Peng Jingxuan, 26, did not expect her videos playing the guzheng on the streets of France to go viral.
A music major at the Bordeaux Montaigne University, Peng unexpectedly promoted the traditional Chinese musical instrument, similar to a plucked zither with between 21 and 25 strings, in the virtual sphere, both at home and abroad.
"When I first came to study in France four years ago, I found street performances to be very common forms of art expressions here, but few were playing Chinese musical instruments. That's what propelled me to take my guzheng to the streets in 2018 and give it a go," Peng said.
She typically spent two hours applying ancient Chinese-style makeup so as to match her well-tailored traditional Chinese hanfu apparel. A performance typically lasted one to two hours.
When Peng uploaded her performance clips to Bilibili, the short video platform popular among younger generations, she immediately drew a strong following. Today, her Bilibili channel has 1.5 million followers, with a number of videos having been played over 1 million times.
Of late, much discussion has revolved around guochao, or the rising China cultural tide. It typically refers to the sentiment that champions Chinese thoughts and elements, and manifests itself in Chinese consumers' newfound interest in national culture and a preference for homegrown brands.
Like Peng, Qianshan Jingyi, the avatar of a maker of traditional Chinese-style hair clasps, fans and makeup wear, is another advocate of guochao.
Passionate about traditional Chinese curios and longing for more flexibility at work, Qianshan said he quit his previous job as an art teacher and turned his hobby into a career.
"You will never get tired of this job because you can always create something new out of it," said Qianshan, who is actively promoting his art collections on QQ, another social media platform from Tencent popular among young Chinese.
He placed high value on the quality and originality of the works, some of which involve skills listed in the Intangible Cultural Heritage program. He is looking to take the collections up a notch and gain more recognition in this industry, and promote the traditional culture abroad, "just like Li Ziqi, who promoted traditional Chinese lifestyle on overseas social media platforms".
Taking a similar approach is He Yanhong, another content curator on Bilibili, who uploaded content about her handcraft to various social media platforms.
Previously a wedding makeup artist, she would occasionally devise exquisite Chinese styles for brides and post videos featuring traditional headwear on the platform, thus garnering increasing acclamation and subscriptions over time.
Her most visited video overseas thus far is one in which she crafted a Peking Opera-style tiara using cans as tian-tsui－items normally made of feathers that add gloss to headwear.
"I hope our Chinese culture is able to reach more people and that more foreign friends can watch my videos to gain a thorough understanding," she added.
Brands are tapping into guochao influencers to win the hearts of the younger generation of consumers.
"I would favor brands whose brand-positioning aligns with my online persona, namely an advocate of Chinese culture," Peng said of her rationale in choosing merchants to collaborate with.
For instance, highflying snacking brand Three Squirrels and Synear Foods are among the labels that insert their commercials into Peng's videos.
But these attempts are not confined to Chinese labels. For instance, He has worked with upscale international brands such as La Mer and Estee Lauder.
Guochao is a trend to be taken seriously, as it concerns a segment with high spending potential; also, it has spread to other industries besides fashion, according to Matthieu David-Experton, an analyst at China Strategic Market Research and Management Consulting.
"The trend has not dethroned Western brands from their leading position in the Chinese consumer market. However, it is important for future foreign prospects to give good consideration to Chinese cultural pride as it is gaining in popularity; also, cultural faux-pas can have disastrous consequences for a brand image in an increasingly patriotic society," David-Experton said.