Browse Chinese e-commerce site Taobao long enough, and you’ll come across any number of strange thingsincluding the recent trend of hiring “praise givers.”

For a wide range of prices, users on messaging platform WeChat can hire a group of “professional praisers” to throw complimentary messages at a person of their choice for a prearranged amount of time.

One Taobao seller’s page features a screenshot of an apparently satisfied customer’s post, including the line “spent [RMB] 40 for one hour of happiness.” A sample of service contains compliments from “That’s awesome” to “Remember to contribute to a sperm bank, I hope my child is as excellent as you” (our translation).

Another shop advertises a premium product: praise givers who are humanities students from top schools, such as Peking University, Tsinghua University, Fudan and Shanghai Jiaotong. It charges RMB 80 for five minutes of nonstop compliments.

Based on Baidu’s search index, the rise in popularity of “praise groups” has been sudden. On Sunday, there were no searches for the Chinese term, kuakua qun. As of Thursday, searches had surged to more than 14,000. Meanwhile on microblogging platform Weibo, views of the hashtag “praise group” have soared to well over 23 million as of Friday afternoon.

A report by Chinese media outlet Ifanr links the origin of praise groups to a longstanding online forum on social entertainment platform, Douban, which is called, “mutual praise group.” Established in 2014, the 100,000-strong group features threads by various individual posters asking to be complimented or encouraged. Two top threads created in late February and early March, however, complain that a recent upsurge in popularity has diverted its purpose.

“The original intent of the group was to discover truth, kindness, and beauty, and encourage each other… and not to praise a bunch of junk,” wrote one user with the handle, KiyoTakahashi.

If its top Taobao purveyors are to be believed, however, kuakua qun are indiscriminate in distributing praise. The same seller who advertised the sperm bank line also featured a screenshot where a “praise” recipient apparently posted a troll face emoji. Responses included “God, this emoji is so enchanting,” and “You are definitely a funny girl.”

On Taobao, praise groups are also linked to another phrase, “caihong pi,” or “rainbow fart.” The term refers to the showering of compliments that fans bestow on celebrity idols, according to Baidu Baike.

A self-described “humor blogger” on Weibo linked the two concepts in a post that was shared over 1,000 times. “Praise groups, they’re basically large-scale sites for caihong pi” or rainbow farts, he wrote alongside screenshots of over-the-top praise.

Besides doling out comfort, praise groups seem to serve as a source of entertainment. “Yesterday I joined a [praise] group,” one commenter wrote. “I laughed out two new crow’s feet.”

Bailey Hu is based in China’s hardware capital, Shenzhen. Her interests include local maker culture, grassroots innovation and how tech shapes society, as well as vice versa.

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