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The Lying Flat Movement in China: A Simple but Happy Life

A single post on Baidu in April of last year, which later garnered many viewers, was the start of the lying flat movement in China. It has been gaining traction since then. The lifestyle it promotes has become more attractive to young Chinese workers who are highly stressed out.

The post, which has already been taken down, was entitled “Lying Flat is Justice”. The user who published this went by the name “Kind-Hearted Traveler.” He wrote, “I haven’t been working for two years, and I don’t see anything wrong with this. Pressure mainly comes from comparisons with your peers and the values of older generations. But we don’t have to follow them.”

The individual behind the post said that independence can still be achieved even when unemployed. There is no need to compete with others or continue with a lifestyle that is similar to how previous generations have lived. 

What Does “Lying Flat” Mean?

Lying flat, also called “tang ping,” means just as its name suggests. Citizens turn their backs on the current lifestyle promoted in the workforce, wherein employees have to work from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. for six days a week. It also means not striving for the supposed milestones that were prevalent in older generations, such as marriage, children, buying a house and car, and working in high-paying jobs. 

The Country’s Working Conditions Eventually Contributed to the Lying Flat Movement in China

The total number of citizens in the working age population is decreasing. It went down by 40 million from 2010 to 2020, contributing just 62.3% to the total population of China. This downward trend is expected to continue. Projections show that the working age population could decrease by as much as 35 million in the next five years. 

The aging population of the country presents a challenge because the labor force will be reduced while those in the older age group will increase. This means that fewer people are available to work. At the same time, more funds are needed to provide social security to the elderly.

Young Chinese workers have to face the burden that this situation brings about. It requires employees to spend the majority of their time at work, which eventually causes them to feel burned out.

More posts by users of social media sites in the country seem to be in line with the lying flat movement in China. They would prefer not to go back to what life was like before the COVID-19 pandemic happened. Working long hours and competing with colleagues no longer interests them. Instead, they want to live a slow-paced life and have time for themselves to pursue their interests.

Kerry Allen, a BBC China Media Analyst, said that citizens “feel so apathetic now they’re having to deal with the coronavirus and feel exhausted. They literally just want to lie down with a book, or sit and watch some TV, rather than keep the momentum going by working hard.”

Social Trends Influencing the Lying Flat Movement in China

Lauren Johnston, an expert in the field, said that there are different reasons why the lying flat movement in China is gaining popularity. 

Young Chinese citizens who grew up in the rural areas of the country but moved to the major cities of Beijing or Shanghai are faced with the reality of the overwhelming challenges that they are up against. They believe that the competencies that they have developed do not come close to those of their peers who come from more affluent backgrounds in the city. Because they are unable to compete in such a competitive labor market, this will negatively affect their ability to earn. Buying a house and affording a supposedly better lifestyle has become a mere dream.

Given this realization, citizens are then encouraged to come back to their hometowns so that they can be physically closer to their families, even if it means applying for jobs that do not pay high wages compared to opportunities in the city.

In comparison, young Chinese citizens who belong to the higher income groups do not necessarily have the same urgency to achieve more in life. They do not have any financial pressures that push them to endure the long working hours. 

The “tiger” culture has also contributed to the situation. Parents from previous generations felt the need to enroll their children in different classes outside of the traditional curriculum at school. They give priority to tutorial services after school hours so that their children can survive the competitive atmosphere of entrance exams and life after graduation.

Response of Authorities to the Lying Flat Movement in China

President Xi Jinping warns citizens about the lying flat movement in China. In an article released by a Communist party journal, he said that “it is necessary to prevent the solidification of social strata, smooth the upward flow channels, create opportunities for more people to become rich, form a development environment where everyone participates, and avoid “involution” and “laying flat.”

Citizens Share Their Story of Lying Flat

A Chinese citizen traveled to Beijing many years ago to work as an app developer. It was very rewarding financially because he earned a lot of money. However, it meant that almost all of his hours would be spent working. He did not have time to do anything else, such as pursuing his other interests or even making friends. 

The COVID-19 pandemic gave him the time he needed to reevaluate how he lived his life. He was able to catch up with some of his friends back at home. Even if his friends did not earn as much as he did, they seemed enthusiastic about what they were doing both in and out of work hours. He had not experienced this same enthusiasm because he was too busy working.

The urge for a different lifestyle became stronger when he was given more work, as the company he was working at reduced the number of employees. It meant that he needed to work as many as 60 to 70 hours a week. This finally pushed him to take a break and travel to Vietnam.

While in Vietnam, he saw groups of old men living what seemed to be a simple life. The men were just relaxing, talking to each other, and watching football games for most of their days.

a citizen was inspired in Vietnam to join the lying flat movement in China

Inspired by what he saw, he decided to resign from his job as soon as he came back to Beijing. With all the time that he had and no one to compete with, he was finally able to discover different hobbies that he would never have been able to do if he had not resigned. He went skiing and rock climbing, enjoying every minute of it without worrying about all the work he had to do. Despite not having a high-paying job, he was still satisfied with how he spent his days. 

Eventually, he conceded to his parents and found another job. However, he chose one that was not as demanding as his previous position, even if it meant earning less than what he did. 

He said, “I’m continuing to get rid of negative energy in my life. I think 2022 will be an upgrade on 2021, but I still don’t want to do anything. I will continue to ‘lie flat.’ I enjoy this state.”

Another shares that he also chose a simpler lifestyle. After graduating from one of the top universities in Nanjing, he found it difficult to land a job and support his stay in the city. He chose to “lie flat” instead of pursuing a job that would only end up with him getting sick or staying in the city, but leaving him with a mountain of debt. 

He shares, “I chose to lie flat from the beginning. 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.” Because of this, he prefers to live simply. 

Overworked and confronted with seemingly insurmountable challenges, young people are opting to lie flat.

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