Chinese millennials ‘lying flat’ doing nothing, worries Beijing

Beijing, China: A new trend started by Luo Huazhong five years ago called Lying flat is being followed by many millennials in China. The trend says not to do anything and do odd jobs like biking. Beijing is not happy with the trend.

“I have been chilling,” Luo, 31, wrote in a blog post in April, describing his way of life. “I don’t feel like there’s anything wrong.”

He titled his post “Lying Flat Is Justice,” attaching a photo of himself lying on his bed in a dark room with the curtains drawn. Before long, the post was being celebrated by Chinese millennials as an anti-consumerist manifesto. “Lying flat” went viral and has since become a broader statement about Chinese society.

Elsie Chen, writing in The New York Times explained that to lie flat means to forgo marriage, not have children, stay unemployed and eschew material wants such as a house or a car. It is the opposite of what China’s leaders have asked of their people.

A generation ago, the route to success in China was to work hard, get married and have children. The country’s authoritarianism was seen as a fair trade-off as millions were lifted out of poverty.

But with employees working longer hours and housing prices rising faster than incomes, many young Chinese fear they will be the first generation not to do better than their parents.
They are now defying the country’s long-held prosperity narrative by refusing to participate in it.

Luo’s blog post was removed by censors, who saw it as an affront to Beijing’s economic ambitions. Mentions of “lying flat” — tangping, as it’s known in Mandarin — are heavily restricted on the Chinese internet. An official counter-narrative has also emerged, encouraging young people to work hard for the sake of the country’s future.

“After working for so long, I just felt numb, like a machine,” Luo said in an interview. “And so I resigned.”

While plenty of Chinese millennials continue to adhere to the country’s traditional work ethic, “lying flat” reflects both a nascent counter-culture movement and a backlash against China’s hyper-competitive work environment.

Xiang Biao, a professor of social anthropology at Oxford University who focuses on Chinese society, called tangping culture a turning point for China.

“Young people feel a kind of pressure that they cannot explain and they feel that promises were broken,” he said. “People realize that material betterment is no longer the single most important source of meaning in life”, said Xiang.

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

Censors have deleted a tangping group with more than 9,000 members on Douban, a popular internet forum. The authorities also barred posts on another tangping forum with more than 200,000 members, wrote Elsie.

In May, China’s internet regulator ordered online platforms to “strictly restrict” new posts on tangping, according to a directive obtained by The New York Times.

A second directive required e-commerce platforms to stop selling clothes, phone cases and other merchandise branded with “tangping.”

The state news media has called tangping “shameful,” and a newspaper warned against “lying flat before getting rich”, reported The New York Times.

China’s elder care facilities cannot meet the demand of its ageing population, and living in these facilities is not covered by insurance.

China’s controversial one-child policy is history, but its legacy may depend on how the Chinese authorities treat the grieving parents left in its wake, reported CNA further

In 2015, the Chinese government raised the birth limit to two, an effort to reverse declining birth rates and to rejuvenate an ageing population. In May 2021, it announced that Chinese families could have up to three children.

China’s birth rate has been falling rapidly since the introduction of the one-child policy more than 40 years ago, which limited couples to one baby in order to alleviate poverty and stem a population boom.

While the policy successfully reined in birth rates as China developed, in more recent years officials have become concerned the country won’t have enough young workers to keep powering its economic growth. A rapidly aging workforce, expecting their promised pensions, has only exacerbated those pressures, wrote Qestcott.

Faced with a demographic crisis, the Chinese government relaxed the policy in 2016 to allow for two children, but many couples in the Han middle class were reluctant to have more than one child, citing the high costs of raising families particularly in cities. In 2020, the birth rate fell by almost 15 per cent year on year.

During the one-child policy, ethnic minorities, including Xinjiang’s Uyghur population, were allowed to have up to three children, which authorities said was in deference of the group’s cultural traditions of large families.

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