the livestreamer declined. The dispute attracted many people, who held up their phones and voiced their support for Zhang Lihua, but the livestreamer still refused.
As the online traffic grew, the crowd started to jeer. Zhang Lihua knelt on the ground, repeatedly describing her son’s information. Her son, Zhang Hechao, is 32 years old this year and has a coffee-colored birthmark on his ring finger of the right hand. This video was shared on Douyin (Chinese version of TikTok) and received over 3,000 likes. Although it may be seen as a form of “moral coercion,” Zhang Lihua justified it as a way to generate attention through conflict. She openly said that only by kneeling down could she gain online traffic, and with nationwide attention, her son would soon come forward.
When she left home with her son years ago but returned alone, she was often misunderstood as a “mother who sold her child.” Neighbors warned their children to stay away from her. No one believed her explanation, and even to this day, her husband would say, “You’re the one who sold our son.” Zhang Lihua said, “I owe others for my whole life. I can only keep my head down.”
Zhang Lihua’s kneeling action brought a wave of attention to birth parents searching for their children. The next evening, a popular Douyin influencer named “Zibo Duck Head Little Brother” saw the video and found Zhang Lihua. He specifically held a livestream for four birth parents, appealing to the people on the other side of the phone screens to help find their children. Over 3 million people watched the livestream online.