Beijing, April 15 : If you are depressed for any reason, here is a chance in China to feel better after paying for an online service to buy a few moments of flattery -- no matter what you think about yourself.
That is the idea behind "Kua Kua" groups, a phenomenon that has become very popular across China where depression and anxiety are on the rise.
Initially set up as communities in which university students encouraged each other amid academic pressure and little social activity, the Kua Kua (kua means to praise in Chinese) forums sprouted all over China after its social media success.
Efe news accessed one such forum, formed of about 500 students from the Jiaotong University of Xi'an, where, according to media, these groups originated.
"Hello. I have many problems when I try to do my job and that makes me sad. Can you cheer me up?"
In the next few minutes, several users responded with praises and messages of encouragement.
"That means you work with your heart and not superficially," one message read.
"Fortune and misfortune depend on each other. Misfortune has already arrived, so happiness is closer," said another.
"You face a lot of pressure but you do it bravely. Your attitude is positive. I like it," the third one read.
However, not all groups are altruistic. Popular e-commerce platforms such as Taobao have seen proliferation of stores where those in need can rent for a few minutes an entourage of professional flatterers.
Xiao Ruichen is 27 and manages a Kua Kua and a Taobao shop.
"I found out in mid-March through Weibo (Chinese Twitter). It was very popular. So, I decided to make one of my own. Life is getting faster and people are on the verge of anxiety, anguish and depression," he said.
"This service is very popular," he said, adding people feel better after a session of flattery and "that makes me feel happy".
Xiao charges 38 yuan ($5.7) for five minutes and 68 yuan for 10 minutes following which the client is removed from the forum.
Although he preferred not to disclose how much money he earns each month, Xiao said that about 35 per cent of his income goes to the other members - more than a 100 college students whom he has selected under strict criteria such as writing speed or the ability to entertain clients.
According to figures offered by official media, the largest seller of accesses to these Kua Kua forums on Taobao may have earned more than 83,000 yuan in February.
In fact, the enthusiasm has been such that even national media have warned of the dangers of relying on these virtual communities.