CHINESE YOUTH AND "LYING FLAT"
In the early 2020s, a relatively small but visible group of Chinese urban professionals began drawing attention by choosing to "lie flat" ("tangping") and reject grueling careers to pursue what they called a "low-desire life." “"Only by lying down can humans become the measure of all things, " argued the "lying flat" manifesto. Cheryl Teh wrote in Business Insider: “It's a mindset, a lifestyle, and a personal choice for some disillusioned Chinese youth who have given up on the rat race and are staging a quiet rebellion against the trials of 9-9-6 work culture (See Below). The idea of "lying flat" is widely acknowledged as a mass societal response to "neijuan" (or involution). "Neijuan" became a term commonly used to describe the hyper-competitive lifestyle in China, where life is likened to a zero-sum game. [Source: Cheryl Teh, Business Insider, June 8, 2021 ==]
He Huifeng and Tracy Qu wrote in the South China Morning Post: “The movement’s roots can be traced back to an obscure internet post called “lying flat is justice”, in which a user called Kind-Hearted Traveller combined references to Greek philosophers with his experience living on 200 yuan (US$31) a month, two meals a day and not working for two years. “I can just sleep in my barrel enjoying a sunbath like Diogenes, or live in a cave like Heraclitus and think about ‘Logos’, ” the person wrote. “Since there has never really been a trend of thought that exalts human subjectivity in this land, I can create it for myself. Lying down is my wise man movement.” According to the anonymous poster, this humble existence left them physically healthy and mentally free. [Source: He Huifeng and Tracy Qu, South China Morning Post, June 9, 2021]
“Elaine Tang, who works for a Guangzhou-based tech firm, said the term was resonating with young Chinese who saw the odds stacked against them. “In recent years, property prices have skyrocketed, and the gap between social classes has become wider and wider, ” said the 35 year old, who has been married seven years but not yet had children. “The rich and the authorities monopolise most of the resources, and more and more working class like us have to work from 9am to 9pm, six days a week, but still can’t afford a down payment [on a flat] or even the cost of having a child.” A survey by Chinese microblogging site Weibo, conducted between May 28 and June 3, 2021 found 61 per cent of the 241, 000 participants said they want to embrace the lying flat attitude.
Teh wrote: There are many ways to "lie flat, " including not getting married and starting a family, and rejecting overtime work and desk jobs. A now-deleted post outlining the "lying flat" manifesto posted April 2021 on Chinese social media Tieba, the movement advocates for "lying down" — both literally and metaphorically. "Since there has never been an ideological trend exalting human subjectivity in our land, I shall create one for myself. Lying down is my wise man's movement. Only by lying down can humans become the measure of all things, " the anonymous author of the "Lying Flat Manifesto" wrote. “The movement gained momentum on the Douban social media site (akin to the Chinese version of Facebook), which resulted in huge online communities forming, like the "lying flat group, " where users would post photos of animals and other creatures in a prone position. Per The Washington Post, the 9, 000-member-strong "lying flat" community on Douban was removed by censors." ==
Xiang Biao, a professor of social anthropology at Oxford University who focuses on Chinese society, called tangping culture a turning point for China. “Young people feel a kind of pressure that they cannot explain and they feel that promises were broken, ” he told the New York Times. “People realize that material betterment is no longer the single most important source of meaning in life.” “Lying flat” is a “resistance movement” to a “cycle of horror” from high-pressure Chinese schools to jobs with seemingly endless work hours, novelist Liao Zenghu wrote in Caixin, the country’s most prominent business magazine. “In today’s society, our every move is monitored and every action criticized, ” Liao wrote. “Is there any more rebellious act than to simply ‘lie flat?'” [Source: Joe McDonald and Fu Ting, Associated Press, July 4, 2021; Elsie Chen, New York Times, July 3, 2021]
See Separate Articles: CHINESE YOUTH factsanddetails.com ; DIFFICULTY FINDING A JOB AFTER UNIVERSITY IN CHINA AND THE GOVERNMENT RESPONSE TO IT factsanddetails.com; RESPONSE OF CHINESE GRADUATES TO THE DIFFICULTY FINDING A JOB factsanddetails.com; LITTLE EMPERORS AND MIDDLE CLASS KIDS IN CHINA factsanddetails.com ; ONE-CHILD POLICY factsanddetails.com ; SERIOUS PROBLEMS WITH THE ONE-CHILD POLICY: factsanddetails.com ; FAMILIES IN CHINA factsanddetails.com ; SINGLE ADULTS AND LEFTOVER WOMEN IN CHINA factsanddetails.com ; SINGLE MOTHERS, MARRIED WITH NO CHILDREN IN CHINA factsanddetails.com ; CHINESE WOMEN factsanddetails.com ; SEX RATIO, PREFERENCE FOR BOYS AND MISSING GIRLS IN CHINA factsanddetails.com
Rejecting 996 Culture
"Lying flat" rejects the "9-9-6" culture that encourages people to work 12 hour days — 9:00am to 9:00pm — 6 days a week. Cheryl Teh wrote in Business Insider: “Neijuan goes hand in hand with China's "9-9-6" culture. The 9-9-6 lifestyle was strongly championed by Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba, who once in 2019 called the 72-hour workweek a "blessing." Long workdays are not only common but "expected" of staff, despite China's labor policy mandating that employees not work more than eight hours a day. “Poor enforcement of labor laws has led to rampant cases of overwork. Stories of people dying at their desks or suffering from depression and exhaustion are not uncommon. [Source: Cheryl Teh, Business Insider, June 8, 2021]
“According to Chinese news outlet CGTN, a viral photo of a student at the prestigious Tsinghua University studying on his laptop while riding a bike best encompassed "neijuan." The pressure to succeed renders the mere minutes spent on a short bike commute a waste of time. Earlier this year, for example, the e-commerce company Pinduoduo was rocked by two employee deaths believed to be tied to overwork. One worker collapsed and died after staying at the office until 1:30 a.m. Two weeks later, a second employee died by suicide, prompting a third employee to release a viral video claiming that employees at the company were expected to work more than 12 hours a day.
Joe McDonald and Fu Ting of Associated Press wrote: ““Urban employees complain that work hours have swelled.“We generally believe slavery has died away. In fact, it has only adapted to the new economic era, ” a woman who writes under the name Xia Bingbao, or Summer Hailstones, said on the Douban social media service.“Some elite graduates in their 20s who should have the best job prospects say they are worn out from the “exam hell" of high school and university. They see no point in making more sacrifices. “Chasing fame and fortune does not attract me. I am so tired, ” said Zhai Xiangyu, a 25-year-old graduate student. [Source: Joe McDonald and Fu Ting, Associated Press, July 4, 2021]
Helen Davidson wrote in The Guardian: “Media reports include anecdotes of employees being offered bonuses or fold-out beds for under the desk if they work overtime, fines for missing phone calls, and even signal blockers in bathrooms to stop employees using their phones while on their toilet. Pinduoduo attracted furious backlash after the employee deaths over the expectations put upon employees, and it was exacerbated further when earlier this month an engineer — surnamed Tan — took his own life. Shortly afterwards Pinduoduo also fired an employee, named as Wang Taixu. Wang said he was fired after posting a photo online of an ambulance parked outside the company’s Shanghai officer building with the caption “another brave Pinduoduo warrior has fallen”. Pinduoduo reportedly disputed his characterisation of the medical incident and said Wang was fired for “extreme comments made with obvious malice”, violating company rules, and unrelated to the ambulance video. But another video which he posted after he was fired, criticising the intense work culture at the company, was viewed nearly half a million times according to Sixth Tone. Pinduoduo denied the accusations in the video. “Yan said companies got around labour laws in globally familiar ways: hiring people as contractors rather than employees, and incentivising people like delivery drivers to work long hours more often, with bonuses and games, rather than forcing them to do it. [Source: Helen Davidson, The Guardian, January 22, 2021]
Full-Time Lying Flat
Cheryl Teh wrote in Business Insider: Some are "lying down" because they believe that they never stood a chance in the race in the first place...It is 8 a.m. in Shanghai. Scores of office workers are pouring into the dizzying network of the city's metro lines, toting heavy briefcases and steaming cups of coffee. Meanwhile, Zhiyuan Zhang, 27, is tucking himself into bed. "8 a.m. means it's time to lie down, " Zhang told Insider. "Though I don't have a job to go to, so I can lie down anytime. It's great." Zhang told Insider that he did not start out wanting to join the "lying flat" movement, but his struggles to conform to expectations made him one of its most ardent followers. "Since I made a permanent move to Shanghai four years ago, I've sent out more than 2, 000 job applications and been to hundreds of interviews, " Zhang said. "I got a job at an accounting firm after my second year of job-hunting, but I resigned after four months. That lifestyle just wasn't for me." [Source: Cheryl Teh, Business Insider, June 8, 2021]
“It was a staggering disappointment to Zhang's parents, who run a small business in his hometown. They had high expectations of him after he graduated from the Shanghai Jiao Tong University, one of the nine elite C9 League colleges in the country, with an acceptance rate equivalent to an Ivy League school in the US. But it was precisely his experiences at Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Zhang said, that made him think "lying flat" was the way to go. He referred to his ("fuerdai, " a slang term for "rich second generation") classmates who got jobs within weeks of graduating off recommendations from family members and other inroads, and people in his cohort who started businesses using seed funding from their parents. "Sons of businessmen and daughters of officials got a head start that was equivalent to an entire lap or two around the track. I think it is inevitable that people like me would lose the race. So that made me think, why do I even try?"
“Zhang now receives an allowance of $800 a month from his parents, and they also pay his rent. He finds work occasionally to supplement that allowance, taking up part-time shifts at nearby convenience stores for month-long stretches. Most days, however, he plays computer games through the night, then sleeps through the day. Zhang, and many others who ascribe to "lying flat, " will continue to push against the grain, unconcerned with jobs or families. "I 'lie flat' because this is the way my life is meant to be, " he said. "If people think I'm a loser, then so be it."
Joe McDonald and Fu Ting of Associated Press wrote: “A handful who can afford it withdraw from work almost entirely. A 27-year-old architect in Beijing said she started saving as a teenager to achieve financial freedom. “From last September, when I saw all my savings had reached 2 million (yuan) ($300,000), I lay down, ” said the woman, who would give only the name Nana, in an interview over her social media account. Nana said she turned down a job that paid 20,000 yuan ($3,000) per month due to the long hours and what she saw as limited opportunities for creativity. “I want to be free from inflexible rules, ” said Nana. “I want to travel and make myself happy.” [Source: Joe McDonald and Fu Ting, Associated Press, July 4, 2021]
Part-Time Lying Flat
Cheryl Teh wrote in Business Insider: “"'Lying flat' doesn't mean lying down all day or being jobless. It means going at your own pace and doing what you like, " said Yubo Li, 31, who works as a freelance designer and digital artist from his rented room in Shanghai. Li works around four to five hours a day on projects that make enough money to live simply without pushing himself to the point of overwork. "I resent the idea of having to work myself to death just to move up the corporate ladder, " Li told Insider. [Source: Cheryl Teh, Business Insider, June 8, 2021]
“"Of course, I know that if I were to join a corporate design firm, I would very likely make more money and be able to afford more tasty food and better accommodation. But I would only sleep three hours a day and have no time to enjoy life. Now my simple bowls of noodles taste good and my bed is soft enough. I see no reason to try harder, " Li added.
“For others, like Beijing-born Shihui Lin, 25, "lying flat" is a temporary state of affairs. Lin quit her job in banking a month ago because she felt like she was on the "verge of imploding." She wants to "lie flat" for a few months before "standing up again." "I felt like I was losing my mind. After not sleeping for five days while working on a major project, I thought: 'If I don't quit now, I'm going to kill myself, '" Lin told Insider. Lin is prepared to take a pay cut if it means she can take the time and space she needs to manage her mental health. "There was no meaning to my life in that 9-9-6 job. It became a 24/7 job over the three years I worked there. Now I want to learn how to truly live, " she said.
Zhang Xinmin, 36, a musician based in Wuhan who quit his job in advertising ago to pursue his music said the idea of lying flat resonated with him. He wrote a song about it called “Tangping Is the Right Way.”
“Lying down is really good
Lying down is wonderful
Lying down is the right thing to do
Lie down so you won’t fall anymore
Lying down means never falling down.
[Source: Elsie Chen, New York Times, July 3, 2021]
Chinese That Embrace Lying Flat But Continue Working
He Huifeng and Tracy Qu wrote in the South China Morning Post: Hu Ai was stuck in traffic with her parents during the Labour Day holiday last month when she finally realised China’s culture of overwork had become too much. “My boss called and told me to walk from the highway to the nearest subway station and rush back to work on an urgent assignment, ” the 33-year-old recalled. “That’s the first time my parents found out how hard my job is and it made my mum cry in the car.” [Source: He Huifeng and Tracy Qu, South China Morning Post, June 9, 2021]
“Tech workers were among the first to comment on the involution in their lives, because those at big firms often work in a “996” culture — a schedule of 9am-9pm, six days a week. Others have even joked about a new work ethic — “007”, or “00.00am to 00.00pm” seven days a week. “Most likely you will work hard your entire life but still not be able to afford a house. Maybe it’s better just to give up this goal, ” said Frank Lin, a recent engineering graduate from one of China’s best universities who is an advocate for lying flat culture. “Just because I graduated from a top university, it doesn’t mean I have a higher chance of buying a house.”
“For Hu, whose frequent overtime has taken a toll on her health, the lying flat ethos provides her with comfort, because she knows is not alone in suffering from China’s culture of overworking. “I used to like going shopping, especially after working hard overtime, to relieve stress, ” she said. “Now, I’m thinking about living a simple life, looking for a job with no overtime, two days off a week, earning 4, 000 yuan a month. I don’t need to be so exhausted.”
Lying Flat in Your 40s
Joe McDonald and Fu Ting of Associated Press wrote: “Fed up with work stress, Guo Jianlong quit a newspaper job in Beijing and moved to China’s mountain southwest to “lie flat.” Guo, 44, became a freelance writer in Dali, a town in Yunnan province known for its traditional architecture and picturesque scenery. He married a woman he met there. “Work was OK, but I didn’t like it much, ” Guo said. “What is wrong with doing your own thing, not just looking at the money?” “Guo said he puts in more hours as a freelancer than he did at a newspaper. But he is happier, and life is more comfortable: He and his wife eat breakfast on their breezy sixth-floor apartment balcony with a view of trees. “As long as I can keep writing, I’m very satisfied, ” Guo said. “I don’t feel stifled.” [Source: Joe McDonald and Fu Ting, Associated Press, July 4, 2021]
“Some professionals are cutting short their careers, which removes their experience from the job pool. Xu Zhunjiong, a human resources manager in Shanghai, said she is quitting at 45, a decade before the legal minimum retirement age for women, to move with her Croatian-born husband to his homeland. “I want to retire early. I don’t want to fight any more, ” Xu said. “I’m going to other places.” Thousands vented frustration online after the Communist Party's announcement in May that official birth limits would be eased to allow all couples to have three children instead of two. The party has enforced birth restrictions since 1980 to restrain population growth but worries China, with economic output per person still below the global average, needs more young workers. Minutes after the announcement, websites were flooded with complaints that the move did nothing to help parents cope with child care costs, long work hours, cramped housing, job discrimination against mothers and a need to look after elderly parents.
“Xia writes that she moved to a valley in Zhejiang province, south of Shanghai, for a “low-desire life” after working in Hong Kong. She said despite a high-status job as an English-language reporter, her rent devoured 60 percent of her income and she had no money at the end of each month. She rejects the argument that young people who “lie flat” are giving up economic success when that's already is out of reach for many in an economy with a growing gulf between a wealthy elite and the majority. “When resources are focused more and more on the few people at the head and their relatives, the workforce is cheap and replaceable, ” she wrote on Douban. “Is it sensible to entrust your destiny to small handouts from others?”
Luo Huazhong, the Founder of Lying Flat
Elsie Chen wrote in the New York Times: In 2016, Luo Huazhong discovered that he enjoyed doing nothing. He quit his job as a factory worker in China, biked 1,300 miles from Sichuan Province to Tibet and decided he could get by on odd jobs and $60 a month from his savings. He called his new lifestyle “lying flat.” “I have been chilling, ” Mr. Luo, 31, wrote in a blog post in April, describing his way of life. “I don’t feel like there’s anything wrong.” He titled his post “Lying Flat Is Justice, ” attaching a photo of himself lying on his bed in a dark room with the curtains drawn. Before long, the post was being celebrated by Chinese millennials as an anti-consumerist manifesto. “Lying flat” went viral and has since become a broader statement about Chinese society. “Mr. Luo’s blog post was removed by censors, who saw it as affront to Beijing’s economic ambitions. [Source: Elsie Chen, New York Times, July 3, 2021]
“Mr. Luo decided to write about tangping after he saw people heatedly discussing China’s latest census results in April and calls for the country to address a looming demographic crisis by having more babies. He described his original “lying flat” blog post as “an inner monologue from a man living at the bottom of the society.” “Those people who say lying down is shameful are shameless, ” he said. “I have the right to choose a slow lifestyle. I didn’t do anything destructive to society. Do we have to work 12 hours a day in a sweatshop, and is that justice?”
“Mr. Luo was born in rural Jiande County, in eastern Zhejiang Province. In 2007, he dropped out of a vocational high school and started working in factories. One job involved working 12-hour shifts at a tire factory. By the end of the day, he had blisters all over his feet, he said. In 2014, he found a job as a product inspector in a factory but didn’t like it. He quit after two years and took on the occasional acting gig to make ends meet. (In 2018, he played a corpse in a Chinese movie by, of course, lying flat.)
“Today, he lives with his family and spends his days reading philosophy and news and working out. He said it was an ideal lifestyle, allowing him to live minimally and “think and express freely.” He encourages his followers, who call him “the Master of Lying Down, ” to do the same.
Lying Flat, Sang Culture and Xiaoquexing
Lying Flat appears ro be an extension, outgrowth and continuation of sang culture that emerged in the mid 2010s. Zeng Yuli wrote in Sixth Tone: Simply put, sang refers to a reduced work ethic, a lack of self-motivation, and an apathetic demeanor. “I’m just a waste of space, ” “I don’t care all that much for life, ” and “I’m listless to the point of despair” are typical phrases uttered by sang youths. Memes such as the “Ge You Slouch, ” the recently deceased Pepe the Frog, and “Gudetama” or “lazy egg” have become the beloved mascots of sang youngsters. American series such as “Bojack Horseman” and sang dramas from Japan reflect the same mentality. [Source: Zeng Yuli, Sixth Tone, June 27, 2017]
“Sang culture is actually an evolved form of the once-prominent notion of xiaoquexing — fleeting moments of joy found in everyday life. For instance, buying a loaf of fresh bread — still hot from the baker’s oven — taking it home, and gnawing on the heel as you cut the rest into slices. Slipping through the undisturbed surface of a deserted swimming pool in the early hours of the morning, and pushing off from the wall with your foot. Listening to the chamber music of Brahms as you contemplate the silhouettes of leaves on a paper window, created by the gentle sunlight of an autumn afternoon. If xiaoquexing is an appreciation of the little triumphs to be found amid life’s monotony, then sang culture is a similar emphasis, even an exaggeration, of a pervasive feeling of loss.
“Fleeting joy forms the underlying context of sang culture. To be sang is not to be in a state of complete despair; instead, the term evokes the sense of disenfranchisement that certain young people feel as a result of being excluded from some of life’s supposedly greater pursuits, such as home ownership, the accumulation of personal wealth, and the attainment of social mobility. Sang culture is a first-world problem: Its adherents wallow in grievances that contrast starkly with the much more pressing problems faced in most other developing nations. Sang culture resonates with young people not because they aren’t interested in success. On the contrary, an increasing number of young people describe themselves as sang because they feel that it is futile to pursue traditional notions of success. In this respect, Japanese society has provided an important point of reference.
“Touching fish” was another outgrowth of the rejection of the ‘996’ work culture. Helen Davidson wrote in The Guardian: “On the Chinese microblogging platform Weibo, enthusiastic slackers share their tips: fill up a thermos with whisky, do planks or stretches in the work pantry at regular intervals, drink litres of water to prompt lots of trips to the toilet on work time and, once there, spend time on social media or playing games on your phone. “Not working hard is everyone’s basic right, ” said one netizen. “With or without legal protection, everyone has the right to not work hard.” [Source: Helen Davidson, The Guardian, January 22, 2021]
“Young Chinese people are pushing back against an engrained culture of overwork, and embracing a philosophy of laziness known as “touching fish”. The term is a play on a Chinese proverb: “muddy waters make it easy to catch fish”, and the idea is to take advantage of the Covid crisis drawing management’s focus away from supervising their employees. The author of a viral post at the centre of the conversation, Weibo user Massage Bear, described “touching fish” as a life attitude. “[It] is a life philosophy of perfunctory living, letting go of oneself and others at the same time… and that’s the key to living in the moment and being relaxed, ” she said. “Some make a game of it, Quartz reported, aiming to be the employee who uses the most toilet paper, or getting up from their desk whenever any other colleague does.
“The deliberate slowdown at work marks a cultural shift among younger generations who are pushing back against unhealthy work hours for little gain, and not seeing the opportunities for upward mobility experienced by their parents. “The fundamental reason for me to do that is that I no longer believe that I can get a promotion in my current company by hard work and ability, ” said one Weibo user. “There’s a joke in the tech industry, if you work hard before 35 as engineer in a food delivery company, then after 35 you are the delivery guy, ” said Suji Yan, a 25-year-old chief executive of a tech startup mask.io. “I’ve heard of people being fired after 35 because they spent less time in the company, because they have families to look after and they have less energy than the younger people.”
Jane Li wrote in Quartz: Chinese millennials are increasingly inclined to embrace a more laissez-faire approach to work, such as Massage Bear’s “touching fish” outlook, amid rising housing prices, caregiving pressures, and difficulty accessing reliable healthcare or quality education. Earlier manifestations of these ideas include “sang, ” or mourning culture, and “Buddhist Youth, ” which both make a virtue out of lack of motivation or ambition. [Source: Jane Li, Quartz, December 29, 2020]
“Shanghai-based Clarisse Zhang is one of the youngsters who feels they have missed out on a golden period, when simply working hard could mean a ticket to a better life. The coder, who asked to use a pseudonym, has become an enthusiastic convert to the touching fish philosophy. She now arrives at work after 10am, and leaves the office at 11.30 to have lunch, which could last over three hours. “Sometimes I put fake appointments on my calendar in case anyone asks for me, ” she told Quartz. She will also go have a nap or read books in her car, which is parked near the office, when she doesn’t feel like working. “‘The ‘touching fish’ trend is tied up closely with intensifying involution in China, ” says Zhang, who works at a listed Chinese internet company. “People who have the capacity to compete are using all their strength to squeeze out rivals, while people like me, who don’t have that kind of energy, chose to lie down and be happy losers, ” she says.
Jane Li wrote in Quartz: “The intense anxiety felt by younger people, and exacerbated by the pandemic, prompted a wider discussion on a once niche academic concept: neijuan. Translated as “involution, ” the anthropological term was first applied to agriculture, and has come to describe conditions in which a society ceases to progress, and instead starts to stagnate internally. Increased output and competition intensify but yield no clear results or innovative, technological breakthroughs. [Source: Jane Li, Quartz, December 29, 2020]
“Neijuan has become a hot topic on the Chinese internet and in media reports this year as a word that “captures urban China’s unhappiness.” Complaints of their work becoming too “involuted” — more competitive with little corresponding rewards — are as likely to be discussed on Weibo by white-collar workers as food delivery drivers.
“One example cited to illustrate the phenomenon is a notice in a Wuhan marketplace that forbade employment of female workers (link in Chinese) over the age of 45, and male workers over 50, citing the need to “upgrade” its services. In an “involuted” society, demand for work is so high that age and experience become liabilities. In another example, a student at China’s prestigious Tsinghua University was pictured typing on his laptop while riding on a bike. The pressure to stand out at this elite school has become so intense that even commuting has become an opportunity to maximize output.
Chinese Government Distaste for Lying Flat
Cheryl Teh wrote in Business Insider: The Chinese government remains in opposition to the "lying flat" movement. It promotes working hard — as Chinese President Xi Jinping said during a 2018 televised address — as the "most honorable, noblest, greatest, and most beautiful virtue." "I feel the millions of ordinary Chinese are the greatest, and I also feel that happiness is achieved through hard work, " Xi continued.The Chinese Communist Party's Youth Wing has also disavowed the movement, making a post on the social media platform Weibo (the Chinese version of Twitter) advocating for hard work. "The Chinese youth have never opted to lie flat, " the group wrote in a post on Weibo in May. "We have beliefs, dreams, ambition, and the ability to contribute to our nation." There are also perhaps concerns that "lying flat" could affect China's flagging birth rate if more young Chinese people lean into the ideals and delay starting their careers, getting married, and having children. The country last month reversed its two-child policy in favor of a three-child quota, but fears remain that the policy change will do little to reverse the country's population woes. [Source: Cheryl Teh, Business Insider, June 8, 2021]
Elsie Chen wrote in the New York Times:“A generation ago, the route to success in China was to work hard, get married and have children. The country’s authoritarianism was seen as a fair trade-off as millions were lifted out of poverty. But with employees working longer hours and housing prices rising faster than incomes, many young Chinese fear they will be the first generation not to do better than their parents. [Source: Elsie Chen, New York Times, July 3, 2021]
“The ruling Communist Party, wary of any form of social instability, has targeted the “lying flat” idea as a threat to stability in China. Censors have deleted a tangping group with more than 9,000 members on Douban, a popular internet forum. The authorities also barred posts on another tangping forum with more than 200,000 members.
Mentions of “lying flat” — tangping, as it’s known in Mandarin — are heavily restricted on the Chinese internet. An official counternarrative has also emerged, encouraging young people to work hard for the sake of the country’s future. “After working for so long, I just felt numb, like a machine, ” Mr. Luo said in an interview. “And so I resigned.”
“In May, China’s internet regulator ordered online platforms to “strictly restrict” new posts on tangping, according to a directive obtained by The New York Times. A second directive required e-commerce platforms to stop selling clothes, phone cases and other merchandise branded with “tangping.”
“The state news media has called tangping “shameful, ” and a newspaper warned against “lying flat before getting rich.” Yu Minhong, a prominent billionaire, urged young people not to lie down, because “otherwise who can we rely on for the future of our country?”
Criticism and Rejection of the Lying Flat Movement
Cheryl Teh wrote in Business Insider: Some Chinese youths say the idea of "lying flat" is a "middle-class ideal" that only people above a certain income level can practice. "The idea of lying flat is ridiculous to me, " said Yixiang Zhou, 27, who works in the legal sector in Guangzhou. "I don't have the right to 'lie flat' because my parents are aging. One day, they will get too old to work. So who supports them, then? Who pays for their living and healthcare expenses if I'm wasting my youth away?" Zhou told Insider. College student Li-li Fang, 21, told Insider that even thinking of "lying flat" is symptomatic of having a "bad attitude." "The way I see it, 'lying flat' can only be done by two kinds of people: Someone rich enough to be able to afford it and cruise through life, or losers who don't mind being poor forever, " she said. "Don't sugarcoat being lazy or not wanting to work with this honorable idea of defying societal norms. Get a job, and stop eating into your family's savings. Make yourself useful." [Source: Cheryl Teh, Business Insider, June 8, 2021]
He Huifeng and Tracy Qu wrote in the South China Morning Post: “Authorities have unleashed celebrities and state-run media to attack the movement. Social media chat groups have been blocked for talking about how to participate. “China is at one of the most important stages of its long road to national rejuvenation. Young people are the hope of this country, and neither their personal situation nor the situation of this country will allow them to ‘collectively lie flat’, ” said an editorial in the Global Times, a nationalist tabloid controlled by the Communist Party. [Source: He Huifeng and Tracy Qu, South China Morning Post, June 9, 2021]
“It is easy to understand the anxiety of Chinese authorities over the lying flat attitude, said Dr Gavin Sin Hin Chiu, an independent commentator and former associate professor at Shenzhen University. “If it becomes widespread, it will affect young people’s expectations of income growth, consumption, marriage and childbirth, which will be detrimental to China’s ability to avoid the middle-income trap, where growth stagnates and incomes stall, ” he said.
“China’s per capita gross domestic (GDP) crossed the US$10,000 mark for the first time in 2019, a development stage that many countries stagnate at because they cannot progress from low-cost manufacturing into hi-tech industries. “Local officials and scholars are concerned about the phenomenon of lying flat [because] it reflects young people’s resistance to the current social and economic model, as well as their confusion about the political order, ” said Peng Peng, executive chairman of the Guangdong Society of Reform, a think tank connected to the provincial government.
Image Sources: 1) Posters,Landsberger Posters http://www.iisg.nl/~landsberger/ ; 2) Family photos, Beifan.com ; 3) 19th century men, Universty of Washington; Wiki Commons; Asia Obscura
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
Last updated October 2021