From League of Legends host to Chinese live-streaming celebrity: how ‘Brother Chopstick’ triumphed over adversity
Former beggar who was born without arms or legs started showcasing his innovative method of playing video games on fan sites and soon a star was born
Every evening, between six and eight, Yuan Lidong, aka Brother Chopstick, puts on a live-stream show from his rundown home in a village in northern China.
Like many Chinese live-streamers the feed shows him engaged in a range of seemingly inconsequential activities such as playing online games, performing tricks or singing or chatting with some of his tens of thousands of fans.
But unlike many of his peers, his appeal is – at least in part – a result of the considerable hardships he has had to overcome to get this far because Yuan was born without arms or legs.
Even his decision to branch out into singing for his fans was born from adversity. Yuan first rose to fame playing online games, such as League of Legends, while lying on his side using his left cheek to control the mouse and biting a chopstick to control the keyboard – hence the Brother Chopstick nickname. But the contortions required to do this were starting to cause him health problems so he was forced to branch out into other fields.
The switch appears to have cost him some followers – and his peak he had 140,000 – but the switch to singing may have a silver lining.
Yuan said that because he could not speak to fans while gaming he had been restricted in the number of followers he could attract.
“I tell my audience about my experiences growing up, how I survived and how I married my wife,” Yuan said.
“I want to show them the strong aspects of a disabled man so they can be motivated to try hard in work or life.”
His stance has won strong support from his followers, with one saying: “It’s really not easy for Brother Chopstick to make it. Let’s support him.”
He relies on the income he makes to support his father, wife and eight-year-old son. Previously Yuan received a steady income from some of the gaming websites he was affiliated with – he declined to say how much – but topped this up from virtual gifts from fans, which last year totalled 10,000 yuan (US$1,580).
Since his switch away from gaming he has been broadcasting on Kuaishou.com, a major live-streaming platform, and has already amassed more than 23,000 followers.
Yuan was born to a peasant family in Jinzhou in the northeastern province of Liaoning in 1986. He attributes his physical deformity to pills his mother took when she was pregnant.
He only attended primary school for three years before dropping out. As a teenager, he went with his father to beg in other cities.
Yuan met his wife, a migrant worker from Henan, at a small hotel in Shanxi province where she worked, and she fell in love with him because of his spirit and perseverance.
Yuan said he would prefer not to disclose his wife’s name to protect her privacy.
“My wife’s parents and her brothers know that I have no hands or legs, but her parents’ neighbours and friends aren’t aware,” Yuan said. “I don’t want to bring unnecessary hassle.”
He had been a fan of video games for many years before he decided to become a live-streaming host.
He first honed his gaming technique in 2011 while playing the wildly popular League of Legends.
As he became better and better at playing the game, one of his friends suggested that he should try becoming an online games host as no one else in the world played like him.
He made his debut in 2015 and by the end of the first day he had gained tens of thousands of followers and made a profit of 1,000 yuan.
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Although the initial spike of excitement cooled down he said that success emboldened him to try to make a living from live-streaming.
With a loyal fan base in place he was soon making a regular income, topped up by tips.
“Before I was 30 years old, my parents raised me; after [I turned] 30, I said: I will raise this family myself,” he said.
In his daily life, Yuan relies on his father and wife to perform some basic tasks.
“I can’t live without them,” he said. “For example, if something falls on the ground, I can’t pick it up. If I want to go to toilet, I have to wait for someone to go with me since I can’t do it by myself.”
But there are plenty of other tasks – ranging from lighting a cigarette to steering his electric chair – he can do himself.
He has also honed a number of tricks he performs using his mouth to keep his audience entertained, such as threading a needle or making an origami frog.
“For each of these performances, I need to practise hundreds of times so that I won’t fail in front of audiences,” Yuan said.
He said he rarely suffered from discrimination in his hometown, where many passers-by were willing to help him if he needed it, and he enjoyed going out to wheelchair-friendly restaurants with his friends.
Yuan is resigned to the fact that one day he might no longer be able to make a living from live-streaming and said he would go back to begging if needs be.
“I have a son and I will do whatever I can to support his education.”
But for now he will carry on live-streaming and is planning a tour of Beijing and the neighbouring province of Hebei with his wife and a friend later this month and will broadcast the highlights to his online followers.
He insists he has never been depressed about his disability and always looks at things positively.
“A good mindset can help you get anything you want; otherwise, a bad mindset will lead you to lose,” Yuan said. “I never complain and never feel unfairly treated by fate.
“I won’t force myself to do things I am not able to do. With this mindset, I feel happy every day.”