People are paying to scold fictional characters in online groups in China
You can buy access to WeChat and QQ “scolding groups” on Taobao
“Don’t you hate the Su’s family father and two sons? I hate them too. Come on, vent out a bit!”
This might sound, well, incredibly abusive. But the groups are private and the people aren’t real -- they’re characters in a popular Chinese soap opera. Still, the anger directed at them is real, and it’s sparked a cottage industry of online chat groups where people join together to hurl insults at the fictional characters that frustrate them the most.
Users can pay a small membership fee (US$0.15) on ecommerce platform Taobao and join a group on QQ or WeChat. There they’ll meet other like-minded fans of All is Well, a TV show that has been going viral in China.
(Abacus is a unit of the South China Morning Post, which is owned by Alibaba -- which also owns Taobao.)
The show portrays a local family which, in keeping with a Chinese traditional preference for boys, showers praise on their selfish sons and neglects their only daughter, treating familial relations like "business deals.”
Makes you furious, right? You’re not the only one: The online groups gained sudden popularity this week with about a dozen Taobao vendors offering so-called “scolding groups.”
The WeChat group which I joined quickly filled up with strangers spilling abuse towards the trio, commenting on the plot and sharing memes.
“You old fart!” said one group member, scolding the father of the Su family.
“If you spend any more of your daughter's money, I’ll break your arms!” said another.
It might sound bizarre. But the invitation from one Taobao seller shows the purpose behind the groups might not just be to vent -- but to be heard.
“You're not really here to scold them, just to find someone to listen to you carefully,” says the invite. “It seems that everyone is busy and cold and they pretend to be indifferent to the people they like. This platform belongs to you. Come on in.”
That’s seen in some of the conversations I witnessed. While one user changed his profile picture to the TV show’s old man Su and used quotes to try and stoke the anger of the crowd, others wanted to switch to more personal topics.
“I want to scold my workplace, OK?” said a woman working in a logistics company for the last 10 years. She says the company denied her a bonus when she gave birth to her second child. Another man started complaining about his mother in law.
“People just want to vent their emotions. Or [they join] because it’s fun,” the Taobao seller that hosts the group explained to me.
Scolding groups aren’t the only paid services catering to personal feelings on China’s online platforms. If you’re having a bad day, for instance, you can pay a WeChat group to shower you with compliments and cheesy but positive messages. The groups can apparently be traced back to 2014, according to Chinese media.
On Taobao, there are also sellers that will send you a “Good night!” message every evening for a small fee of US$0.15 per message. Or wish you a happy birthday, listen to you pour your heart out over work problems and even send expressions of love.
It's a fascinating phenomenon. But perhaps it's less of a novelty to the people involved. One of the sellers asked if I was a reporter, and laughed that I was late to the story -- because he'd already spoken to many other journalists.