The romanticisation, imagination and (supposed) propaganda of Dianxi Xiaoge

The Stammering Dunce
6 min readMay 25, 2024

Also published on Wordpress.

Dianxi Xiaoge — a mainland Chinese cottagecore Youtube channel run by Dong Meihua, nicknamed Penji — is one of my favourite channels on the website. Not only I am one of those urban dwellers who fall for the idyllic rural aesthetics, I also love the cooking segments; I love her mastery of recipes and utilisation of a wide range of ingredients.

But, the channel seems to attract mindless responses, both from its detractors and its fans.

It may or may not be real

One thing we must remember about the media is it has some level of pre-planning; the things we see and hear are almost definitely choreographed to some degree. And that aspect is not even subtle in this channel.

As I cannot speak any Chinese languages, I cannot determine whether the dialogues feel scripted it or not. But, visually, you can see how every camera angle is neatly set up, ensuring it captures the “focal point”; cinematography is clearly involved.

My point is, while I cannot be sure of her authenticity, I am certain about one thing: if she ends up exposed as a fraud, I wouldn’t be that disappointed, as I am getting better at not taking the media for granted, especially with something which feels too good to be true.

I find it disturbing people still completely fall for the media in 2024. They cannot comprehend media’s depictions of anything may not be true. Or maybe, they cannot comprehend what they love to see in the media may not be true.

And, unfortunately, my fellows fans really take her content for granted.

Romanticising the rural

Another common trait about her fans? They dream of her lifestyle. They envy her home, which they perceive as an old-fashioned and plastic-free idyll.

But, do they really want it?

Admittedly, she does romanticise the rural life. But, she also depicts how living her life is also a job in itself.

Not only she cooks much of her foods from scratch (she makes her own hams and sausages, mind you!), she also farms and forages many of the ingredients herself. In a handful of videos, she has also proven herself to be quite proficient in handicraft and she knows how to make her own clay ovens. Even her aging grandparents try their best to help with the chores. While I wouldn’t compare it to urban stress, her lifestyle clearly requires efforts, lots of them.

And she is not even that traditional, anyway. As traditional as she seems compared to urban people, it is not like she entirely rejects modernity.

She uses cellphones and motorcycles. She wears westernised clothing. Even though she still keeps her wood fire stoves and bamboo/wooden cooking utensils, she has openly embraced electric cookers, modern ceramic pots and silicon spatulas. On some occasions, we can see her visiting local shops where they sell plastic-packaged snacks and ice creams stored in freezers. Her younger brother’s formal schooling attendance is frequently mentioned.

And, for God’s sake, she is an internet star! Not only she clearly uses computer and the internet, her source of income did not exist prior the 21st century.

Oh, and rural life is far more communal than the urban one. Can you — wide-eyed and individualist urban dwellers — handle a life where collectivism is even far less skippable as an option, where individualism is far less respected?

Anything that debunks my belief is propaganda

Let me speak about my country first before I continue.

One of my pet peeves is how people — both Indonesians and foreigners — depict Indonesia as far better or worse than it really is. Their depictions are often overtly-simplistic and free from nuances. It is even worse when they talk about diversity and pluralism.

It makes me realise how every country is far more complex than the world depicts it to be (my common sense starts working when it is my country’s turn to get praised/scrutinised). My mind accepts all of those positive, neutral and negative experiences people have about a country can be valid and do not necessarily contradict each other; a person’s life story doesn’t have to be universal to be valid (again, basic common sense).

In the case of Penji, there are western commentators who accuse her of being a CCP propaganda tool. Not because she makes rants about how America slanders her country, not because she keeps talking about how pluralistic China is.

No, she is accused of being one…… simply because a handful of her videos show her having cordial interactions with ethnic minorities. That’s it.

No, I am not denying the existence of bigotry and suppression in China. But, if you want to accuse her of being a tool of propaganda, you need to provide an actual evidence. Instead, you are angry because she shows herself interacting with the others, angry because your extreme and black-and-white preconceived belief is not being affirmed.

Imagine if Chinese commentators start accusing American media for being propagandistic simply for showing white and black Americans interacting with each other, arguing it is an attempt to whitewash institutional racism in America.

If you think that sounds stupid and desperate, that’s how those commentators really sound like when “criticising” her.

According to her Wikipedia page, she is a member of the Chinese Communist Party. As the citation is in Mandarin and I cannot speak the language (and I cannot guarantee the news outlet’s trustworthiness, even if I can speak it), I cannot verify such claim.

But, even if that is true, I cannot judge the significance of her membership. People’s Republic of China is a one-party state, where other existing parties are strictly prohibited from ruling the government, let alone become oppositional. I don’t know if party membership in China is a sign of complicity or just a mere formality.

Why I personally love Dianxi Xiaoge

There are times when I skip the scenes where she forages and harvests ingredients and go straight to the cooking segments. But, for some reasons, I never skip the mushroom foraging ones; there is just something satisfying about her picking up wild (and unbelievably diverse) mushrooms.

Maybe, despite my rare consumptions of mushrooms (as they are not commonly eaten in my place), I am more obsessed about them than I realised.

Of course, as mentioned before, I also adore the cooking segments.

Even though I am unable to eat many of her recipes due to the unavailability of certain ingredients and religious dietary restrictions, I still find her culinarily inspiring.

She utilises familiar ingredients in ways I have never considered before. She also utilises ingredients which are not commonly used outside China and possibly even outside Yunnan province. She reminds me how the world of cooking is infinite; there is something to explore beyond the tastebuds we grew up with.

And it is emphasised by her willingness to learn.

Remember her interactions with ethnic minorities? Well, that’s because she wants to learn about their foods as well. She proceeds to bring her knowledge home and introduce them to her family and sometimes other villagers as well.

She also utilises ingredients and cooks recipes which are not native to her home province. Lobster, sashimi and, most memorably, burgers.

As far as I remember, she has made burgers at least three times on her channel. She makes them from scratch, even the buns (I don’t know why she needs to put egg in the dough, though). The third time, she makes a giant one; it is wholesome to see her sharing it with everyone around her.

This is another reason why I love her channel. Her audience learn about Yunnan culture…. while she and her fellow villagers learn about other cultures, even ones from outside of China.

The channel reminds me how learning is a two-way street.

Dammit, I almost forgot to mention her malamute, Dawang. I have nothing to say about him…. other than he is an adorable and fluffy giant.

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