Destiny and divination: growing online fortune among young people in Hong Kong

Destiny and divination: growing online fortune among young people in Hong Kong
Image courtesy/Destiny and divination: growing online fortune among young people in Hong Kong

“Divination is like a shot in the arm when making decisions,” says Wong Fung, 26 years old. After losing his work, he resorted to online shopkeepers.


HONG KONG — HONG KONG — Sean Cheng, a fortuneteller, pulls his telephone daily during his lunch break, logs on Instagram, and sees his messages for new customer rates.


He answers comments from online followers and prepares to operate his divination side business just after leaving a marketing business in Hong Kong.


Cheng, 25, started teaching tarot card reading in college a few years ago and set up his own online fortunetelling company in February. He says he’s tackled a growing clientele of young internet indigenous people seeking spiritual counseling with important life issues.


“The reason why they come to me is because people don’t trust themselves. They hope they can get the right answers from me,” Cheng told NBC News.


His side thrill took off.


In the last two months alone, Cheng carried out psychological readings for more than 80 consumers, he added.


The cultural transition from in-person counseling to online platforms in the old art of divination in South-East Asia has given rise to new possibilities for quick connectivity via smartphones.


In combination with increasing economic instability, the popularity of social media also means that business is booming.


Cheng meditates at least 45 minutes before every meeting to prepare for interpreting the tarot card. He then sends his client a list of services offered with charges between $9 and $25. When the customer makes the payment online, he shuffles his cards, photographs and transmits them over Instagram. He then studies and responds to the cards.


“I feel happy when I hear people commenting after divination that it is accurate and really helps them,” he remarked.


Cheng noted that the pandemic has also been a fantastic moment for individuals to spend more time online. He said it had led many to contemplate life, love, and professional choices further, calling fortunetelling a pandemic-resilient line of business.


Wong Fung, 26, said he was often uncertain and looked to Internet fortunetellers for help after losing his work last December.


“If you can know your future destiny anytime and anywhere with just 100 HKD ($13), why not?” he said. “I feel more comfortable typing behind the screen. It’s easier to talk about what you think of deep down.”



Like many in Hong Kong, Wong has childhood memories of participating in incense worship ceremonies in ancestry to honor departed families and has inspired spirit in his everyday life since he became a Buddhist at age 11.


According to the Hong Kong government, Buddhism and Taoism, Confucianism, and Christianity are the most popular religious beliefs in the region with a historical element of societal culture.


Like millions more, Wong performs on Chinese New Year on TV every year. A government official from Hungary participates in a divination ceremony called “Kau Chim,” pulling Chinese fate sticks. A master of Feng Shui then analyses the message the official pulled out to decide the fortunes of the city for the year ahead.



“When a person is in a relatively negative state, they want to seek advice from the diviner. Feeling uncertain about the future and experiencing difficulties makes you want to know what will happen next,” Wong said. “Or perhaps we want to peek into our future for solutions to our present problems.”


About 80% of persons looking for an online tarot card are asking about professional alternatives for fortuneteller Cheng



“People always ask me whether they should change their jobs or try to seek directions from tarot cards,” Cheng said. “The lack of security makes them want to find something to rely on.”


Hong Kong’s unemployment rate jumped from 7% in the November-January period this year to seasonally adjusted 7.2%, according to government data – its highest level since 2004.


Online fortunetelling has become a monthly practice for Vivian Leung, 28.


On Facebook, she routinely consults two fortunetellers, who spend roughly $100 every month on their services.


“I see fortunetelling as spiritual comfort,” Leung said. “A fortuneteller is someone who can walk in my shoes and understand my struggles. She gives me huge support and helps me make some difficult decisions in my life.”


Leung had her first session with an internet tarot card reading two years ago, caught up in a complex romantic engagement. She said she felt better about talking to a stranger and leaving her destiny up to what she called “spiritual powers” rather than speaking to family and friends.


Historically, the fortunetelling had an important role in everyday lives in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and mainland China as far as written records were concerned — from 1600 to 1046 BC, from the Oracle Bones of the Shang Dynasty that ancient monarchs used to look for divine direction, William Matthews, a fellow in Chinese Anthropology at the London School of Economics, stated.


Although in the West, where people are aware of fortune cookies and newspaper horoscopes, the concept may feel alien, luckiness tends to be deeper. It is founded on birth dates, cosmic principles, and old texts such as the Yijing or the Book of Changes. The divinatory text is at least 2,000 years old, Matthews added.


Fortunetelling usually takes the form of coin throwing, drawing lines, annotative charts, hand palm or face readings and relies on lunar calendars to help people “evaluate compatibility” with a potential marriage or decide on a new job or a move to a new home, he says, not equal to spiritual mediumship.


“People utilize this as a decision-making strategy for major life events,” stated Matthews. Most wealthy people are male, and their prominence in cities partly drives demand for quick internet services.


Despite centuries of history, fortunetelling went through a stormy time in China during the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) and was officially considered “superstition” by the ruling Communist Party. Matthews argued that it pushed the practice underground or concentrated it in select neighborhoods.


Under leader Mao Zedong, who sent many fortunetellers to reeducation centers, she was “suppressed.” Matthews remarked that though still “frowning on,” now is accepted and freely performed and recognized in Hong Kong.


The major thing driving it online is the convenience of digital consumers, he continued, in conjunction with functional solutions to everyday concerns.



“Divination is like a shot in the arm when making decisions,” Wong said. “Living under an uncertain environment, you try to at least find some certainties in yourself.”


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