Zi Wei, a deaf livestreamer, communicates with colleagues in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, in July. [For China Daily/Heng Haipeng]
Holding a cheese-flavored beverage, livestreamer Pan Hongling tore open the plastic packaging and pulled out the draw as she attempted to show her audience how portable the snack was.
In contrast to her co-host, who "talks" her audiences into buying the snack, Pan, 24, remained quiet throughout the streaming session, and frequently used sign language to stress the product's merits.
She was hoping that because of her recommendation, sign-literate viewers, despite having hearing difficulties, would enjoy the show and perhaps even click the link leading to Taobao, the online marketplace, and pay for a trial.
Pan, better known by her nickname Zi Wei, is among a growing number of deaf and hearing-impaired people who are taking to livestreaming platforms as product promoters, partly in hopes of claiming a slice of China's content-driven e-commerce boom.
The boom has drawn numerous retailers to promote their products through livestreaming services on Taobao and short video platforms Douyin and Kuaishou, which combined have hundreds of millions of active users. Meanwhile, the growing practice has enriched many celebrity livestreaming hosts.
Shen Zhike, who joined Pan's livestreaming team in June, said Pan and other hearing-impaired hosts earn a basic monthly salary of 5,000 yuan ($709), and are eligible for more depending on their sales performance.
Apart from Pan's team, a disabled people's federation in Yichang, Hubei province, last month launched an incubator for disabled online hosts. The federation told China News Service that they have been working with livestreaming platforms since last year, and have trained 45 such hosts.
The hearing-impaired community, by becoming online hosts, has charged into a new territory that challenges long-standing biases regarding their true potential.
China has an estimated 20.54 million people with hearing disabilities, and because of prejudice and inadequate accessibility in workplaces, many are shut out of mainstream jobs and must work in low-paying occupations that do not require much communication.
Shen said very few hearing-disabled people can earn monthly salaries over 3,000 yuan, and despite working long hours on their own, many just make enough to be self-sufficient.
"I've heard some complain that they feel completely different from their able-bodied counterparts," he said.
Previously managing a lucrative livestreaming team for entertainment, Shen said the "silent hosts" were there for a different purpose.
He said the shift in his career path was partly due to his younger sister, Shen Sai, who became deaf after a penicillin overdose at age 3. The sister has now become one of the four contracted hosts on his team, which primarily markets food.
He added he plans to work with other production bases that employ a large percentage of disabled people in an effort to help them with sales.
Sun Yan'e, a deaf retiree who began selling a wide variety of products on Kuaishou in June, said short video services have a large following within the hearing-disabled community because such platforms offer a wide range of videos that do not require much hearing.
"I first started my own channel hoping to share self-created videos in sign language. But later I learned about the livestreaming thing," said Sun, 53, who has 33,200 followers on Kuaishou.
"I hope people like me don't get left behind in an age of huge technological advances," she said.
Zi Wei, a deaf livestreamer, communicates with colleagues in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, in July.
(Source: China Daily)
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