In China’s “Kua Kua” Chat Groups, People Pay to Be Praised [Updated]
A new phenomenon has become a hot topic on Chinese social media these days. ‘Kua kua’ groups (夸夸群) are chat groups where people share some things about themselves – even if they are negative things – and where other people will always tell them how great they are, no matter what.
Kua kua groups (夸 ‘kuā‘ literally means ‘praise’) have become all the rage in China. People seem to love them for the mere fact that it makes them feel good about themselves.
The format is clear. Person A tells about something that is on their minds, and asks people for positive feedback. Person B, C, and D will then come forward and tell them how good or pretty they are, sometimes based on their profile photo.
One could say: “Hi everyone, I’ve just turned down a job offer, but now my future is full of uncertainty, please compliment me.” Then people in the chat group will respond and say things such as: “You look like the type of person who knows exactly what they want.”
The Kua kua praise group phenomenon allegedly began within the online community of Xi’an Jiaotong University – although some claim it was Shanghai’s Fudan University – when one person asked others in a chat group to compliment them. The idea started to compliment and praise others, and so a trend was born; first, in university (BBS) chat groups, and now on WeChat and beyond the realm of universities.
The phenomenon has been around for at least six years, but only recently started gaining widespread attention on Chinese social media. According to China’s Toutiao News, virtually every college now has its own ‘praise group.’
But the praise does not always come for free. Although many (college-based) chat groups are free to join, people who want to be complimented and are not yet a member of an existing group can join Kua kua groups when they pay for it. On Chinese e-commerce platform Taobao, there are various online shops that sell a ‘Praise group’ membership starting from 50 yuan ($7,5) per person, going up to 188 yuan ($28).
The time of praise is limited to five minutes unless you pay more. The quality of the compliments you’ll be getting also depends on how much you pay. Some groups allegedly consist of “students of great talent,” and the number of people complimenting one person could reach up to 500 people.
The contents of the praise could literally be anything. A simple “I want to be praised” comment could get a variety of reactions from “your hat looks nice” to “the fact that you’re so honest and straightforward about what you want is something that is hard to come across in this day and age,” to “you used a period mark [at the end of your sentence], you must be someone who is very persistent in reaching your goals.”
The fact that the “Kua kua” phenomenon is such a success in China might relate to its culture, where humility and modesty are considered ideal in day-to-day communications. When given a compliment, it is common in China to deny it or to suggest that the person giving the compliment is much better than they are (also see Cheng 2003, 30).
These chat groups, however, break away from the dominant cultural interactions: people don’t have to be polite in responding to the compliments and can wallow in the praise they paid for.
Although not as big as the “Kua Kua” group phenomenon, these kinds of groups also exist in the English-language social media sphere. On Reddit’s “Toast Me” page, for example, there are some 92,000 subscribers participating in asking and giving positive feedback to others, albeit unpaid.
The people giving compliments in the Chinese Kua kua groups are random people, some students, some staff of Taobao stores, who get hongbao, red envelopes with digital money gifts, for contributing to the group. According to some reports, some ‘customers’ end up staying the group and become a part of the team themselves.
We will follow up on this later: we booked a ‘five-minute praise session’ ourselves, but are still awaiting admission to the group…
Update: Our Kua Kua Experience
So what is the Kua kua experience like? We decided to try out for ourselves and purchased a 5-minute praise session through Taobao for 50 yuan ($7,5) from a seller that had a good rating.
After the purchase is completed, the seller will contact you with details asking for your WeChat ID. After adding, they will ask you what your ‘problem’ or issue is, and you will be put in a virtual queue until your turn comes up to be praised.
You’ll then be added to a WeChat group that has your name in the headline (ours was something like “Manya you can do it”) and that has around 200 participants.
The message posted by us was:
“Hello, I’m Manya (Dutch). I’ve been studying Chinese for more than ten years. In fact, I’m afraid to say it may even be more than 13 years, but I still often don’t understand what Beijing taxi drivers are saying. Even studying every day won’t help. I’ve been learning for so many years, yet I often still don’t understand what the old people in Beijing are saying. It’s a bit embarrassing. I think my Chinese is still not good enough. I can’t understand the ‘crosstalk’ [comedy sketches] during the Spring Festival Gala at all. It makes me feel a little dispirited.”
Within a matter of seconds, the screen then just fills up with positive feedback and emoji. There are dozens of comments, and they almost go too fast to read them all.
Some of the responses:
“You’re great, and even I don’t understand Beijing taxi drivers.”
“Stay confident in yourself!”
“You’re so cool.”
“You can type so many Chinese characters, who’d say your Chinese is not good enough?!”
“Manya, you’re so fantastic.”
“None of us understand what old people in Beijing are saying.”
“Chinese is just not easy to study, the fact that you’ve been doing it for so long already shows how great you are.”
“It’s incredible that you’ve already come this far.”
“A woman who is so motivated about studying really moves me, you’re my role model, you make me want to study more English.”
During the praise session, the group leader will occasionally post a hongbao [envelope with money] for the participants to receive in return for their compliments.
After five minutes, the session ends, and the people will send out some last words of encouragement. The group leader will personally thank you for being part of the group, and later, you’ll be removed from the group as the people will move on to the next person who is waiting in line to be praised.
How does it feel to be praised by some 200 people, receiving hundreds of compliments? It’s overwhelming, and even though you know it’s all just an online mechanism, and that it doesn’t matter who you are or what you say, it still makes you glow a little bit inside.
Although some experts quoted by Chinese state media warn people not to rely on these praise groups too much, there does not seem to be much harm in allowing yourself to be complimented for some minutes from time to time.
Other people reviewing the same Kua kua group apparently feel the same: “I’m super satisfied, the result is amazing.”
Featured image via hexun.com.
Cheng, Winnie. 2003. Intercultural Communication. Amsterdam, John Benjamins Publishing.
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