Pay-for-praise: China's new social media fad

People pay to join chat groups to receive compliments from strangers, fulfilling their need for encouragement

Users can now join a chat group on WeChat or QQ, where they are showered with lavish praise and encouragement - for a price.
Users can now join a chat group on WeChat or QQ, where they are showered with lavish praise and encouragement - for a price.PHOTO: REUTERS

A phenomenon known as "kuakuaqun" or "praise groups" has taken Chinese social media by storm.

Users can now join a chat group on WeChat or QQ, where they are showered with lavish praise and encouragement - for a price.

On e-commerce sites like Taobao, membership in such WeChat and QQ groups starts at 50 yuan (S$10) for five minutes of compliments. It can be custom-tailored for a friend or loved one.

Ms Meng Zha, an undergraduate at Shanghai's Tongji University, said she tried the service on a lark and found it lifted her spirits.

Strangers praised her looks with flowery language and even declared their love using evergreen pop lyrics. "Your eyes are as resplendent as the stars and your jet-black hair is smooth as silk brocade," said one user.

"We love, love, love you endless," said another, invoking a well-known ditty by Hong Kong superstar Aaron Kwok.

Said Ms Meng: "I couldn't stop laughing in class at the waves of compliments. I hope next time, I can also deliver such high-quality caihongpi (rainbow gas or colourful praise)."

The phenomenon is said to have started last month at universities, with chat groups created by students to cheer each other on.

Chinese media reported that such groups, with hundreds of users, now exist in more than a dozen universities, including Fudan, Tsinghua and Xi'an Jiaotong.

A typical exchange on these groups would see a user post about having a bad day and ask for praise, and others would respond in increasingly exaggerated and often hilarious ways.

To a user who left his umbrella on the bus, someone said: "But you didn't lose your phone and can still message us, and that's awesome!"

To another user who said he was struggling with computer science, a witty response was: "Your heart is too pure to hold any complex algorithms."

Observers said the "praise groups" might have been a response to the earlier fad of "curse groups" last year, where Chinese netizens took sides on perennial debates such as iOS versus Android and Cavaliers versus Warriors in the National Basketball Association, nominally to argue the superiority of their chosen side but mainly to vent and swear before going on with their daily lives.

While some of the curse groups came to be known for their creative insults and put-downs that took the form of beatbox and rap, WeChat was not amused.

It published a notice last June that said it had received reports of verbal abuse and discrimination in such chat groups, and that some of them contained prohibited content related to gambling and pornography.

"We support users expressing themselves freely and reasonably on WeChat, but also remind everyone to engage in civilised and rational dialogue," it said.

Fudan University psychology professor Chen Kan said the praise groups had gone viral - and were being turned into businesses - because they fulfilled students' need for company, self-confidence and just simple flattery.

But users should treat such praise as good fun, instead of real approval, she told China Daily.

"Everyone loves to be praised, but listening to too much of it from a 'praise group' might be counterproductive," she said. "The biggest risk is the constant emphasis on the 'false self', which makes it harder to see one's 'true self'."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 21, 2019, with the headline 'Pay-for-praise: China's new social media fad'. Subscribe