On Tuesday, the internet celebrity known as Pangzai released a tearful video on Twitter (since-deleted) saying goodbye to his followers and making cryptic references to his own depression and possibly going to jail.
If you’re aware of “Pangzai” or “Hebei Pangzai” at all, it’s probably as the guy with the incredible speed beer-chugging skills utilizing a “tornado” style. The video below, of him chugging a giant jar containing beer, some type of flaming liquor, and an egg, all while smoking a cigarette, went viral some time last year, for obvious reasons.
how do I become as cool as this guy, The Coolest Guy pic.twitter.com/USIBAKp2Mz
— hunnaban trenchboss (@GILA_____) March 5, 2019
Pangzai — which apparently translates as “Chubby Dude,” or is “a kind of cute pun on “Pangzi,” or “fatty” — is a farmer in his early 30s named Liu Shichao who hails from Xingtai in the Hebei province. The videos were originally posted on the Chinese video app Kuaishou and Pangzai had no idea he’d gone viral on Twitter.
Pangzai gave an interview to Deadspin’s Lauren Teixeira last November, who wrote:
Kuaishou videos tend toward the rural and the outrageous: a typical viral Kuaishou video might feature a guy playing two trumpets through his nostrils, or a man jumping into a frozen pond in his underwear. In this sense, Liu’s videos might be considered the apotheosis of Kuaishou content. They are full of eye-popping stunts, depict acts harmful to the user’s personal safety, and are without exception set to loud Chinese pop music.
A New Zealand comedian claims it was actually he who invented the “tornado chugging style” and not Pangzai, but that’s really neither here nor there and Pangzai is one of the internet’s foremost kings regardless.
I’ve been following Pangzai since he learned to use a VPN to run the Twitter account @HebeiPangzai, a mix of Herculean chugging stunts, chopping bricks in half with his bare hands, and pleasant slices of Liu’s pastoral life. A straight shooter whose updates are consistently uplifting and good-natured, Pangzai has been a consistent source of delight in a sea of shit. His web presence is a brief fulfillment of the internet’s early promise to connect distant cultures and promote empathy. Plus he’s really good at chugging booze.
Today, I just happened to be scrolling through my timeline when I saw that HebeiPangzai had begun a live video. I jumped on as quickly as I could and it wasn’t the usual Pangzai, even if he did chug a beer in it.
In the video, a clearly sad and apparently crying Pangzai offered a farewell to his followers (through a translating app) and some have speculated that this was part of a Chinese government crackdown (all of which is speculation, it could be a publicity stunt, a platform switch, or just a guy dealing with a hangover).
The snippets of Pangzai’s monologue I managed to write down (I was trying to watch it live) included:
“I’m talking to you now maybe the next day I will be in jail.”
“There’s no one in my family who likes me.”
“You can’t help me, you can’t help me, I’m talking to you and I’m already committing a crime.”
“I hope I can take care of my fish picture.”
I assume “fish picture” was a mistranslation of “fish tank” or “aquarium,” as Pangzai occasionally films himself tending to some fish on his farm.
In any case, Pangzai seemed very depressed and for a while I was worried we might be watching his live suicide note. Luckily it didn’t end in self-harm or cops breaking down the door. For what it’s worth, he simply signed off and directed followers to his YouTube account.
It’s hard to know whether Pangzai’s notoriety in the US endangers him in China, increasing the likelihood that he’ll be used as a political pawn in a feud with a country that Donald Trump was demonizing even before he started trying to blame them for COVID. (Is it bad to write about him, or does his fame protect him?)
Again, it’s all speculation at this point, we don’t know if Liu is really in danger of going to jail or just having a depressive episode. I hope it’s the latter, and that fans like me can bid him a hearty “chug on, chubby king” for many years to come.
UPDATE: After this article was published, Pangzai popped back up on Twitter to say he was just drunk.
I'm fine. Please don't worry about me. I was drunk last night. I love you guys. pic.twitter.com/fxaebeeRwl
— Pangzai (@hebeipangzai) August 26, 2020
Assuming this is really Pangzai, of course. But hey, who hasn’t gotten a little emotional after speed chugging five or 10 drinks? We’re just glad to know he’s alright. Stay thirsty, king.