Go hug a tree and soak up the positive vibes
"Go hug a tree!" is the latest catchphrase on Xiaohongshu, or Red, a popular Chinese social media platform that focuses on new trends and fashions. The drive has attracted thousands of young urbanites who are out finding their own trees during work breaks.
"Locate your special tree; create a bond by gently stroking the tree; and then hug the tree with your whole heart and body," a blogger named Qiuxiaojie who is involved in psychology said in a post on Xiaohongshu.
"It is about creating a mutual connection and an energy flow between you and the tree," Qiuxiaojie says in her video. "Try to communicate with the tree while being grateful for cleansing your body and driving out negative energy."
For many rural people, tree-hugging is nothing new.
"As a kid, I loved hugging the plum tree in front of our house," said Xie Ruonan, a senior Fudan University student from Lishui, a scenic city in Zhejiang Province. "It smelled different as the seasons changed and the fruit ripened.
"I still like hugging trees now, but most of the time there is no satisfying environment in urban areas," she said. "I am not used to hugging a tree on the street in broad daylight, even if there is no one around.
"I prefer one in forest parks where there are fewer people. I may spend time alone with the trees, cuddling and conversing with them. It helps me relieve my stress and anxiety from life," she added.
Many other young people have shared stories online about the calming and healing feeling of hugging a tree, giving rise to the phrase "tree-hugging therapy."
"It's really heartwarming to hug a tree after a long day at work. Unlike people, trees are always there for you, no matter what," a netizen commented.
A white-collar worker who has been doing this for two months said, "I don't think this has any medical effect, but I feel much calmer and relaxed every time I leave the tree."
More than 60 percent of respondents in a China News Weekly survey think that tree-hugging is a new lifestyle that could have health benefits.
Shanghai Daily has found that tree-hugging posts in social media commonly include hashtags like "introverts" and "social phobia."
"I feel safe for no reason, as if I'm accepted," said a graduate student identified as Paddinton Jin who is now working in London.
"I rarely share this with anyone and would restrain myself from hugging trees in public," Jin explained. "But fortunately, Britain is a country blessed with lots of parks with people scattered widely apart. I'm free to do whatever I want.
"Trees are similar to animals and other plants. They neither judge nor respond. They exist and heal us by simply existing."
Many tree-huggers prefer forest trees over random trees on the streets, in part to avoid the crowds and scrutiny from others.
"It's the natural environment and soothing atmosphere that really appeal to young people," said a Xiaohongshu content producer who goes by the online handle "其实是奇."
She was one of the first to voice support for this act.
"After three years of pandemic, we are more eager to form attachments with nature in a variety of ways. Tree-hugging is similar to hiking and camping, except it is more peaceful, intimate, and personal.
"When you hug a tree, the tree hugs you as a part of nature, not the other way around. They are the actual landowners," she said.