xi's moments
Home | Society

Young people revel in stress-busting praise

By Yao Yuxin | China Daily | Updated: 2019-04-19 10:05

Liang Luwen/For China Daily

Groups offering extravagant compliments are a fast-growing trend on social media. Yao Yuxin reports.

"I don't know how to revise my paper. Give me praise, please!" Hu Meng wrote on a kuakua group for members of his college on WeChat. As a second-year graduate student at Nanjing University in Jiangsu province, Hu is working on two papers, including his graduation thesis.

His post quickly attracted the reply: "This is awesome! It means your paper is so perfect that nothing needs to be changed. Well done!" In a short space of time, he received many similar compliments.

The notice board for one online kuakua group - from kua, meaning "to praise" - is typical. It outlaws sarcasm or bickering, saying, "Only praise is allowed here."

Kuakua groups are the latest social-media craze among young Chinese. Users - mostly college students and new entrants to the workplace - reject external critiques or self-criticism, and generously fire compliments at each other.

"I wanted to join the group because I thought the way people praised others was funny," said Hu, who asked for membership after seeing screenshots posted by a senior student. By March 19, just one week after it launched, the group had 339 members.

Just about anything can be praised. Simply capitalizing the first letter of a sentence in English will prompt exaggerated claims of literary talent and grammatical brilliance, while irregular punctuation may win over-the-top compliments. For example, three exclamation marks are apparently enough to indicate that someone is "deeply passionate".

One thing is certain: only positive feedback must be given, even for "bad things".

So, if you feel guilty about skipping class to join friends for a meal, "compliments" will soon flood in: "You deserve my admiration for sacrificing your valuable study time for your friends"; "This shows your intelligence and excellent self-study ability"; and "Your enthusiasm for Chinese food is impressive."

Hu said, "It's a source of joy," recalling the reaction when he asked for compliments because his hair was falling out due to stress.

"A bald head - symbolic of a doctor - suggests you will gain an excellent degree," one user said. Another offered, "It indicates that you work very hard in scientific research." He was also told: "Although you are going bald, you are growing stronger. Well done!"

Jia Zhe, who set up a kuakua group for his alma mater, Central China Normal University in Wuhan, capital of Hubei province, said the most active members usually excel at culture and literature, and prove it by citing the classics and using rhetorical flourishes such as metaphor and traditional rhyming lists.

"Being able to offer praise creatively is actually a kind of skill," Jia said, adding that kuakua groups are most popular among students at high-ranking colleges because they provide a platform for members to display their linguistic talent.


However, a backlash is growing. Critics say young people who chase exaggerated compliments don't deserve them because they are shallow and vain, and the groups cannot help to deal with real problems.

Moreover, some people have complained that the compliments on kuakua groups are cut-and-paste cliches that lack creativity.

There is even heated debate between Peking and Tsinghua universities, China's most-prominent schools, about whether kuakua or penpen groups - pen means "to scold" - are better for young people.

The question is, "Should we join kuakua groups to receive praise and gain confidence, or penpen groups to field rebukes and gain a clearer understanding of ourselves?"

Some observers have sought to play down the criticism, saying the groups are harmless and can be helpful.

Gao Wenbin, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Institute of Psychology, said there is no need to excessively criticize kuakua groups because "by nature, humans are prone to seeking compliments".

Deng Jianguo, an associate professor at Fudan School of Journalism in Shanghai, believes tradition may have played a role in the groups' emergence.

Traditionally, Chinese are reluctant to praise others, while a belief in success and progress leads parents and teachers to set very high standards for children, and they are concerned that complacency may lead to setbacks.

"It's hard to receive compliments in the real world, even for good work," Deng said.

Sun Jiashan, a researcher at the Chinese National Academy of Arts, said college graduates born after 1985 are under great pressure because the slowing economy is making it increasingly difficult for them to find suitable jobs.

"As a kind of subcultural platform popular among the young, the kuakua phenomenon can be seen as an outlet to vent their anxieties and frustration," he said.

Jia echoed Sun's view. "We have been educated to study hard and work hard for a better future, but the outcomes are not always ideal," he said. "Everyone has to face reality, but many want a temporary shelter in which to take a breather."

For his part, Gao believes the fascination with exaggerated compliments is more about having fun or venting emotion than seeking concrete suggestions and help.

It seems that both points of view are valid.

Wang Bingjie, a recent graduate who works for a law firm in Xi'an, capital of Shaanxi province, formed a group for his friends because he was amused by conversations he saw on the platform.

By contrast, Hu said he isn't genuinely worried about his thesis. He just wants to complain about boring academic life now and then. "I know the compliments are not real, but they still make me happy," he said.

Gao said the kuakua craze accords with the personal development of college students and young people entering the workplace, who can easily be affected by small setbacks.

"They are experiencing the sense of uncertainty and loneliness brought on by growing up," he said.

Wang Zhe, a young civil servant in Shaanxi province and a member of Wang Bingjie's kuakua group, enjoys receiving compliments and praising others.

"Although much of the praise is superficial, it makes me happy because there is a moment when a group of people pay full attention to you alone," Wang Zhe said.

"It helps, especially for those who usually receive little attention or who are under a lot of pressure."

Hu rarely offers more than two compliments a day, and, unlike some other members, his are often sincere.

"Since you are so dedicated to work, even as an intern, no doubt you will easily achieve promotion and a salary rise after getting a full-time job, and climb to the summit of life," he wrote to a student who was working overtime as an intern.

"If he really felt tired and someone helped bear some of his pain, surely it helped him feel a little better?" he said.

Gao said the groups often provide genuine support: "It's a positive development that young people are voluntarily seeking help to maintain good mental health."

According to Hu, common life experiences make it easy for young people to empathize with and understand one another. After all, as hair loss is quite common among graduates, group members would certainly understand his concerns and those of his peers, and seek to ease those worries.

People experiencing a difficult time are likely to encounter users who have had the same problem and can offer advice, so the groups help members to learn from other people's experiences, he said.

According to Gao, when someone encounters a setback, interaction with group members may help ease the "mental burden".

"They understand they are not alone. The internet gives people more opportunities to seek mental support in a wide field," he said.

Anonymous support

Curiously, for the most part, support is offered by group members who have never met, which is contrary to the popular belief that people require encouragement and praise from family, friends and acquaintances.

With the exception of certain topics, the members express their feelings freely in the virtual world rather than sharing them with even their closest friends.

Kuakua groups are widely believed to have originated on Douban, an online platform that features some online communities in which people share their sorrows and pain and receive consolation.

One example is that of a woman who acted on the encouragement of her "internet friends" and gained the courage to divorce her hypercritical husband of six years.

Rather than blaming herself for her marital problems, she found a job and started a new life.

Hu has certainly experienced the kindness of strangers. "They care about you as much as your closest friend," he said.

Despite their evident warmth, Gao believes kuakua groups will be a short-lived phenomenon because family and friends are irreplaceable.

Moreover, praise can already be purchased from e-commerce platforms such as Taobao, which provide outsiders with access to kuakua groups at prices ranging from 1 yuan (14 cents) to hundreds of yuan.

For example, one woman delighted her boyfriend by paying for him to receive compliments as a birthday surprise, while an introverted young man applauded the service after he won a girl's heart by expressing his love with the help of a kuakua group.

On March 20, "Jinnian" paid 10 yuan for 20 minutes of compliments from Wang's group. Everything, from her user name and photo to each comment she made, was praised to the skies, and after just five minutes she said it had been enough to make her happy.

Deeply amused and moved by the exaggerated, nonstop compliments, she ended the session by typing, "Thanks a lot for bringing hope to my gloomy day," and applying for membership of the group.

Global Edition
Copyright 1995 - . All rights reserved. The content (including but not limited to text, photo, multimedia information, etc) published in this site belongs to China Daily Information Co (CDIC). Without written authorization from CDIC, such content shall not be republished or used in any form. Note: Browsers with 1024*768 or higher resolution are suggested for this site.
License for publishing multimedia online 0108263

Registration Number: 130349