There are now quite a few videos about the “Lie Flat”[tangping 躺平] movement on Youtube. This video by Zhen Fei entitled “Confessions of a Young Person: Why am I lying flat? Social pressure and class conflict are involved, by the key thing is the “feeling empty disease” that is spreading among young people in China! ” [ 年輕人的「自白」: 我為何躺平? 社會壓力, 階級矛盾都是浮雲, 關鍵是正在中國年輕人中蔓延的「空心病」！真觀點｜真飛【20210526】【第127期】 ] discusses the ‘lie flat’ movement and the pressures on Chinese young people that it seems to reacting to.
Other translations on the ‘Lie Flat’ movement in China:
- Taking it Lying Down: China’s Bereavement Youth Culture
- Labor Relations Party Secretary: Guide the “Lying Flat” to Cherish Their Youthful Vigor and to See that Hard Work Pays Off
- A PRC Youth Subculture: Lying Flat is the Right Thing to Do!
- Liang Jianzhang: Too Many Force-Fed Baby Dragons — Abolish the National College Entrance Exam, Enable Students to Attend University
This video was posted on May 26, 2021. Three weeks later it has 175K views. This video had a transcript in Chinese attached — click on the three dots to the right of ‘save’ at the bottom right of your YouTube screen and click on “open transcript” to see it. Following is my translation of the transcript. I added a few notes and URLs to the transcript.
Welcome to watch the Real Viewpoint. My name is Zhenfei.
I remember when we in this generation were growing up the most common advice we heard in our formative years was “You have to study hard so that you will be successful when you grow up.”
Only then will the sea be wide enough for the fish to jump and the sky be high enough for the birds to fly. Back then, our eyes were wide. I imagined the outside world was so very colorful. I couldn’t wait to grow up, make money and achieve my ambitions. Today, the children of the past have grown up. The cohort born in the 1990s and the cohort born in the 2000s are now in their 20s and 30s. They have become the mainstays of society. I just don’t know if they are getting ever more “involuted’. Or are they already “lying flat”?
The rise of lie flatism started from a post on Baidu. The post was “Lying flat is the right thing to do“. A man who hadn’t worked at all for over two year became a sage inspiring a “lie flat” movement. Work one or two months a year. Just want to earn money for food. He doesn’t want to work so he only eats twice a day. For him, except for food, there are no necessities of daily life. Spends only 200 RMB a month, except for doing work, he thinks he should just lie flat.
He doesn’t like to do anything for anyone. He hates the concept of the traditional family. He thinks people shouldn’t be exhausting themselves. They should just live a simple life. And the most extraordinary thing about this man Is that he is a professional actor. He lies flat and earns money as part of a performance troupe. When he first posted, many people on that internet forum advised him to get a job. As his posting became very popular, more and more people joining in, giving physical support with their own lying down bodies.
Gradually, lie flat doctrine was elaborated, continues to improve.
- His guidance for his followers:
- Don’t be desperate to earn a living,
- Refuse to be a slave to money
- Work to reduce you desires so you need maintain only a minimal standard of living
- Don’t buy a house,
- Don’t buy a car,
- Don’t get married,
- Don’t have children
This army of “layabouts” who don’t even spend money sprung up suddenly like the bamboo after a heavy rain.
Some people in that internet forum even suggested starting all over again. To restart is, having completely lost all hope in life, to reincarnate. Many people hope to reincarnate in Northern Europe. Because Northern Europe is sparsely populated and has high welfare. That makes it very suitable for lying flat.
Worth mentioning that on the Baidu net forum, in addition to a number of lie flat forums, there is also a more extreme home hermits forum. Seven hundred and fifty thousand people have signed up. Just imagine. No matter whether this is lie flat or stay-at-home hermit [Note the Wiki article on the hikikimori hermits in Japan discusses this phenomenon] , this kind of despair about their own future and their social environment is a kind of silent protest that has become serious wave enveloping the bodies of young people in contemporary China.
But why do young people have to lie flat? Young people are supposed to be in their prime and vigorous. In the eyes of the older generation, this is simply a sign of laziness, unmotivated and degenerate. So, do you want to know why young people choose to lie flat? What do they really think? Can this problem be solved?
As a young person, I’ll bring my own perspective to this. I will talk about my own first-hand experience. Why is lie flat so popular among young people today? You can’t hear it from other more senior online personalities.
Let’s discuss young people’s lying flat. We have to explain “involution” first. What do you mean by “involution”? It means that there is too much competition in a certain field and there are no more external resources. The result is that people enter into a state of internal consumption and mutual collusion. A typical example is the Chinese college entrance examination is like thousands of horses trying to cross the same bridge.
Every family wants their children to squeeze in even if they have to cut their brains out. Children have to prepare for the exams day and night. You work hard; I’ll work even harder. But there must be someone who works harder than us two. What can be done? It becomes a vicious competition. This is just one small example. If you extend it to the whole Chinese society, then if everyone is running hard and fast. What would it be like to compete for limited resources?
Let’s use the analogy of the “rat race” game. A rat trapped in a metal cage. Every day, it has to run as fast as it can, stomping on the cage wheel without realizing that they are running with the cage on their backs. If all the rats dropped their cages and ran and run with their cages on their backs. The result may not be different from the two students studying for the exam. A rat running with a cage on its back would get very tired.
For most of us ordinary people, we are taught from childhood to study hard. To get a good job when we grow up. When you enter the workplace, you work for your boss. Earn your paycheck then your wages are taxed. A share goes to the government. If you have a mortgage or credit card loan, another share goes to the bank. You have three bosses: the company, the government, and the bank.
And we still tell the next generation. Study hard and get a good job. In the end, one generation will work hard for the rest of their lives. And the next generation will fight to get a piece of the pie in their respective fields. This goes on generation after generation. But no one can escape from an invisible iron cage. Just like the iron cage that makes rats die of exhaustion.
Isn’t that horrible? That is what is meant by involution. That is the involution of the 996. The involution of the baby force-fed chicken blood so it will become a dragon one day. After the parent’s involution, the parent does the child’s involution.
996 means go to work at 9am to 9:00 p.m. to work 6 days a week. The “baby chick” refers to the popular way of raising children in many Chinese families. The most popular way of raising children means scheduling a lot of extracurricular classes and hobby classes to pump up their children’s blood to become chicken children from childhood. And the involution will bring a problem. It’s like a rat race. All the rats are in the cage and but none of them are in a cage. It doesn’t make much difference in the end.
The same applies to the college entrance examination. There are only so many places in the 39 top universities supported by government’s Project 985. We all work hard and those who are in front are still in front. Those who can’t get in are still not getting in. That is what our environment is like.
Immersed in this kind of environment, someone simply said, “Why do I have to fight so hard?
- No matter how hard I try, I will never be able to buy an apartment on my own.
- No matter how hard I try, I’m not as good as those who spend a lot of time and have power and influence.
- No matter how hard I try I’ll never do as well as those children of the rich and powerful second generation of the wealthy, the second generation of officials, or the third generation of Chinese Communist cadres.
Why don’t I reduce my desires and live my life in a Buddhist way? How about lying down? This is one of the main reasons why young people in China are lying down
This is a silent confrontation with involution. Involution, however, also creates a potential problem — that is the great distance between the various layers of Chinese society. [Note: instead of saying class jieji many people in China say social layer shehui jieceng.]
Wealth is concentrated in a very small number of hands. Social wealth is a big cake. Two percent of the people eat 80% of the cake. The remaining 20% of the cake has has to be grabbed by 98% of the people. Lots of punching and jostling and bloodshed. Whether someone can get a piece for themselves or not all depends on their fate.
Instead of fighting for a piece of the cake, why not just give up? Lie flat on the ground. Except for this point, the direct pressure Chinese young people face today cannot be underestimated. They leave school. The first thing that happens when you enter the society is the problem of finding a job. The unemployment situation in China is very severe. We can’t understand it very well living on the outside.
According to statistical data, last year due to the epidemic China’s economy was in a major recession. Out of 8.74 million college graduates, the Chinese government announced that 25% of recent graduates have found jobs. At that rate there were still 6.5 million graduates who had not found a job. This year, the number of graduates is at a record high 9.09 million, plus the remaining 6.5 million from last year. Fifteen million college graduates are having a hard time finding a job. In March this year, the unemployment rate of young people aged 16-24 in mainland China reached 14% in March this year.
Worse than last year when the epidemic closed the cities. It is also much higher than the urban unemployment rate of 5.5%. The labor force is increasing every year but to add insult to injury, the number of jobs is declining every year.
In 2018, the number of urban jobs was 13.61 million. That number fell by 100,000 in 2019. In 2020, jobs cropped by 1.75 million. What can we do when so many college students graduate and can’t find a job? The good ones become delivery riders. It is said that among the delivery riders for Meituan. There are 60,000 master’s students and 170,000 undergraduates. This team of highly educated delivery boys. You can imagine what that feels like. The less educated one may have to stay at home temporarily. Or find intermittent short-term jobs
In fact, the whole social environment is also subtly pushing young people to lie flat. In addition to employment, the pressure to buy a house in China is even more daunting. From 1998 to the present housing prices in North China, Shanghai and Shenzhen may have multiplied by fifteen times.
This rate of increase in housing prices is much faster than the growth of residents’ salaries. Take Shenzhen as an example. According to the proportion of the average housing price and the average salary, if a Shenzhen resident didn’t eat or drink for six months, they might just barely afford to by a square meter of house space. In Shanghai, because of 35% down payment rule, if a young person with a monthly salary of 10,000 RMB wants to buy a 100 square meters house in Shanghai, he would have to work 19 to 27 years to afford the down payment. But for Chinese men these days, buying a house is essential if they want to get a wife. According to statistical data, even putting aside the question of first-and second-tier cities, even in third-tier cities, the cost of marriage for men is at least to 3 million RMB.
This sum is too great for many families. Even if they spend all their money, they still can’t help their sons pay for a wife. Now that it’s so hard to get a wife, why don’t you just not get married?
Some people say no but their girlfriend tells them every day that she wants to get married. I have to marry her, but what if I can’t afford a house? Take out a loan! In 2019 Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Matthew Phan said China’s household debt has reached 57% of GDP, more than double what it was a decade ago. And this household debt is rising at twice the rate of GDP growth. Debt is particularly high among Generation Z, who are now in their 20s and 30s. This generation got in debt faster than their parents. They have little income and almost no credit history. But it doesn’t affect their borrowing. But China is different from the United States: China has no bankruptcy law. This means that the lender can recover all assets owned by the debtor.
As household debt levels rise The cost of repaying debt is also rising. Many young people have begun to realize the high risk of debt. They also refuse to borrow money. Whether it’s employment or buying a house, borrowing money is really a dark road with no end in sight if you don’t have the help of your parents .How can we continue to work hard in such a social environment? How could we enjoy of success and triumphs under such circumstances. It seems to be an insurmountable problem. This indirectly pushes and encourages young people to actively lower their expectations and desires. Deal with the situation negatively by lying flat on the ground. Enjoying the moment of lying down without pressure and in peace. Their environment is driving them to lie flat.
But is that all there is to it?
No, just as I was saying that, I realized that many parents would find this hard to accept. What a beautiful rationale you have made for yourself. So taking the college entrance exams is hard! Even if you try hard, you may not succeed. So isn’t this just an excuse for young people not to work hard? What generation doesn’t have to work like this? They have to pay taxes and live their lives. We had problems too. Things are very different for young people today. Yes, they say to me, aren’t you very bright?
Next I look at it from another perspective. Let’s look at the inner problems of contemporary young people that are getting more attention now that they are lying flat. Let’s think about the background of the post-90s and post-00s growing up. The post-90s and post-00s are grew up in an environment in which “school was the most important thing”. I remember a friend told me when they were in high school, since they were in the top class, the students didn’t stand up for a break after class. They kept working hard until the bell rang again.
Learning is not a bad thing. But in the Chinese education system is missing a very important piece. It’s the general education on human behavior and moral character. In the Chinese classroom, from kindergarten to university. All they learn is ideology and politics coupled with the intense pressure of examinations. Students mostly “read books to death” and lack the ability to think. They do not develop good and healthy values. They also lose the best opportunity to explore and develop real interests. A problem linked to the one-child policy is that were all the little bullies in the family. They never had to suffer any hardship. We always have our parents to protect us when we encounter difficulties.
That is how “we” grew up. We don’t have a well-formed view of three things. It takes time to adapt and integrate into this complicated society. Lacking that, when we encounter difficulties, it is more difficult to bear but easier to escape. A friend of my age once said to me when he went to the West in my 30s, he saw a lot of things that he had never seen before. He is glad that he came to this free world. It helped him to develop a healthier outlook. Everything is about exams and with the lack of general education relating to things like emotional intelligence It’s hard for the younger generation of Chinese to have rich interests, a complete personality and outlook, and develop a sound way of thinking.
Another important issue is The Internet. We are a generation born with the Internet. The Internet has brought a lot of convenience to people but it is definitely harmful to young people. There are all kinds of people with different character and all kinds of fields like a flood on the Internet on various online platforms. One can’t avoid being affected by it. In the high pressure learning environment and the seductive world of the Internet Chinese young people are very different from foreign young people.
In countries where resources are abundant, Young people can always find a field that they like and is actually beneficial for them.
- Literature, music, sports, food, technology and even politics.
- They can work out, play basketball, or soccer.
- They can play piano, fiddle, drums, rap.
- They can make model airplanes and crafts.
- You can also travel and see the world.
But in China, where resources are severely lacking
- Everything needs money, but it is better just to study hard.
- So life in the internet has become the brainless choice of teenagers
- They watching variety shows instead of singing and making their own music and dancing
- They watching travel and food videos instead of travelling and cooking themselves.
All you need is a computer and an Internet. Isn’t it so easy and natural? It doesn’t cost anything. But this does not really bring real and fulfilling happiness. I’ve been cursing the Internet and watching variety shows. But after a long time doing this for a long time, I still feel empty. On the spiritual plane, I am missing something. But what is it I can find that I could depend on? after I get high with my friends every day. Watching movies every day gets boring after a while. Slow this changes to “feelings of emptiness inside”. Xu Kaiwen, deputy director of the Center for Mental Health at Peking University, said psychological problems are no longer the condition of individual students. Rather, It is like a “mental epidemic” that is persisting and spreading among Peking University students. For example, Peking University freshmen, over 30% of students are bored with learning. They think that learning is meaningless. And that’s Peking University. They’re all top students there!
Up to 40.4% of the students think that life is meaningless. They just live according to other people’s logic. The most extreme ones just give up on themselves. According to Chinese Ministry of Health data, suicide is the number one cause of death in China for young adults between 15 and 35 years of age.
To sum up, young people in China are lying flat. There are external factors:
- One is the huge and unresolved social class conflict in Chinese society
- Second, under such a disparate class conflict, the bottom class has no choice but to use the lie flat to resist the inner volume
- As young people in contemporary China, they have to work, buy a house, and pay off debts.
- The pressure from many sides is also the potential push young people towards lie flat. And as young people themselves
- Growing up in China under the Communist Party rule is a pathetic and crippled generation
- China’s perverse education and the prevailing conditions on the internet.
The end result is that young people who should be responsible, vigorous and active instead mentally empty and indifferent to everything. This is a social tragedy and a family tragedy. It is also the sorrow of a country. Other countries besides China have also seen things like lie flat. This is a common phenomenon. In the future we can delve into it more deeply.
But as a young person, I still want to say a word to those who support lying flat. It’s okay to lie flat once in a while, but the time you have now will never get back. You must have a positive, positive and optimistic attitude. Face the new day that Heaven has given you. Get up, without regrets, and keep moving ahead . Well, that’s the Real Viewpoint for today. Thank you for watching. I’m Zhen Fei. We’ll meet again soon.