Zhao Xiaoli Gallery

Zhao Xiaoli Blurs the Line Between Online Influencer and Artist

With millions of followers, Zhao Xiaoli is China’s most popular artist on Douyin—so why do art critics not rate her work?

The base layer: a bucket worth of blue paint poured onto a vertical canvas. Then: A spray of white roses, serving as a paintbrush, is dipped in a different shade of blue and whacked on with full force. Mixed into this 30-second video of Zhao Xiaoli’s visceral painting process are a few more shots of her fixing the details, scattered with unrelated shots for mood—of flowers crushed in hands or burnt, lighted candles flickering on a palette, Zhao herself shedding a single tear in a mirror.

The end product is two-fold: a blue-toned portrait of a young girl similar to Zhao’s popular pink-toned painting Burning Kite; and the video itself, which ends with Zhao posing beside the painting in stylish clothes. It’s paired with moody music and a title (“The ocean today is not blue #BurningKite”), and has 136,000 “likes” on short-video platform Douyin at the time of writing.

Some view her oil paintings as kitsch, but Zhao Xiaoli is now a force to be reckoned with on Chinese social media. In just two-and-a-half years, she has amassed 10.27 million followers on short-video platform Douyin (closing in on the 11.2 million of Instagram’s most-followed artist, Banksy) and 92.5 million total likes, and touched off a debate on the blurring lines between art and trend in China today.

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Zhao Xiaoli Blurs the Line Between Online Influencer and Artist is a story from our issue, “State of The Art.” To read the entire issue, become a subscriber and receive the full magazine. Alternatively, you can purchase the digital version from the App Store.


author Siyi Chu (褚司怡)

Siyi is the Culture Editor at The World of Chinese. She writes about arts, culture, and society, and is ever-curious about the minds, hearts, and souls inside all of these spheres. Before joining TWOC, she was a freelance writer with some additional work experience in independent filmmaking and the field of education.

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