Lying flat, chilling or tangping in China

Desperate times need desperate measures. The Chinese youth have taken it upon themselves to break the shackles of the modern lifestyle that demands more and rewards less. The never-ending cycle of horror, as they say, is taking a toll on the mental health of the youth. Hence, ‘lying flat’ is the way.

Liao Zenghu, a famous novelist, described the movement as resistance against high-pressure schooling and endless job hours.

He says, “As a society, our every move is under scrutiny, and every action criticized. Is there a more rebellious act than to simply ‘lie-flat?’”

It makes sense when you consider the communist regime in China and the control it vexes on the people.

The Chinese model works with a 996 system, where you work from 9 am to 9 pm, six days a week. As per the local media reports of China, there is an unemployment concern prevalent among the youth.

  • The overall unemployment stands at 5.5 percent
  • Unemployment amongst the age group 16-24 is 13.1 percent

In addition, over 20 crores graduated last year, ready for the workforce.

What is ‘lying flat’ or ‘tangping?’

It is somewhat an anti-consumerist manifesto and a broader statement of Chinese society in general. 

In 2016, Luo Huazhong, a Chinese factory worker, discovered his likeness of doing nothing. What followed was job quitting and a trip to Tibet. He left his factory and traveled 1300 miles from Sichuan province to Tibet. The idea was to find some odd job and use $60 from his savings to survive. He termed it as “lying flat.”

Luo, 31, wrote a blog post in April, presenting his way of life in words, ” I have been chilling.” Luo is lying on the bed with drapes down. 

The post was titled, “Lying Flat is Justice.” It went viral as it resonated with the Gen Z of China.

The New York Times writer Elsie Chen explained lying flat as:

Lie flat means to relinquish marriage, no children, stay unemployed, and abstain from material wants. In a way, it is the opposite of what the Chinese government demands from their citizen. With China on the rise like never before, this spelled trouble in the ranks.

“After working so long, I felt numb. I felt like a machine, and so I resigned, Luo told an interviewer.  

The Beijing action on ‘lying flat’

The state media termed tangping as “shameful”.

The blog post by Luo is taken down by the censors working for the regime. Beijing sees it as a threat to the economic ambition it has for the future. Any mention of “lying flat” or “tangping,” is restricted on the Chinese internet.

The ruling Communist Party, suspicious of any form of social instability, has targeted the “lying flat” life as a threat to economic stability in China.

Moreover, a narrative to work hard and contribute to well being of the nation is publicized.

The state censors have also deleted a tangping group with over 9,000 members on Douban, a popular internet group. The authorities have also barred posts on tangping forums with over 200,000 members, wrote Elsie.

Moreover, a directive issued by the state has put a stop to any merchandise branded with ‘tangping.’ No e-commerce platform can sell any item tagged with “tangping.”

Valerie Tan, an analyst and German researcher on Chinese elites says, “The fear is that the trends, after online traction, can mobilize public support while turning into a full-blown protest and movements.”

Why the passive revolution?

Enforced fear and scare tactics seem to be wearing off. Earlier, the Chinese way was to slog hard, marry, and have children. People toiled hard and worked long hours to provide the best of amenities to the family and economic growth of the country. It was part effort and part diktat by an authoritarian regime.

However, it worked as millions bore the fruit of the effort with poverty numbers down and attainment of better lifestyles.

But when you turn the wheel harder, the bearings soon come off.

Xiang Biao, a professor of social anthropology at Oxford University who specializes in Chinese society, termed the tangping culture a turning point for China.

“Young people feel immense pressure they cannot explain, and they believe their promises are broken,” he said. “People realize that material gains no longer provide meaning in life”, said Xiang.

With employees working longer hours and housing prices rising faster than their incomes, young Chinese fear they will become the first generation to do worse than the earlier ones. They also fear doing poorly than their parents.  

The dissatisfaction and fear have pushed them to defy the country’s long echoed prosperity narrative by not participating in it, wrote Elsie.

What next

The Chinese regime is a strong one. The state controls everything and sets the narrative for policies. 

Perhaps, the tangping or lying flat will never gain mass popularity and become an organized political movement. What worries Beijing is the restlessness and discontentment among the youth. The bigger picture here is the deep psychological issues faced by the youth of China. While there are a few voices who’ve come out in the open, millions share the same resentment.

Though the economy is aloof to such protests, clamp down on tangping with strict regulations explains government anxiety. The state believes that a movement such as lying flat is potent enough to be a full-scale movement and would become a deterrent to economic growth.

Moreover, while the state machinery is adept at using its authority to suppress protests, the very ideology is a possible threat.


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