People’s Republic of Desire

2018 – Documentary

1h 35mins

Director: Hao Wu

Producer: Hao Wu


Live streaming in China is a booming business as all facets of the population from the very wealthy to the poor migrant workers come together in a surreal virtual community.

2018 documentary People’s Republic of Desire directed by Hao Wu follows two young social media “stars” from 2014 to 2016 in their live streaming rise to fame on the Chinese platform YY (similar to the American gaming site Twitch). 21 year old Shen Man is an ex-nurse who has gained popularity as a singer and 24 year old Big Li is a married family man with a comedy act. Both Shen Man and Big Li put on daily shows for adoring fans who lavish them with virtual gifts which parlays into salaries of roughly $50,000 per month – a fraction of what YY is taking off the top. Rich patrons spend large sums of money on their favourite hosts to have their names flash on the screen along with a running tally of their contributions. The hosts thank them by name while the rest of the fans celebrate the show of wealth and the patrons become stars themselves, lauded for their generosity. The amount of money being spent is staggering.

A deeper story unfolds as Shen Man and Big Li allow Wu to film inside their homes. We meet Shen Man’s unemployed freeloading father and observe the deterioration Big Li’s marriage as his obsession with winning the annual YY Favourite Host competition consumes him.  There is definite stress on the live streamers as they are depended upon as breadwinners of their household. People’s Republic of Desire, winner of the SXSW 2018 Documentary Grand Jury Prize is a human story of loneliness and connection delivered with slick graphics exposing our dependency on instant gratification and social media.