[Video] Livestreamers take to Shenzhen’s pedestrian street to make it big

As singers, dancers and even those just chit-chatting fight to stand out in the highly saturated livestream industry to get traffic and monetary contributions from their viewers, Dongmen Pedestrian Street in Shenzhen has become the place to be. Lianhe Zaobao correspondent Daryl Lim speaks to livestreamers in Dongmen to get a feel of the industry and what it takes to survive.
Livestreaming has boosted sales for shops in Dongmen.
Livestreaming has boosted sales for shops in Dongmen.

(All photos by Daryl Lim.)

After a three-hour livestreaming session, 25-year-old “Cat” (猫子) removes her wig and false eyelashes. Sitting on a bench, she sighs wearily and said, “I wouldn’t be putting myself out there and dancing if I wasn’t trying to make a living.”

Cat, who hails from Yongchuan district in Chongqing, is a part-time livestreamer. Almost every day after work since December 2023, she would make her way to Dongmen Old Street — a commercial pedestrian street in Shenzhen — to do her livestreams on location and earn extra income through her energetic singing and dancing on Douyin.

Like traditional buskers, these livestreamers earn money through contributions from the audience, but the physical performance spaces have shifted to the online sphere, going beyond geographical restrictions.

Talent and attention for money

Livestreamers from all across China have been flocking to Dongmen over the past month, turning this 200-metre pedestrian street into a “livestreaming street”. During the afternoon or evening peak hours, Dongmen is dominated by livestreamers like Cat, some of whom have captivated large crowds of onlookers.

Most of these livestreamers showcase their talents — some sing and dance; others engage in street entertainment; and there are those that dress in peculiar outfits or put on bizarre acts. The key isn’t to have a good performance but to catch enough attention.


Like traditional buskers, these livestreamers earn money through contributions from the audience, but the physical performance spaces have shifted to the online sphere, going beyond geographical restrictions.

Dongmen’s sudden popularity is attributed to Bao Bao (爆爆), a livestreamer with over a million followers who did her livestreams on location in Dongmen. This attracted a horde of new fans, boosted her popularity and prompted other livestreamers to follow suit.

Orange One (橙一), 27-year-old livestreamer from Shenyang, Liaoning, travelled five days from Shenyang to Shenzhen, hoping to follow in Bao Bao’s footsteps in livestreaming on location from Dongmen and attracting more people to her channel.

With nearly 20,000 followers on Douyin, Orange One has been a full-time livestreamer for five years. Previously, she livestreamed mostly from indoors. She lamented, “Even the livestreaming industry has become saturated. If I keep livestreaming only from indoors, fans will get bored no matter how I sing or dance, and my income would take a dive.”

... at the peak, she could earn up to 20,000 RMB (US$2,800) a night. However, those days are long gone, and now her daily income averages only a few hundred or at most a couple thousand RMB.

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A livestreamer attracts a crowd in Dongmen.

Most livestreamers are reluctant to talk about income or would dodge the question. When pressed, Orange One indirectly revealed that at the peak, she could earn up to 20,000 RMB (US$2,800) a night. However, those days are long gone, and now her daily income averages only a few hundred or at most a couple thousand RMB.

She said, “In the past, as long as there was support from a generous ‘big brother’ in the channel, it was much easier to make money. Now the economic situation is not as good as in previous years, and the authorities are also strengthening regulation in this area. We can only take it step by step.”

“Big brother” refers to the fan who gives the most contributions in the livestream. In recent years, some female livestreamers have gone all out to gain the favour of these patrons and even took online encounters into the real world, some of which ended in tragedy. For example, the murder of a livestreamer in 2022 after rejecting a “big brother” who confessed his love.

Restrictions on contributions

To rein in the unruly livestreaming industry, the Chinese government introduced new regulations governing livestreaming bounties in mid-2022, including the elimination of bounty boards. This effectively killed the title of “big brother” and indirectly restricted high contributions.

Orange One said that livestreamers had to change tack and focus on increasing their fan base rather than growing “quality” fans. 

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The large electronic signboard at the crossroads of Dongmen Pedestrian Street says “Come here if you want to be famous”.

She explained that the bustling streets of Dongmen are just what is needed, and passionate outdoor performances are more likely to attract the attention of passersby and quickly win over many new fans. She added, “These fans are very much alike, which helps livestreaming platforms identify characteristics and recommend live content to other similar groups.”

The gathering of entertainment livestreamers in one location also facilitates in-person interaction, hyping up the livestream atmosphere and increasing the entertainment value, making it easier to attract new fans.

“We can’t just look at current earnings; gaining new fans is planning for the future, playing the long game.” — Orange One, livestreamer

More attention but similar income

Orange One said frankly that most livestreamers got more attention after livestreaming in Dongmen, but their actual income did not significantly increase because new fans are unlikely to make any contributions.

She said, “In fact, we were all aware of this before coming to Dongmen. We can’t just look at current earnings; gaining new fans is planning for the future, playing the long game.”

Besides those who perform, most livestreamers flocking to Dongmen are those who livestream from the perspective of passersby — “just chatting livestreamers” who interact with online audiences. Given the low talent threshold of this industry, the rise of livestreaming in Dongmen has also attracted many unemployed individuals to join.

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Livestreamers get more attention when going live from Dongmen, but this does not necessarily translate to higher income.

He Jiaxing, a 26-year-old from Loudi City in Hunan, was laid off from a Shenzhen hardware spring factory in early December last year. When interviewed, he said that he had been looking at ways of making money through livestreaming for the past few years but did not pursue it due to social anxiety.

He said, “Being unemployed is also an opportunity for me to step out of my comfort zone and get to know this industry.”

He was just chatting with fans during his first session in Dongmen. In less than two hours, he earned over 200 RMB, surpassing his expected target. He said that while there were over 200 people in the livestream, only five or six stuck around, and most contributions were from people he knew and friends offering encouragement.

He sighed and said, “It’s probably difficult to make a living like this. I probably won’t do it for the long term; this is just a transitional period. I’ll still have to seriously look for a job after Chinese New Year.”

The livestreaming trend in Dongmen has aroused curiosity and attention among Shenzhen residents, with many of them specifically coming to experience the livestreaming atmosphere. Many businesses near Dongmen said that the surge in pedestrian traffic on the street has boosted sales, increasing by about 20% to 30%.

... many criticise the chaos created by livestreamers in Dongmen, especially the raunchy dances of female livestreamers in revealing outfits, which they find indecent and damaging to the city’s image.

Shenzhen residents react

Formerly known as Shenzhen Market, the 300-year-old Dongmen was the birthplace of Shenzhen commerce and is the most commercially active district. This street has witnessed the development and changes in Shenzhen since China’s reform and opening up, carrying the collective memory of old Shenzhen residents.

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Reactions to livestreaming in Dongmen has been divided.

Now, this iconic street has been taken over by livestreamers, eliciting polarised reactions.

Some people think that livestreaming injects new life into the pedestrian street that is gradually losing its character, reflecting the spirit of inclusiveness and openness in Shenzhen. However, many criticise the chaos created by livestreamers in Dongmen, especially the raunchy dances of female livestreamers in revealing outfits, which they find indecent and damaging to the city’s image.

The authorities have not shooed off livestreamers from Dongmen or stopped their livestreams, but have only stipulated that from mid-January this year, they have to register before livestreaming. In addition, they cannot do a livestream on the main street when human traffic is high, to prevent congestion. However, even following the new regulations, the livestreaming craze in Dongmen continues.

The large electronic signboard at the crossroads of Dongmen Pedestrian Street says “Come here if you want to be famous”, an open invitation to more livestreamers.

Amid China’s challenging economic situation and weak consumption, the authorities are seemingly hoping to take advantage of the livestreaming trend to revitalise economic activities in Dongmen.

However, most livestreamers follow trends to chase views and profits. How Dongmen retains these livestreamers and turns livestreaming economics into a sustainable and long-lasting phenomenon is a test of policymakers’ wisdom.

This article was first published in Lianhe Zaobao as "深圳东门“直播街” 网红云集各显神通".

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