Alternative spiritual practices like meditating and collecting crystals are on the rise in China, prompting a crackdown by the country’s internet regulators. On social media apps like Xiaohongshu, influencers use the hashtag #身心灵 (“body, mind, spirit”) to hawk crystal charms and bracelets, as well as one-on-one coaching sessions and tarot card readings.
China’s pan-mental health service market, including spiritual activities, will be worth $1.5 billion next year, according to consulting firm Frost & Sullivan. But authorities are imposing stricter rules on activities often deemed to be “superstitious,” Sixth Tone reported. Experts say the trend is a reflection of high youth unemployment, which stands at 14.9%, as well as growing rates of burnout and depression among young people.
Finding your “inner balance” doesn’t always come cheap in China
Spiritual practices in China aren’t always cheap: Sixth Tone reported that crystal charms and bracelets advertised by influencers typically cost around 500 yuan ($70) and healing sessions that promise to ward off bad energy can cost over 3,000 yuan ($422). Another woman told the South China Morning post that she spent more than 10,000 yuan ($1,400) on the Chinese psychic and astrology app Cece in just two months. The company’s CEO said last year that Cece was “a tech company that makes counseling accessible for everyone.” Rest of World reported that speaking with gurus on Cece can still be more affordable than traditional psychotherapy, costing as little as 60 yuan ($8.40) for a 30-minute session.
Traditional mental health services remain scarce in China
Traditional mental health counseling in China is still relatively scarce. There are fewer than three psychiatrists per 100,000 people in the country, compared to roughly 12 in the United States, and 80% of general hospitals do not have a psychiatric department. But the non-profit Asia Society found there has recently been “massive expansion of psychological counseling” in the country, and more people are realizing “that emotional well-being is something that can be worked on and improved.” Entrepreneurs are also trying to grow the number of mental health hospitals outside China’s wealthier coastal cities.
Spiritual services are “walking a fine line” in the face of increased government crackdowns
Rest of World reported that Cece reached over 1 million monthly active users during the pandemic in 2021. Users on the app can consult “masters” in chat rooms who specialize in areas such as relationship advice or career planning. But internet regulators have increasingly banned creators from profiting off of “superstitious” services, which can sometimes add up to unregulated mental health counseling. Last year, the Cyberspace Administration of China said it would seek to punish “service providers who offer fortunetelling sessions,” according to SCMP. “Creating a digital spirituality business in China is walking a fine line,” one dream analysis app co-founder told Rest of World.