In early November, a six-second video uploaded by a photographer named Hu Bo went viral on Chinese TikTok. The slow motion clip of a young man walking while smiling at the camera caught massive attention, earning millions of likes. Overnight, this young man became a top social media celebrity because of his handsome looks, sweeping Weibo trends.
Netizens fondly called him “甜野男孩” (tián yě nán hái), “a young man wild and sweet.” Unlike other internet celebrities with fair skin and Korean-style make-up, the man has a tanned and natural look. Netizens were amazed by how pure and innocent he appeared in the video.
It turns out that this twenty-year-old young man is named Tenzin (丁真 Ding Zhen in Mandarin Chinese). He is a local Khampa Tibetan living in the Garzê Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of Sichuan. Growing up in the rural Litang County, he spends most of his time herding yaks on the plateaus. He speaks Tibetan and a bit of Mandarin, and has only received some education.
Rumors circled about Tenzin signing with talent agencies and he has sincee been invited on multiple reality shows. Many people worried that as an uneducated farm boy he might be exploited by unreasonable contracts and lost in the materialistic world. It’s not unheard of for talent agents to “kill the goose that lays the golden egg” in exchange for quick money. Many let their artists take whatever jobs pay well without screening the content.
Luckily, Tenzin made the best decision. He signed with a local government-affiliated culture and tourism promotion company for a stable monthly salary of ¥3,500. This contract allows Tenzin to keep the extra revenue he earns in his business activities, such as live streaming tips and event fees. The local government also appointed him as the tourism ambassador.
The first thing Tenzin did as an ambassador was a tourism video for his hometown in Litang. This beautifully filmed video, titled “The World of Ding Zhen,” features the sublime Mount Genyen and the boundless Maoya Grassland. It also showcases the Tibetan traditions that Tenzin grew up with. He proudly introduces his dearest pony Pearl, for whom he traded his father’s best horse. “I’m very good at riding horses. [I] won a lot of races in my village. They call me ‘Prince on a Horse’,” said Tenzin.
In an interview, the Chief Executive of the local tourism company Du Dondong, said: “First of all, we want to protect this kid from cyberbullying and overexposure.” Du turned down countless offers from entertainment companies. He is aiming for a more sustainable future for both Tenzin and Litang.
In another interview, Du said, “He’s most natural around his hometown. If you all of a sudden take him to Changsha, Shanghai or Beijing, he probably will feel uncomfortable. He may either lose his confidence or get conceited. None of these are good for him. He’s too young and has never traveled far away. He does not have his own values yet. We will help him select some cause-oriented events to attend.”
The “Tenzin Effect” has been very successful in the past weeks. The internet search frequency for “Litang” has increased by 620%. There have also been major increases in hotel and flight bookings to Garzê.
Litang wasn’t removed from China’s list of poverty-stricken counties until February 2020. Before Tenzin became a phenomenon, the local government tried many different methods to promote tourism, but the results remained mediocre.
Tenzin’s sudden stardom has built up the government’s hopes to continue alleviating poverty with tourism and bringing actual economic benefits to the Tibetan community. His success also benefited tourism boards in other provinces such as Tibet, Shandong and Gansu. They all took a chance on social media to promote local scenery by inviting Tenzin to visit them.
Tenzin’s promising start is a huge relief to netizens. Yet many of them still expressed their concern on whether Tenzin can stay true to himself after his massive exposure to the public. Social media is a blessing and a curse. Hopefully, Tenzin can have a long-lasting positive effect on his hometown and not fall into the trap of materialism.