Social network celebrity status attracts locals & foreigners
By Zheng Chunying

It wasn't so long ago when our superstars and idols were only to be found on television and movie screens. That's all changed, because today, more and more ordinary people are making their names for different reasons on the worldwide web. The so-called "Internet Celebrity" industry has been growing rapidly in China in recent years, and it's not just the locals who are cashing in on the excitement.

Greeting with his fans in perfect Mandarin is almost a daily ritual for this Australian creative director. Based in Beijing, and operating under the moniker, "Xiaobei", Alistair Bayley is quickly becoming an online sensation in China, with many cherishing his direct and practical approach to sensitive everyday matters.

He said that he's very proud to be able to provide an honest channel of communication between himself and his fans, especially when it comes to any topic such as self-esteem, or even as serious as depression. He said that seeing someone in a position of influence talk about these topics openly and honestly really can show them what they are going through is normal.

A picture of Alistair Bayley, or Xiaobei. /Photo via Alistair Bayley's Weibo account

A picture of Alistair Bayley, or Xiaobei. /Photo via Alistair Bayley's Weibo account

Boosted by some national television exposure, the accomplished Xiaobei has amassed some 30,000 followers on his official Weibo account, while his personal website is also drawing thousands of hits every day. So what exactly is it about this sweet-tongued Aussie that has so many young Chinese in a flutter?

"I like him because of his look, I think he's very handsome, and also very entertaining," said Wang Rong, one of his fans.

"At first, I was impressed by his perfect Chinese. But then, after watching him on TV, I saw how he was kind, genuine and talented," said Wang Ying, another fan of Xiaobei.

Currently working for a business development company, Xiaobei says he provides an alternative window into China for the outside world, where he offers distinctive perspectives on sectors such as culture, media and technology.

A picture of Alistair Bayley, or Xiaobei. /Photo via Alistair Bayley's Weibo account

A picture of Alistair Bayley, or Xiaobei. /Photo via Alistair Bayley's Weibo account

Being able to draw on his over 10 years in China, he now sees himself as an influencer, or what's known as a "key opinion leader" on a country which is often mis-understood internationally.

"I create content about China,and experiences in China for the audiences overseas, and in that sense, i'm lucky to work with other foreign KOLs in China, everyone has a different story when they live here. China is often presented as a monolithic thing, that means the same thing for everyone, whereas by showcasing different stories, we can show that it really is a diverse environment and that everyone can find a way to enjoy their life in China," said Xiaobei.

China's internet celebrity industry was estimated to be worth one trillion yuan (150 billion U.S. dollars) last year. With their open and international perspectives, foreign internet celebrities like Xiaobei can perhaps make a big splash in the Chinese market, but however successful they become, one thing is for sure: it's their genuine curiosity about China and its culture that will win the fans over.