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2019-03-14 14:20:39

Millennials have long been derided as the “me me me” generation, but the young Chinese joining praise-lavishing chat groups are taking self-gratification to a whole new level.

The groups on social app WeChat — often bearing titles with the phrase kuakua qun, or “in need of praise” — have become the latest fad for social media-obsessed youth seeking validation. Users can purchase memberships to such groups on e-commerce platforms like Taobao for anywhere from 0.6 yuan to 188 yuan ($0.09 to $28). After joining, members can receive flattering comments from each other and even request to be complimented on specific things.

Though the trend isn’t new — a similar phenomenon appeared in China in 2014 — the topic gained traction on domestic social media last week after a woman wrote on her Weibo microblog about her positive experience in a kuakua qun group.

A screenshot edited to include English translations shows a “kuakua qun” chat group on social app WeChat. @十二水硫酸铝钾 on Zhihu

A screenshot edited to include English translations shows a “kuakua qun” chat group on social app WeChat. @十二水硫酸铝钾 on Zhihu

But students in schools such as Fudan University and Tongji University in Shanghai have said that the fad’s latest incarnation is about more than just vanity — it’s also an outlet for users to practice kindness and support each other.

Liu Xinqu, a member of a kuakua qun group for Fudan University students, told Sixth Tone that he witnessed members providing encouragement and practical advice to a fellow student who had posted in the group about wanting to drop out of school. “Members of my chat group are especially willing to comfort those who are upset or sad, offering suggestions from an alternative perspective to show support,” Liu said.

In the past few years, reports of mental health issues among young Chinese have circulated widely online, with lingering feelings of depression and ennui sometimes termed “empty-heart disease.” At the same time, the slacker culture known as sang — characterized by reduced work ethic, lack of motivation, and general apathy — has become more pervasive.

Chen Kan, an associate professor in Fudan University’s psychology department, told Sixth Tone that kuakua qun chat groups have gone viral because they “meet a lot of psychological needs” for students seeking company, self-confidence, or flattery.

“For young people, gaining recognition from peers is more important than getting approval from older generations,” she said. “University students can feel a sense of belonging and gain encouragement in these chat groups, which is beneficial to their mental health.”

But Chen also warned that anyone giving or receiving praise in such groups should be cautious. “The biggest risk is the constant emphasis on the ‘false self,’ [which] makes it harder to see the ‘true self,’” she said.

Editor: Bibek Bhandari.

(Header image: DigitalVision Vectors/VCG)