A woman in the online audience complained that it was too expensive and appeared to trigger the Lipstick King.
“Why do you think it is expensive? It has been sold at this same price for the past few years. Don’t lie through your teeth,” Li said to the woman.
“Domestic brands are facing a tough situation these years. Huaxizi (the Hangzhou-based brand of the eyebrow pencil Li was selling) selects its raw material carefully and I am very familiar with this company,” he added.
But it was his next comments which sparked particular outrage.
He told the woman: “Sometimes you should reflect on why your salary has not increased. Is it because you don’t work hard?
“This price has remained at the same level for so many years, but you still think it is expensive. This makes me mad,” said Li.
The remarks created a fierce backlash online which has prompted Li to make two separate apologies.
“I am sorry for saying something inappropriate and making the public uncomfortable,” he said in an initial statement.
“I used to be a sales worker on a cosmetics counter. I fully understand that everyone’s job is difficult. What I said let you down. I am really sorry.”
This failed to quell public anger, so Li doubled down on his apology at a live-streaming session on September 11.
“I’ve read all your comments and I have been reflecting upon my mistakes. I sincerely accept your criticism and advice about my inappropriate remarks,” a tearful Li said.
“From now on, I will settle down to seriously think about how to serve more people in a better way. Thank you for your criticism and supervision,” he said.
Li’s career started on a L’Oréal sales counter in a shopping mall in Nanchang, southeastern Jiangxi province, in 2015.
He soon became the sales champion of the region before moving to Shanghai the next year to engage in the live-streaming industry which was in the budding stage in China at that time.
His sales style and interaction with audiences has won him an enormous following and Li has even been praised for reminding customers to shop rationally.
The Lipstick King has also earned praise for championing domestic brands and has argued with customers before, but this time the reaction has been overwhelming.
So much so that on September 12, state broadcaster CCTV published an editorial on the matter which said live-streamers who “battled” with consumers were destroying their own “rice bowl”.
“When facing questions from consumers a live-streamer can explain various aspects of products, but he chose a nasty way to respond by mocking someone’s financial position,” the editorial said.
Li has lost a million of his 30 million fans on Weibo in the wake of the incident.
His controversial remarks have been viewed 700 million times on Weibo and had 20 million views on Douyin.
Online reaction has been mostly critical, with one online observer saying: “We are not disappointed, we are angry!”
“Li Jiaqi, you are expected to boost consumption, not to provoke consumers,” said another.
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