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OMG, your hair is so cute! One thing young Chinese like about American culture

American culture has lost its appeal in China in recent years. Hollywood movies and Apple iPhones are left out. Taylor Swift is popular but is criticized for never touring in China. But there is one aspect of American culture that is catching on in certain circles: flowery compliments.

Across China, groups are forming – both online and in real life – to seek and offer praise, encouragement and appreciation, often to and from complete strangers. This is a common practice in the United States, but completely foreign in China and other parts of East Asia, where showing humility by deflecting compliments is considered a virtue. This emerging phenomenon even has a name: “praise culture”.

“Compliments should not be reserved for special occasions, but should be an everyday experience,” says Chloe Sheng, an employee based in Shanghai. fashion and travel blogger best known to her 1.6 million social media followers as “Dare Girl.”

She was blown away by the positive remarks she received on the streets of New York when she stepped out in a red coat one day in 2016. “At first I didn’t feel very good, but after hearing all these compliments, I thought: oh my god, am I not awesome?!”

Sheng therefore returned to China with a mission: to make her boutique and her artistic space a place conducive to spontaneous moments of well-being. “Instead of being driven by jealousy and self-doubt, why not tell ourselves and the people around us that we are awesome? ” she says.

Sheng has held speed-dating-style praise rallies where participants pimp each other for three minutes before moving on to the next person. She also encouraged her store assistants to congratulate customers and offer the lucky few a few free sessions in the photo booth, where they can capture their awesomeness on film.

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Random compliments are not part of Chinese culture. During the decades of social unrest and economic turmoil that characterized China’s astonishing industrialization, people were simply too busy and focused on getting ahead for such frivolities. But today, the middle class, especially younger generations, has gradually moved from rejection to acceptance in response to compliments, the researchers noted, attributing this shift to the influence of “westernization,” including through mass media and interaction with native English speakers.

A prime example of the American culture of praise that made the rounds in China last year: state media and online commentators highlighted an exchange between President Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping at the end of Last year. “It’s a beautiful vehicle!” Biden said as he accompanied Xi to the leader’s 18-foot armored Hongqi sedan after a long day of meetings near San Francisco.

This “culture of praise” is an aspect of American life that Yang Ying, 26, a recent graduate of Renmin University in Beijing, looks forward to experiencing when she begins a doctorate in the United States in the fall.

She studies by watching videos on Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, in which Chinese students in the United States highlight the cultural practice of random compliments. She recounted a video that particularly struck her: “One person said that even in the bathroom, the person in the next stall was shouting to say that they liked their shoes. »

After years of covid measures and endless competition in China, it’s this kind of openness and positivity she craves.

Similar themes resonated with Douyin audiences. In one clip, a young woman from Guangdong said she grew up feeling ashamed of her body due to her dark skin and large back. But during her visit to the United States, she was complimented on her appearance, giving her a new perspective of body positivity. Her account of this eulogy garnered more than 320,000 likes.

In another popular video, a Chinese mother in New York asked during a school assembly how her first-grade daughter could do better, only to be assured by the principal that she had the “best child in the world.”

Chinese schools have taken note: teachers across the country are posting on lifestyle app Xiaohongshu how they can motivate students and encourage good behavior by praising them more and encouraging children to compliment each other.

On Douban, a popular review site, more than 170,000 members of a mutual praise group actively solicit compliments for their achievements, whether it’s baking a swan-shaped ice cream cake, winning a board game three times in a row or breaking up with a toxic person. boyfriend.

This online trend has led to offline worship sessions.

At Dobby Tala coffee bar outside Chongqing, owner Lu Liao hosts in-person events where strangers come together to say nice things to each other.

She launched these events as a marketing strategy aimed at attracting a young audience from neighboring colleges. They soon began attracting a more diverse crowd, including gay people, single mothers and migrant workers. She even organized a party for introverts, where they could write beautiful things on paper and avoid the awkwardness of verbal communication.

“Giving praise is like giving a gift: It feels good to both the recipient and the giver,” Lu said.

Lin Lan — who favors an all-black biker look involving a faux leather jacket and metal necklace that her co-workers describe as “gangster-like” — loved the random compliments she received when she showed up at an event at Dobby Tala. One person exclaimed “OMG look at your hair and presents!” ” while another told Lin: “I love your outfit!”

The 25-year-old accountant smiled shyly at them and just nodded. “But really, those comments made my day,” Lin said. She has since volunteered as a moderator for a worship night at the bar.

Such events – and worship culture in general – are a popular attempt to “cultivate a more sustainable social microenvironment” in which people demonstrate empathy and goodwill, said Xu Moxu, a former singer of an independent group that has organized more than 100 worship evenings in Beijing. and in his hometown of Suzhou since 2022.

“When I notice something I like about someone, I let them know rather than holding it back,” said Xu, owner of Libertango, a small bar in Beijing.

A university in Anhui province even promoted a culture of praise to raise awareness of mental health. The college asked students to participate in Secret Santa events and prepare cards containing compliments.

The trend is far from widespread, but some advocates of praise culture have started to see people around them interested in the idea.

“Last month, I told my younger brother that he was a very reliable person and thanked him for helping take care of Puff, my adopted dog,” Lin said. He said she was “acting weird.” Compliments, and even saying “thank you,” were unusual in their family.

“You know what, these days he started sending me thank you messages or giving me a thumbs up when I run errands, reserve restaurants or plan trips for the family,” Lin said , who lives with his parents and his brother. “It feels good to be seen and not taken for granted.”

Lily Kuo and PeiLin Wu in Taipei, Taiwan contributed to the story

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