From Bad Boy School to so-called emotional coaches, emotional counseling is just the tip of the iceberg.

Since the Chinese government stepped up its efforts to clean up the online environment in 2020, blocking almost all of PUA’s channels for attracting net-flow. How does the PUA education industry whitewash and boom again? what makes it still thrive? 

From PUA master to emotional coach

Since 2020, the formal inclusion of mental abuse in the Civil Code of the People’s Republic of China, the Chinese government has launched a “clean-up campaign” on the internet, blocked nearly all the false propaganda and sexually suggestive diversion channels in China. As the vast majority of PUA online education platforms used forums and live streams to attract traffic, always with sexually suggestive photos and exaggerated comments to attract their members, almost the entire PUA community has been blocked from receiving traffic, which has led the PUA education companies turn to emotional counseling.

“Suddenly everything is gone, we experienced a cold winter in the PUA education industry.” Chao Zhang said, “In the past, at its peak, I had nearly 100 employees. All the chatting groups together had nearly 5,000 people, with over 1,000 paid student members. The profit of my company could reach 50,000 CNY (around 5500 pounds) per month. But by the time of the strictest “clean-up” action to neaten the internet, there was no new student for almost 3 months. I even had to go out to give out the leaflets.

Chao Zhang was the founder of a PUA online education company was a little famous in the industry.  However, the strict policies by the Chinese government ruined the entire PUA online education industry, the same as his company. After holding on for more than three months, he finally decided to shut down the company and find another way out.

He turned to go to an emotional counselling agency.

“I know the boss Joker, I’ve met him a few times when we were doing PUA education together, he’s the founder of the first PUA website in China ten years ago. I spoke to him about my desire to come to work and he arranged it for me.” Chao Zhang said. “I admire him, he made a big career not only in PUA education but in emotional counselling as well. And he made his transition on early.”

Deer Emotion Company

The emotional counselling company mentioned by Chao Zhang is called “Deer Emotion”, which is currently the second largest emotional counselling company in China, and its founder, Joker (nickname), was the CEO of the first PUA website in China ten years ago. Then Joker founded his first PUA skills courses institution, the Bad Boy School. In 2019, Joker began to gradually whitewash and transform. Deer Emotion’s business model continues the training system of the Bad Boy School. According to public information, the Deer Emotion planned to build Chinese largest “happiness emotional counselling company” from 2019, specializing in developing marriage recovering and psychological counselling, as well as incubating entrepreneurial teams and psychological counselling workshops.

The existing emotional counselling market, Deer Emotions has also absorbed many licensed counsellors in the process of expansion, neutralising the original PUA skills’ overtones to some extent.  Wang Yuanyuan, who graduated with a master’s degree in philosophy, started out as a lecturer in family education and parent-child relationships at Deer Emotions. But she found many students consulting on emotional issues, she began to work as an emotional counsellor. “When I worked there was no one ask me to teach the content of PUA traps, it was very common emotional counselling,” said Yuan Yuan Wang, “We generally work one-on-one with our clients in QQ or WeChat. The price is 800 CNY(around 90 pounds) per hour, and for me I can take a 200CNY (around 20 pounds) cut from the platform.” 

“In contrast, the pure PUA institutions focus more on skills, tend to help students achieve short-term relationships, it is the inappropriate use of psychological manipulation; while other emotional counselling and psychological help focus on psychological guidance, analysis of the original family, focus on personal growth and improvement. We emphasis on helping clients form long-term relationships.” Yuan Yuan Wang said, “The next mainstream model will be a combination of PUA skills and psychology knowledge, transforming to the direction of marriage and family.”

Dr.Wu Bo, PhD in psychology and a psychologist from Southwest University in China, pointed out that the emotional counselling industry has exploded when finding a partner and maintaining the emotional marital relationships has become a key point for many people. “People are not willing to admit that they have psychological problems. Therefore, the audience for psychological counselling is relatively limited. Meanwhile, admitting to emotional distress does not cause psychological stress. This is one of the main reasons why emotional counselling is popular in China. After seeing this market demand, many companies have sprung up in the emotional counselling industry.” But Dr. Wu also pointed out that there are still existing some problems, “the current emotional counselling market lacks uniform standards and regulation, and the industry barrier is too low. Most companies are converted from native PUA educating companies, which made the quality of service varies widely.”

In 2020, there was many as 3,000 relationship consulting companies in Guangzhou and Shenzhen

The quality of emotional counselling agencies varies widely

Yaxu Li, who had paid 5,000 CNY (around 550 pounds) to her private tutor for an emotional counselling service, publicly complained on Weibo (Chinese biggest media platform) that she had spent much money but only got several useless e-books and five audio files. In one of the e-books, the content is divided into 12 chapters, instructing women on how to seduce and please men. –This is the online emotional counselling course she purchased to win her boyfriend back. The “emotional tutor” repeatedly asks Yaxu Li to “improve herself” through this material. “The tutor told me that I need to first figure out what kind of woman my ex-boyfriend likes, and then I should reinvent myself to what he likes. His words made me a little uncomfortable.” 

“My boyfriend and I broke up because of a quarrel, and I was in a particularly bad mood.” So, when Yaxu Li looked through short videos on Tik-tok, she gave a like to the video about emotional relationships between genders, then, more similar videos were recommended to her webpage. There are some “mini-lessons”, such as “how many common mistakes you may make in your relationships”, and there’s always a “rescue” method at the end. “Then, I saw a short video posted by an emotional counsellor who looks very professional, which said you could get your ex-boyfriend back in 30 days. I think he is professional, maybe he can help me.” So, Miss Li sent the “private tutor” a message and paid him 5,000 CNY (around 450 pounds) for a month of one-on-one emotional counseling services.

If use “emotional counselling” or “emotional coach” as a keyword to search on a short vedio platform, there’re more than 1,000 videos. In some of them, the “emotional tutor” claimed that they are professional counsellors who hold the professional certificates. Their video cover photos are often professional photos with their hands clasped over their chests, with a few large lines of text below saying, “Tap to follow me and then consult me, hand on hand to teach you how to tease your man”. However, rarely of these video accounts explicitly mention that the consultation requires payment. More often, underneath the videos or articles, “tutor” emphasize the availability of “free consultations” to attract more clients to initiate inquiries, and thus follow up with the paid sessions. On one social media platform, there are countless people complaining to the “tutor” who has  almost a million followers about their emotional problems underneath the comments section. “Tutor, I’m on the verge of breaking up, what should I do?” Many girls commented, “Teacher, how can I get in touch with you?”

If use “emotional coach” as a keyword to search on Tik-tok, there’re more than 1,000 videos

Zhang Chao, who has been working as an emotional counsellor for almost two years, told the author that not all the instructors in the emotional counselling agencies are professionally trained. “But that license is a must, without it we are not allowed to work,” says Chao Zhang, who has never studied psychology or taken a unified exam, but he does have a license to practice as a counsellor. “The companies all have a special way. The industry recognizes the national level 2 counsellor qualification, which is run by the Ministry of Human Resources and the Social Security Bureau in China, but this examination has been cancelled since 2017. And my license is issued by the National Talent Education Network, which is a certificate of study completion. The value of these two certificates is completely different, but it’s not visible to the layman’s eye.” 

Currently, there are a dizzying 4 types of Chinese counsellor qualifications issued by formal institutions in China

“How hard the knowledge of psychology it is! So, there are very few ordinary people can pass the exam. There are only 20% of university graduates in the whole company who are psychology majors. Most of the emotional tutors come from little previous professional experience and start work after a month of training to learn some technical terms.” According to Chao Zhang’s description, the operation of the emotional counselling company is divided into front-end sales and back-end services. The so-called “tutors” on the front-end are mainly used to attract more clients, they are essentially sales. “The company only cares whether you have got a new order, whether the old clients have renewed their fees, no one cares about the follow-up service.” Says Chao Zhang.

However, after the consultation, Yaxu Li did not succeed in getting her boyfriend back. She feels she was cheated by the “emotional tutor”. But the “tutor” replied that he has helped Yaxu Li heartedly. He said that he did not promise anything at the beginning; moreover, Yaxu Li did not listen to his guidance in many times, which led to a lot of variables in the whole consultation process. He said he had already resigned from the company and did not want to be disturbed anymore.