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September 16, 2020

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What does the future hold for me? Just ask an online fortune teller

Will I meet the man of my dreams? Will I get that job promotion? Will I get rich? Everyone wishes they knew what tomorrow may bring. For many, fortune telling is as close as it gets. There are daily horoscopes, zodiac prophesies, joss sticks in temples. Tea leaves and palms are read; crystal balls and tarot cards consulted.

Astrology is big business.

“Tarot Reader Gin” on the popular video platform Bilibili has more than 140,000 followers. Its creator, known only by the name Gin, claims to have 10 years of experience in reading the cards. He recently moved his services partly online, with the help of newly developed interactive videos.

A netizen needs only click on any of a number of videos to get a free tarot reading by watching the video and clicking option buttons on the screen.

Most of the questions answered by such videos are simple and clear, such as: “What should I do and avoid today?” Viewers are required to pick a tarot card randomly by clicking the option buttons on the screen. No matter which card they choose, they get an instant reading.

For example, a video on relationships requires viewers to pick three random cards, one by one. They represent the beginning of a relationship, its current status and its future development. The whole process can take only five minutes.

“More than 70 percent of the viewers ask about relationships, and after that, career or wealth,” Gin says. “That’s why most of my videos are about love. In the beginning I tried to teach some tarot reading, but that wasn’t popular. Viewers come here mostly for entertainment.”

Gin is not the only one offering fortune telling services on video platforms.

On Bilibili, videos under the topic “tarot” or “astrology” have attracted more than 200 million clicks. Most fortune tellers have gained hundreds of thousands of followers.

Gin, who says he learned tarot reading in Japan, has seen the downside of such beliefs. He once had a customer who said she was on the top of a building and wanted to grasp a last straw of hope by tarot reading.

“I don’t update videos often because it is really tiresome,” he tells viewers in one of the videos. “Take a pyramid listing as an example. I need to give explanation to all 12 cards regarding the question and then edit them to videos in different combinations.”

Gin, however, admits that video readings are very “general” and not as “accurate” as face-to-face readings because of the lack of personal contact between reader and client.

“Communication is actually quite important,” he says. “A video tarot reader is only a mental ‘trash can’ that just listens to people pouring out their hearts. We can only suggest that people don’t take such video reading too seriously. It’s more for fun.”

Apparently, viewers don’t really care if the reading is accurate or not. The videos are something like tying notes to a wishing tree or dropping a coin in a wishing pool.

In the comment session of each video, viewers express their motivation. The reasons vary from wishing for a good result in an upcoming driver’s license test to looking for inspiration after hitting rock bottom in life.

“Deep down you know that it is kind of superstitious, but sometimes you just need the comfort when you are confused about the future,” says Christine Zhang, who has been doing online fortune telling tests for years.

Now 33, she considers herself “half professional.”

“I remember that I first knew about tarot reading in high school, just before the college entrance exam,” she says. “At that time, we passed around a set of tarot cards and a guide for reading the cards.”

By the time Zhang graduated from college, online fortune telling had become popular. A website that offers astrolabe readings based on birth charts was Zhang’s favorite. Online one-on-one fortune telling followed the rise of e-commerce.

“Good fortune tellers were recommended by word of mouth,” she says. “You went to their online site and paid them for a half-hour service on chatting applications. I remember that there was a woman who was good at ‘I Ching,’ or the ‘Book of Changes’ (an ancient China divination book compiled during the late 9th century BC). It was really hard to gain access to her.”

Interactive videos were an unexpected turn for Zhang.

“I think it is a kind of ‘snackification,’” she says. “But then again, everything is ‘snackified’ these days. If people can binge-watch short videos that are less than 15 seconds in length, there is no reason they won’t accept quickie tarot readings.”

Happy viewers mean good business for fortune tellers. Apart from video platforms, some fortune tellers run their own online shops selling fortune telling products, such as crystal balls and cards. Others arrange offline private sessions.

The expansive viewing volume on video platforms guarantees a big customer base.

For example, the account “Uncle Luka’s Horoscope House,” founded much earlier on Weibo and WeChat, became a smash success when it appeared on a new Bilibili account. Four months after it was first uploaded, Uncle Luka accrued more than 4.5 million clicks.

Gin, however, says his gratification comes from the lifestyle he leads rather than the money he earns.

“I’ve never worked in an office like common people,” he says. “I spend my time making videos and doing one or two private sessions. I feel rather content with my life.”

There is no need to fret about what comes tomorrow.


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