Although being the epicentre of COVID-19’s first impacts, China was quick to overcome the pandemic and rescue its economy.
Now, China is looking inwards for charting its next growth. It has pledged to end its reliance on imported technology, while encouraging increased domestic production and consumption as its primary driver of growth.
But there lies the dichotomy.
The “lying flat” or tang ping is a movement that promotes doing nothing as a way of lifestyle. This philosophy is quickly catching up with the youth in China.
What is the lying flat movement?
Lying flat simply means to do the bare minimum to survive. A person following the lying flat approach just works and earns enough to survive daily. The person does not strive for owning a house, a car or save for retirement.
It is wilfully denouncing to be a productive member of the society, by rejecting all the materialistic needs and choosing to lie flat.
Some have dubbed it a defeatist attitude, while others have branded it as simply being too lazy to work.
The term lying flat was first posted by a man named Luo Huazhong in his mid-twenties on the Baidu Tieba social media platform, in April 2021. The post was about how he had embraced this lifestyle of minimalism for two years. The post went viral, especially among the younger generation and has since gained much traction.
In the post titled “Lying flat is justice”, Luo explains how he has been staying with his parents in the Zhejiang province, without a stable employment and living a low-desire, zero-pressure lifestyle. And when in need of some money, he works part time as a dead body in movies.
According to Luo, “Lying flat is a state of mind – that is, I feel that many things are not worthy of my attention and energy.”
Why it has gained traction among the Chinese youth?
China’s young workforce are disenchanted. They have grown tired of working long hours in factories with little pay. The prospect of working tirelessly for a better life has taken its tolls on the millennial workforce.
The “996” culture of working from 9 am to 9 pm shift for six days a week, without even having the prospect of owning a home have demotivated many.
This constant desire to excel has further been aggravated by the push for increase in domestic consumption. Pro-consumption policies by the Chinese government to spur increased domestic consumption led to easy and cheap credit, without the means to pay it back.
This has given rise to a debt crisis in China. And the youth of China are finding it very difficult to cope with the economic slowdown; trade war with the US; and the impacts of the ongoing pandemic.
In a country where open forms of protest are not allowed, the lying flat philosophy has already attracted an upwards of 200,000 members.
How it could derail China’s post-pandemic recovery?
China’s call for self-reliance will be defeated if this philosophy gains further traction. As there will be no desire to earn and spend more, the Chinese economy will witness a slowdown due to reduced domestic consumption.
On the other hand, the desire to learn and innovate will also be lost among the young upcoming generation. The Chinese government is fiercely advocating self-dependency in emerging technologies. But without the needed talent and workforce in the market, this objective looks highly unachievable.
Additionally, with reduced income and spending power, individuals also do not want to get married or start a family, threatening the post-pandemic recovery of China. This will give rise to a silver tsunami with a diminishing working population hampering China’s recovery with increased healthcare cost and reduced domestic output.
How is the Chinese government responding?
The Chinese government’s media arm was quick to react. Guangming Daily, a publication of the communist party’s central committee, published an article, labelling the philosophy as not being “beneficial for economic and social development.”
Meanwhile, Nanfang Daily, termed it as “not only unjustified, but also shameful. Such ‘toxic chicken soup’ has no value whatsoever.”
China’s major e-commerce platforms were also directed to take down any products that were linked to lying down or neijuan before June 21.
President Xi Jinping, commented about the lying flat movement in his party’s flagship journal Qiushi: “It is necessary to prevent the stagnation of the social class, unblock the channels for upward social mobility, create opportunities for more people to become rich, and form an environment for improvement in which everyone participates, avoiding involution and lying flat.”
The efforts of the government will yield no results as Hanning, a 32-year old infrastructure financier, believes that “unless the society undergoes some structural changes, for instance, there is no more involution, more and more young people choosing to lie flat will be the trend.”