Liu Shichao: The Chinese 'peasant' whose binge drinking went global

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Liu Shichao at the start of one of his challengesImage source, Liu Shichao

What do you get when you mix a pint of beer, a can of Pepsi, a huge glass of flaming spirits, and a raw egg?

For Liu Shichao - who filmed himself downing the lot in eight seconds - you get 12 million views on Twitter and a worldwide fanbase.

And that video wasn't a one-off. In another clip, he smokes a cigarette, ignites six cocktails, and swallows them all (800,000 views on Twitter).

In another, he mixes vodka, whisky, red wine, beer - and, of course, the trademark egg - and drinks it like water (a mere 500,000 views).

But who is Liu Shichao? What is he doing to his body? And do his viral videos tell us anything about China's thirst for alcohol?

The beginning of the binge

Liu filmed his first video - seven bottles of lager in 50 seconds - three years ago.

"One day I saw a video of people drinking beer," he tells the BBC from China. "I thought, I can do that too."

China has a huge "online celebrity" culture - from travel bloggers to office chefs - so Liu started posting to the Chinese video-sharing site Kuaishou.

"The reason my videos are so short is that Kuaishou only allowed one-minute videos," he says. "We needed to drink very fast to finish them within the time limit."

Image source, Liu Shichao

At his peak, Liu had 470,000 followers - and received up to 10,000 Yuan a month ($1,400; £1,100) in donations - before Kuaishou shut down his live-streaming account because of the unhealthy content.

But in August, one of his Kuaishou videos was shared on Twitter, and, for the first time, Liu went viral outside China.

"People were telling me I was popular on Twitter," he says. "I replied: 'What's Twitter?' I had no idea."

'My wife is annoyed'

Liu is 33, lives in Hebei (a province near Beijing) and calls himself a "peasant". He doesn't speak English and uses translation software to post online.

"At first, I didn't know any social media platforms," he says. "I'm from a rural area."

Twitter, like many western sites, is blocked in China, so his videos were posted remotely. He gained 60,000 followers in less than six weeks.

"The foreign fans are very passionate and fun," he says. "A Turkish man asked for my address so he could send me Turkish beer."

His videos still earn him money - his Twitter links to his PayPal account - but they are not (yet) his main income. He earns a living selling meat online, and used to run a restaurant.

Most of Liu's supporters are men - "I guess they also love drinking, maybe there is a little sense of jealousy" - but his wife does not share their admiration.

"She is annoyed and is worried about my health," he says. "We often argue about this."

Is she right to worry?

Liu insists he is not an alcoholic. "I never drink when I'm alone," he says. "Those real alcoholic people from northern China will drink alone."

He also insists he feels no ill-effects after his stunts. "I can really drink," he says, which is fairly indisputable. He does, however, repeatedly advise caution.

"All the videos are within the scope of ability," he posted this week. "Teenagers are not allowed to imitate."

But Dr Sara Kayat, a doctor in London, says - despite his iron constitution - Liu risks passing out, vomiting, and even asphyxiation. There are also long-term dangers, she says.

"Binge drinking and excessive alcohol consumption can lead to mental health problems and liver damage, and are associated with increased blood pressure, irregular heart rhythms, and even some cancers."

The rise of Chinese binge drinking

As China has grown richer, so too has its appetite for alcohol.

In 2003, according to World Health Organization (WHO) data, 4% of Chinese people had "binge drunk" in the past 30 days. By 2016, that was up to 23%.

The figures were particularly stark for men in China - 36% were considered binge drinkers, compared to 7.5% in 2003.

Dr Jason Jiang - an alcohol policy expert from La Trobe University in Melbourne - has written widely about alcohol in China.

"From my point of view, his [Liu's] drinking behaviour is too dangerous," he says. "And the problem is many young people love his tweets, and this is even more problematic.

"I have seen a few other similar posts online from other young people, and they are keen to show their special drinking skills and be proud of it.

"Although the effects of excessive drinking on health (cirrhosis of the liver and cancer) may not been seen in the short term, alcohol abuse increases risks for other alcohol-related harms, such as violence, fall and traffic injuries."

Bottles of Chinese beer
Alcohol in China

  • 36.3%Males (15+) who 'binge drank' in the past 30 days (2016)

  • 8.6% Females (15+) who 'binge drank' in the past 30 days (2016)

  • 7.2Litres of pure alcohol consumed per capita in 2016

  • 4.4Litres of pure alcohol consumed per capita in 1990

Source: World Health Organization

At the moment, Liu is uploading old videos, rather then making fresh ones, but he is enjoying the new, global audience.

"Thank you very much for your love and support," he posted this month.

"I'm an ordinary person in rural China. I'm very glad to meet you. I'll try my best to send some more wonderful videos later. I love you."

And then, with the click of a play button, he mixes beer, rice wine, spirits, a can of Red Bull, and an egg, and downs the lot in eight seconds.

Additional reporting by Ellen Jin