Tired of Running in Place, Young Chinese ‘Lie Down’
China’s young people have coined yet another neologism to reflect their growing disillusionment with the country’s often oppressive work culture. Rather than trying to keep up with society’s expectations or fight them, many are resolving to simply “lie down.”
The new lifestyle buzzword, tang ping, stems from a now-deleted post on forum site Tieba. Unlike similar, previous terms to have had their time in the spotlight in recent years, tang ping is an action rather than a feeling — resolving to just scrape by, exerting the bare minimum effort at an unfulfilling job, as opposed to the futility of raging against the capitalist machine.
The author of the Tieba post described how he had been unemployed for the past two years yet did not see this as problematic. Instead of accepting and pursuing society’s ideas of success, he decided to just lie down.
“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 movement. Only by lying down can humans become the measure of all things,” the user wrote in his lying-down manifesto.
The post was quickly embraced by others, and tang ping became an online buzzword. On Douban — a social platform combining the film and TV ratings of IMDb with the forum feel of Reddit — a group aptly named the “Lying Down Group” has nearly 6,000 members. One of its most popular posts, titled “A Guide to Lying Down,” lists seven steps to embracing the tang ping lifestyle, including accepting one’s shortcomings instead of trying to change them, daring not to equate money with happiness, and refusing to get bogged down by weighty, existential questions.
A member of the group who asked to be identified as Wendy told Sixth Tone that her lying-down philosophy could be summed up as “prioritizing peace and tranquility of the body and soul.”
“According to the mainstream standard, a decent lifestyle must include working hard, trying to get good results on work evaluations, striving to buy a home and a car, and making babies,” she said. “However, I loaf around on the job whenever I can, refusing to work overtime, not worrying about promotions, and not participating in corporate drama.”
Wendy said she’s looking forward to “lying down entirely” — quitting her job and living off her savings.
However, though many Chinese young people feel an instinctive connection to the Tao of tang ping, the defeatist philosophy has come under fire from Chinese state media.
“No matter what, young people must have confidence in the future,” read a commentary published by Guangzhou-based newspaper Nanfang Daily. “China is the world’s most populous country, with abundant labor resources and a huge market advantage. … The only happy life is a hardworking life.”
“The lying-down community obviously isn’t good for the country’s economic and social development,” said Beijing’s Guangming Daily. However, the party-affiliated newspaper added that tang ping shouldn’t be discounted without reflection: If China wants to cultivate diligence in the young generation, the paper said, it should first try to improve their quality of life.
Huang Ping, a literature professor at East China Normal University who researches youth culture, told Sixth Tone that official media outlets may be concerned about the tang ping lifestyle because of its potential to threaten productivity.
“The state is worried about what would happen if everyone stopped working,” said Huang. But he doesn’t necessarily agree with the media reactions. “Humans aren’t merely tools for making things,” he said.
To lie down is a rational choice rather than a negative attitude, Huang explained. For some young people, it’s a way for them to unburden themselves. “When you can’t catch up with society’s development — say, skyrocketing home prices — tang ping is actually the most rational choice,” he said.
Earlier this month, the well-known television host Bai Yansong faced scrutiny for questioning the young generation’s struggle against the pressures of life. “Would it really be a good thing if we were all guaranteed very low housing prices, no pressure at all, and the girl you like easily accepting you as long as you pursue her? Is that actually good?” he said during a recent talk show.
According to Professor Huang, lying down can be seen as the opposite of involution — a decades-old academic term referring to societies becoming trapped in ceaseless cycles of competition that resurfaced last year as an online buzzword in China. “In a relatively good social environment, people may feel involuted, but at least they’re trying,” he said. “If it’s worse, people will tang ping.”
Before involution and lying down, there was yet another buzzword put forth by Chinese young people to express their disillusionment with grueling working conditions and low quality of life. That term, sang, was perhaps the country’s first lexical embodiment of apathy and resignation. Alternatively, the more motivated among the young generation have embraced FIRE — “Financial Independence, Retire Early” — in hopes of someday escaping the rat race for good.
Editor: David Paulk.
(Header image: People Visual)