By Zhou Jie
NANJING, China — One day in early March, a friend from Nanjing University invited me to join a WeChat group named “Nanda Kuakua Qun,” or the “Nanjing University Praise Group.” As a member of this group, I observed something quite novel. A group member said, “I have been lying in bed and watching a TV series for the last five hours. Praise, please!” Immediately, other group members started their compliments: “The TV series must be extremely appealing. Praise!” “You can keep steady and focused for five hours. Praise!”
Center: Chinese characters “qiu kua” or “seeking praise.”
Photo credit: CNWest news
Nanjing University is not the first to establish this kind of online praise group. Back in 2014, there existed a similar praise group on Douban, an online community where people remark and comment on films, books and music. The Douban praise group still exists today, but is fairly low-profile, since Douban is a relatively niche social media platform. However, beginning in March 2019, similar praise groups have become prevalent again, especially at top universities in China. Starting with Fudan University in Shanghai, many college-based praise groups have sprung up at Peking University, Tsinghua University, Zhejiang University, Nanjing University and so on.
People can join these online communities by scanning a praise group’s QR code or by invitation from a group member. Each college praise group usually contains hundreds of people who are not acquaintances in real life and do not use real names within the group. The general purpose of the praise group is to provide a platform for students to ask for praise and to praise others in friendly and creative ways. Though there is no restriction on the forms of praise, content such as critique, satire, advertisement, pornography and links to video games are forbidden in praise groups. A set format for praise-seekers and praise-givers has been established in these groups: Those seeking praise use one short sentence to describe what they did or feel and then add the two Chinese characters “qiu kua,” or “praise, please,” at the end. Those who respond send their compliments and also add the character “kua!” or “praise!” after.
Why have these praise groups become popular among students from top universities in China? After interviewing several group members in the Nanjing University Praise Group, I learned of the benefits they reap from participation in this online community. First, they all mentioned that the praise group brings them simple happiness and effectively helps relieve stress and loneliness. You can ask for sincere attention and praise for whatever you have done, even if it is trivial or asinine.
“It is really a relief to engage in the praise process and have fun after a stressful day, even though I just watch [the chat],” one member said. The high demand for stress relief reveals the high pressure environment college students live in. There is a catchphrase in China called “yali shanda,” which sounds like “Alexander,” but means “pressure (“yali”) is as heavy as a mountain (“shan”).” The generations of young people born in the 1990s and 2000s face heavy pressure to pass college entrance examinations, succeed in competitive environments and secure high-paying jobs after they graduate. They are eager to rely on these praise groups to free themselves, even if only temporarily, from these pressures.
The other main motivation for people to seek praise in these virtual forums stems from the negative characteristics of traditional Chinese culture and education. Chinese people are historically reticent with praise and even advocate “frustration education” — that is, education that emphasizes criticism and discouragement. If students cannot find proper emotional support from their parents, teachers or peers in real life, they tend to be attracted to these online communities. Praise-seekers are not the only beneficiaries either: Praise-givers feel needed, and even those who always keep quiet in the group feel encouraged and happier due to the positive atmosphere of the group.
Business opportunities have emerged from this unique demand for praise. After the popularity of college-based praise groups, some customized services have popped up on Taobao to offer professional praise services. For example, one 30 RMB ($4.47) offer promises to send a flowery “praise bomb” with personalized messages to recipients every 10 minutes.
Some official media outlets such as The People’s Daily have praised (pun intended!) this cultural phenomenon, regarding it as positive energy. However, some parents have expressed their concerns. They question whether it is appropriate to praise behavior they consider negative or wrong. They label it a frivolous exploit that threatens to “amuse ourselves to death.” Some psychologists also caution that praise groups only provide temporary happiness while realistic connection and support are more powerful for those who really need psychological help or mental health support.
After the rapid rise and plateau of this online carnival, the Nanjing University Praise Group has already begun to fade. Lately, much less praise is exchanged and members have become less active. Perhaps people have already grown tired of instant support and temporary happiness. These finite and illusory online praises cannot thoroughly relieve young people’s infinite anxiety and pressures. I predict college praise groups are more likely to collapse, especially after those active praise-givers grow weary of praising others. After all, encouragement and mutual understanding between real friends are far more meaningful.
Zhou Jie is an HNC M.A.’20 student concentrating in energy, resources and environment (ERE).