Ij reportika Logo

Tank cake influencer Austin Li ‘set up’ by his enemies: business associate

Beauty influencer Austin Li, part of a generation of younger Chinese people who know little of the June 4, 1989 Tiananmen massacre, may have been set up by a rival when he displayed a tank-shaped ice-cream dessert on his livestream, prompting censors to pull the plug immediately, RFA has learned.

Li’s livestream was taken off air on Jun. 3 shortly after he showed an ice-cream dessert in the shape of a tank, one day ahead of the 33rd anniversary of the crackdown. Public commemorations of the massacre are banned in China.

But a close business associate of Li’s, Sun Mei, said the young man was raised in an era where nobody mentioned the massacre.

The ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) says the mass protests of 1989 were a “counterrevolutionary rebellion” and that then supreme leader Deng Xiaoping was justified in sending in the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to mow down unarmed civilians with guns and tanks.

Online references to the events of June 4, 1989, including images of tanks, are swiftly deleted by government censors.

“He’s not doing too well right now,” Sun told RFA. “He has offended a lot of people, some of whom were looking to mess with him. He was set up.”

Sun dismissed online rumors that Li is being held by the authorities for tax evasion.

“Li Jiaqi paid off his taxes; he paid out a lot of money — far too much, but he wanted to buy peace, and the tax evasion incident is over,” he said.

Unaware of history

Sun described Li as a loyal patriot who “usually responds to directions from the CCP very well,” expecting to be protected in return.

“His office resembles a party-building operation, and he has had a lot of interaction with the district and municipal party committees,” he said.

So, how did a loyal party follower come to display the controversial tank dessert on his live show?

Sun said Li’s generation lacks exposure to his country’s own recent history.

“He is a victim of the information blackout [around that topic] because … he is very young,” he said. “He has a lot of fans … now everyone is talking about what happened on June 4, 1989, and more and more people are coming to know about it.”

Sun said some 100 million fans may already have heard of the Tiananmen massacre, but plenty more were now likely planning to find out about it as a direct result of Li’s tank dessert debacle.

Settling ‘old and new scores’

Meanwhile, authorities in the eastern province of Zhejiang have detained a former leader of the 1989 protest movement at Hangzhou University on suspicion of “picking quarrels and stirring up trouble,” after he protested the confiscation of his mobile phone by police.

Xu Guang was detained on suspicion of the charge, which is frequently used to target peaceful critics of the CCP, by the Xihu branch of the Hangzhou police department last week, fellow dissident Zou Wei told RFA.

“The Xihu district state security police and officers from Yuquan police station came to his door and told him not to go out or make comments online around June 4,” Zou said.

“Then they took Xu Guang’s two mobile phones away. The next day, Xu Guang went to Yuquan police station to get his phone back, but the police refused to give it back,” he said.

Xu, 54, went to complain in person but was detained when he showed up at the police station.

“The state security police told Xu Guang that … this time he would get a heavy sentence, because old and new scores were being settled all at once,” Zou said. “All we know is that Xu has been on hunger strike since his arrest, but we don’t know the specific details.”

Xu has previously served a five-year jail term after trying to formally register the China Democracy Party (CDP) as a political party in 1998, and has repeatedly called on the CCP to overturn the official verdict on the 1989 protests.

He is currently being held in the Xihu Detention Center.

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.