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Unhappy with Modern Life Pressure, Young Chinese 'Lie Flat'

This June 2, 2021 file photo shows rush hour in Beijing. China's youth are "lying flat", the latest expression for those who are unhappy with the culture of long working hours, high housing prices, and a very high cost of living.
This June 2, 2021 file photo shows rush hour in Beijing. China's youth are "lying flat", the latest expression for those who are unhappy with the culture of long working hours, high housing prices, and a very high cost of living.
Unhappy with the Pressure of Modern Life, Chinese Young People Lie Flat
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Some young adults in China are unhappy with the culture of long working hours, high housing prices and a very high cost of living. So, the young people are “lying flat” to express their anger. They have rejected traditional goals like getting married, having children, purchasing a home or car, and following the corporate money-making path.

The lying flat movement is known as tang ping in China. The Chinese online discussion website Zhihu is filled with comments from young adults who have joined the movement. Posters on the site say they choose to earn less and buy less to live more simply. Tang ping is a rejection of the so-called “996” life in China, the usual practice of working from nine in the morning to nine at night, six days a week.

The government-owned China Daily reports that Chinese officials worry about the tang ping movement. The newspaper said the government has long linked higher education and employment with wider social order.

Many 2020 university graduates did not get jobs because of COVID-19, reports the South China Morning Post. Now, they are also competing with the 2021 graduates for employment.

"I graduated from a top university in Nanjing with a degree in architecture two years ago, but I struggled to find a job and stayed there," said 24-year-old Zhang. He “lies flat” in rural southwest Sichuan province.

Zhang asked VOA not to use just his surname for fear of attracting attention.

The young man said a lot of his friends are still trying to find their way in big cities. But, he added, “they come back home either with diseases from overworking or with a mountain of debt."

Lifestyle choice

Zhang chose to lie flat early. “It's too hard to buy a house and a car in big cities. It's hard to find someone to marry, and if you have kids, you have to enroll them in all sorts of activities to give them a head start," he said.

"So, I choose my current lifestyle. Simple food, simple life,” he said.

The first online use of the term “lie flat” appeared in March on the Chinese search engine Baidu.

The post read "Lying Flat Is Justice" and described a new way to live. The message rejected the need for the usual job path of young educated Chinese.

"You just lie flat. Lying flat at home, lying flat outside, lying flat like the street cats and dogs. ... I choose to lie flat, and I'm no longer stressed," the poster wrote.

The message advised about how to work temporary jobs and live on just $32 a month.

The website China Banking News reports the average monthly earnings of China’s college graduates in 2019 was just over $777.

The Chinese government reacted quickly to tang ping. In late May, the state-run Global Times published an opinion piece about the movement.

“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,'" the newspaper said.

Experts say the lying flat movement has grown out of the inability to move upward in social and economic level. It said the current generation finds itself in a different situation than their parents experienced as young adults.

Xie Fei, a commentator on China’s Zhejiang Television, said the young, “can't expect to have the explosive growth of wealth as their parents' generation."

According to 2017 information by the Chinese Academy of Social Science, people under 35 have a high level of unstable employment and low earnings. One of the survey's major findings is that college graduates in China have difficulties finding jobs.

'Just not sustainable'

Once graduates find jobs, many feel they are expected to work too many hours. VOA spoke with a 35-year-old banking professional in Beijing, who used the name Lucy Li.

"In our bank, the leadership will drop by unannounced around 8 p.m. to see who's still working,” she said. She added that those who stay late are the employees who receive promotions.

Jack Ma create e-commerce giant Alibaba and became a billionaire. He strongly praised the 996 model in a post on China's social media platform Weibo. Widely criticized, the post was later removed.

Earlier this year, the deaths of two employees of the online Chinese marketplace Pinduoduo led to a social media discussion about working too much. Many young people said they did not want to live the 996 life.

The popularity of the lying flat movement is in direct conflict with Chinese President Xi Jinping's expressed hope for the future. He has spoken of “the Chinese dream of a great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.”

The official Xinhua News Agency wrote in a commentary published in late May that "lying flat is shameful. Only hard work brings happiness."

I’m Susan Shand.

VOA’s Kelly Tang and Lin Yang reported this story. Susan Shand adapted it for Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.


Words in This Story

practice - n. something that is done often or regularly

graduate - n. one who has earned a degree or diploma from a school, college, or university

architecture - n. the art or science of designing and creating buildings

kid - n. a child

enroll - v. to join

head start - n. an advantage that you have or get when you are starting to do something

stressed - adj. feeling very worried or anxious

allow - v. to permit

unstable - adj. not secure, uncertain

rejuvenation - n. to give new strength or energy to (something)

shameful - adj. bad behavior

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