Published: 14:08, November 12, 2022 | Updated: 16:25, November 12, 2022
Livestreaming with sign language
By Liu Yingxue and Zhu Youfang

A deaf-mute couple in Yunmeng county, Hubei province sell products with sign language via livestream videos on Kuaishou - a video sharing platform. (CHEN ANHUA/ CHINA DAILY)

Thousands of netizens watched the livestreaming room “rabbit sister Wang Yihan” while waiting for a link to the goods advertised to be updated on the afternoon of Oct 4. Unlike other livestreaming rooms, this was quiet with only background music and the sound of pen scratching paper. 

It was hosted by a hearing-impaired couple, Yi Sixiong and Wang Xian. In front of the camera, the duo carefully explained the details of the goods and answered questions from viewers, who mostly had hearing difficulties, in sign language. 

Yi  Sixiong, 33, also known as Daxiong, or “big bear”, aims to build a platform for people with hearing difficulties to solve all kinds of problems they face, from learning sign language to finding jobs

The six-hour livestream received some 74,000 views, with the sales of goods exceeding 700,000 yuan ($99,000). Using multiple WeChat public accounts and a silent livestreaming room, Yi and his wife have attracted over 350,000 online followers, mainly hearing-impaired people like them. 

Yi, 33, also known as Daxiong, or “big bear”, aims to build a platform for people with hearing difficulties to solve all kinds of problems they face, from learning sign language to finding jobs.

“As we gain more followers with hearing difficulties, I feel more responsibility. I want to try my best to help them, no matter what kind of difficulty they meet,” Yi says, his gestures translated by interpreter and teacher Zhang Xihong. 

Zhang has known Yi for six years and has become a “bridge” between Yi and other people who don’t know sign language. When she communicates with Yi, she is often amused. “His sign language is quite expressive and infectious. He can present one small thing vividly,” Zhang says. 

Yi was born in Changsha, Hunan province, in a family where some members had conditions such as congenital hearing loss. Under the careful guidance of his parents and teachers, Yi not only mastered sign language with fluent expressions but also enrolled into the animation major at Changchun University in Northeast China’s Jilin province after finishing his high school studies at Changsha Special Education School. 

In 2016, after graduation, Yi opened a roast duck restaurant in Changsha with his father’s financial support. Even though he was busy working from day to night, his first venture didn’t succeed. In less than a year, the business lost over 100,000 yuan. Yi didn’t immerse himself in depression. After noticing that without hearing ability, he met many difficulties in daily life, Yi got new ideas about what he wanted to do. With the popularization of WeChat, communication among people with hearing difficulties in China has improved.

However, as many hearing-impaired people have just started using WeChat or the internet, they often encounter online fraud and suffer monetary loss due to a lack of vigilance. Sometimes they are even tricked into pyramid schemes because of the lack of legal knowledge. 

Yi says the situation is caused by the lack of channels to get information for people with hearing difficulties. That is one reason he decided to be a “problem solver” and their “ears”. Raising awareness On Feb 8, 2017, Yi created his first WeChat public account named Daxiong Jiang, or “Daxiong’s talk”, which delivers news and real-time event information in sign language via video to people with hearing difficulties. 

At first his videos didn’t attract many views or followers. Yi asked his friends with hearing problems for their advice on topics and the information they were interested in and made more videos. He gradually gathered online followers. The number increased from hundreds to thousands to the current level of more than 120,000 for the account. Yi does not work all by himself anymore. Now he has a team to handle the work, from video-making to customer service, all staffed by members with hearing difficulties. 

Yi has created two more accounts focusing on telling more stories of China and introducing quality goods. In early 2020, with the COVID-19 pandemic spreading, Yi issued reminders to the online followers to take protection against the virus. Since then, he has released nine videos in sign language to deliver the latest news on the COVID-19 situation and popularize prevention measures to hearing-impaired people. 

In addition, he donated 10,000 yuan on behalf of his followers toward pandemic control measures, as a way of “passing on the silent power” from people with hearing difficulties. As e-commerce became more popular in recent years, Yi noticed that online shopping, however convenient for others, was not easy for people with hearing difficulties. 

 Due to an inconsistent understanding of certain terms, they had deviations in their understanding of product functions, specifications, and rules of the after-sales service. 

Yi decided to have a livestreaming room for his followers, selling products in sign language. He turned that thought into action in the fall of 2019. Yi still remembers when he did a livestream for the first time, he felt uncomfortable. “When making a video, if I’m not satisfied with it, I can start over. 

However, in livestreaming, you have to show the audience your truest reactions,” he says. Followers, friends During his first livestream show in 2019, Yi failed to introduce the products in sign language very clearly, but online viewers guided him by asking questions about the materials, colors and prices. 

Some viewers also sent cheerful emojis to encourage him. That show ended up with some 1,000 orders. Since then, Yi has two livestreamed shows a month, with each lasting for five to six hours. From collecting product information and confirming samples to be presented in a livestream to checking the quantity in stock and product prices, Yi takes part in each aspect of the work. 

His wife, Wang, has also joined his team to support and share the work. Wang says Yi’s work is intensive, so she helps to lighten his workload. 

As they live and work together, disagreements are inevitable. “We analyze whose idea is better and then go in that direction together,” Wang says. 

 During such livestreaming, both Yi and Wang use sign language to carefully introduce different products. Even though it’s not as bustling as some other channels, their livestreaming has gained popularity among people with hearing impairment, and today receives 5,000 to 10,000 orders a month.

More orders bring more suppliers who contact Yi for cooperation. He takes his time to communicate with the suppliers as he wants to give enough time to his team to check the quality of the products. 

Yi was deceived by suppliers twice when products they sent to customers were not of the same quality as the samples sent to him. After receiving negative feedback from the customers, Yi soon ended the deals and asked his customers to apply for refunds. 

“They are not only my followers, but also friends who trust me,” Yi says in sign language, adding that he would rather give up his commission to find more products of good price for them. 

Yi says with the help of technology, such as voice-to-text software, life of hearing-impaired people is getting better, and he wants to use the internet more to help them. He plans to build an offline space for them to communicate and make that a platform to offer different services they need such as translation, employment training and matchmaking. 

Even though Daxiong Jiang is now well-known in the circle of people with hearing difficulties, Yi says he hopes his videos are also recognized by others. Yi is keen to learn about stories of outstanding people with hearing difficulties and turn them into a series of videos. 

Contact the writers at liyingxue@chinadaily.com.cn