"Lying flat" and "Involution": passive-aggressive resistance

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In recent days, many people have called to my attention the phenomenon of tǎngpíng 躺平 ("lying flat") in the PRC.  At first I thought it was just another passing fad of little significance, but the more I hear about it, the more I realize that it is a viral trend having potentially unsettling consequences for the CCP.
One of my former students who is now living in China observes:

"Lying flat" used to be a common phrase referring to people vapidly lounging around with no particular deeper meaning. But now it’s becoming a trend for the younger generation who don’t want to make an effort to work so hard as they did in the past. This has become more popular since COVID-19 as more people start to work from home (I guess it’s not as intensive as what they are used to do in offices).

Another student from the PRC who has been stuck there for a year because of travel restrictions says:

Oh yes it's REALLY popular now! A month ago it had only been popular among the younger generations (already for some time though), and didn't have so strong a sense of cynicism, but now even my mom uses it quite often. 

I wouldn't call it a movement but rather a buzzword that reflects some of the most serious social problems in China. The party has been trying to stigmatize it (so far very unsuccessful)….  There are many fun memes online if you do a simple search (e.g., here, here, and here).

A third student, also stuck in the PRC for more than a year, who herself contracted the virus in January of 2020, surmises that "'lying flat' epitomizes an anti-state sentiment among urban young people, who are full of passive aggression."

One PRC student who managed, with great difficulty, to come to the States, assesses "lying flat" as follows:

I personally feel it’s rather an undercurrent? My acquaintances and relatives in China do not explicitly label themselves as tǎngpíng 躺平-ists, but they are tacitly participating in it.
One of its direct causes, nèijuǎn 内卷 (lit., "inward roll", i.e., "involution"), is definitely a dire problem right now. A TV Series titled "Xiǎo shědé 小捨得 (English title:  "A Love for Dilemma") just came out in April, depicting the phenomenon of involution in Chinese education. It was a miniature so vivid that many parents who watched it could not bear to have their innermost anxiety and helplessness exposed. I heard that they complained about the drama on social media, which resulted in its cursory finale. Apparently we are all wearing the emperor’s new clothes now.  Tǎngpíng 躺平 as a last resort makes me feel utterly suffocating.

Later the same day, she added:

Perhaps I was being mawkish over stories I heard, though I believe they represent true miseries. Thank you for bringing up this term. I have been noticing the phenomenon but was not aware of its formal name. Such a coincidence that a friend I met today also mentioned tǎngpíng 躺平 to me.

Aside from expressing one's desire not to be a fruitless workaholic, being a tǎngpíng 躺平-ist and adopting such a supine / prone position has the added advantage of keeping a low profile, especially when hundreds of millions of other people are doing the same thing.


Selected reading


[Thanks to Zihan Guo, Yixue Yang, Xiuyuan Mi, and Jinyi Cai]


  1. Peter Grubtal said,

    June 5, 2021 @ 2:17 am

    Insofar as it covers a political stance, this sounds, especially "involution", like the "innere Emigration" phenomenon of Germany in the Nazi period.

  2. Bathrobe said,

    June 5, 2021 @ 2:32 am

    I missed Diana Shuheng Zhang's post in December last year. And what a marvellous post it was. It sums up many things I've felt about China and its obsession with its ancient literature. The sheer volume of ancient works (don't worry about the quality) makes it into its own huge fishpond, constantly obsessed with itself, convinced of its own virtue, mostly closed to outsiders.

    This calls to mind two anecdotes (which I may already have mentioned):

    1) A party official in Inner Mongolia (Han Chinese married to Inner Mongolian) told a group of us one time: "The Chinese have a vast literary culture; the Mongols, on the other hand, haven't recorded much at all. Does this make Chinese culture superior? Of course not. China's magnificent literary culture was often used to record the most trivial details, like the minutiae of what the Emperor had for breakfast. On the other hand, the lack of a written record does not make what the Mongols have done trifling or meaningless."

    2) In preparation for the opening of a Lotus Museum in China, one of our staff pored over ancient manuscripts to find references to the lotus by the ancients. Not once did this staff member bother to consult scientific sources concerning the botanical or biological characteristics of the lotus. He seems to have thought this was irrelevant. Many Chinese seem to have a similar mindset: whatever the ancients wrote has huge value in itself, with no need to bother going outside that tradition.

  3. Paul said,

    June 5, 2021 @ 10:21 am

    This is excellent and ties into much. Many view the Chinese are merely rapacious. While it is true that avarice is a driving cultural force, the Chinese have other competing cultural drivers.

    For example, all things being equal, Chinese want to maximize options. A dozen mainlanders will arrive at San Francisco International Airport car, informing a rental car agent that they would like to add each one of their group as a co-driver to each vehicle, so that they can swap around at will. The car rental agent refuses to create a dozen contracts—with a dozen driver licenses attached to each—and the Chinese cannot imagine why!

    Another cultural driver is minimizing effort. China’s leading strategy is the cat’s paw. That’s where they get another to do their dirty work. The entire point of Chinese gangs is to outsource pressure. China manufacturing is still completely fragmented, because factories often chooses to send out work even when they can do the works themselves. Sending an order to a shadow factory reduces environmental liability, tax liability, workers compensation liability, and it also reduces the amount of stuff that needs to be managed overall.

    China historians rarely consider the Canton System as an outcropping of this same cultural inclination. At the beginning of its trade with foreign powers, the emperor assigned a single agent who would do the trade and send taxes back to Beijing. Unable to rely on a single person, a system was created whereby about a dozen agents (hoppo) were authorized to do trade on behalf of the emperor. The agents could keep an eye on one another to ensure there was no cheating. They would work together to fight against piracy. They would loan one another money when capital needed to be raised quickly in order to do a deal.

    I’ve never heard anyone else propose as much, but more than the harmful effects of opium, the emperor was infuriated when this no-effort, self-autonomous system broke down. The hoppo had begun to take bribes and change tonnage, thereby reducing taxes that could be collected by the central government. This coincided with smuggling, which meant an even lower tax base. The self-regulating system worked, until it didn’t.

    All of this goes hand in hand with centuries of idleness, the growing out of fingernails among the literati class. It ties in with tea houses and long hours spent gossiping and playing mahjong. A wife who marries well is not asked to do anything at all. She doesn’t work, nor does she raise kids. She has helpers to clean, cook and dote on children.

    Foreigners who have settled in China note how they were changed by the experience. This was the case in literature from the early 20th century anyway.

    China is “the greatest sedative,” wrote Rodney Gilbert (1923), who also suggested that invading barbarians underwent a kind of taming process as they adjusted to life in the empire. Beginning as warriors, these victors caught the civilization bug and determined to settle down. The Manchu desired to become sophisticated, and as they did so, they found themselves owning fewer and fewer of those “aggressive and annoying qualities” that qualify a people to rule.

  4. wanda said,

    June 5, 2021 @ 12:57 pm

    @Paul: Wow. Essentialist much?

    Can someone expand on what "nèijuǎn 内卷" means? I don't feel like I quite understood it from the quote.

  5. David Marjanović said,

    June 5, 2021 @ 2:09 pm

    @Paul: Wow. Essentialist much?

    Yeah, plus a remarkable blind eye to parallels all over European history…

    qualify a people to rule

    I do prefer being lazy over having that mindset, thankyouverymuch.

    whatever the ancients wrote has huge value in itself, with no need to bother going outside that tradition.

    That, BTW, has often been popular in the West, too. There are still people who treat "already the great Aristotle said" as an argument.

  6. SS said,

    June 5, 2021 @ 3:21 pm

    @wanda: The South China Morning Post article linked in the 12/23/20 seems to have the best definitions: "the word ["nèijuǎn"] has come to symbolise that a higher education degree or additional skills do not guarantee better career prospects" and "the term represented a kind of helplessness felt by many young Chinese".

  7. Bathrobe said,

    June 5, 2021 @ 7:43 pm

    That, BTW, has often been popular in the West, too. There are still people who treat "already the great Aristotle said" as an argument.

    I agree wholeheartedly.

    Essentialist much?

    Anyone who tries to come up with their own grand overall view of the qualities of a culture or the great trends of history is going to end up essentialising, most likely from their own particular bias. Even if you write a series of weighty tomes you will end up essentialising (see Toynbee). That is why I left my comment at an impression and a couple of anecdotes. Diana Shuheng Zhan said it much better.

    But even if such attempts end up being "essentialist", they can be interesting and useful in their own terms. Paul summed up what he saw as the cultural characteristics of the (Han) Chinese based on his what seem to be his own study and experience. I found his observations interesting and felt they contained at least a grain of truth. They are certainly a step up from less charitable interpretations that would simply characterise the Chinese as "wily".

  8. Bathrobe said,

    June 5, 2021 @ 8:34 pm

    Diana Shuheng Zhang. Sloppy copy and paste.

  9. Bathrobe said,

    June 5, 2021 @ 9:29 pm

    Explanations of 内卷 are definitely puzzling; it's a term I hadn't encountered. I think the semantics is this: something that should be evolving, flowering, and growing outwards is, instead, growing inwards upon itself. Its growing intricacy leads to greater and greater internal pressure that simply leads to more pressure, with nowhere to go. (Maybe like an ingrown toenail :))

  10. wanda said,

    June 6, 2021 @ 2:19 am

    @Bathrobe: "Anyone who tries to come up with their own grand overall view of the qualities of a culture or the great trends of history is going to end up essentialising, most likely from their own particular bias."
    OK, let me try. My claim is that "the Chinese" are hard-working. "My mother works three jobs at age 72 and refuses to let me support her, partially because she wants to use her Chinese language teaching credential that she finally earned at age 65. Her hairdresser in Flushing works every day of the year except Chinese New Year. We've seen in China and Taiwan recover from devastating wars to build industrial empires and drastically raise their material standard of living in only a few decades. We've seen the Chinese abroad enter top-ranked universities in disproportionately large numbers, to the point where admissions committees raise the admissions bars for them. The only way they could have achieved these feats was through many people working very, very hard."

    See how easy it was to just write stuff? Yes, we're just writing blog comments, but one of the things I enjoy about this blog is that I'm one of the least knowledgeable people here about the subjects under study, so I get to learn stuff from the other commenters. Essentialism is dangerous, and it needs strong, systemic evidence to back it up. That is especially true when you cast aspersions on an entire people, as Paul does when he calls the Chinese greedy and lazy. Paul neither analyzes the totality of the evidence nor, as David Marjanovic points out, provides any evidence that the Chinese are lazier than Europeans. So, I think it's his comment that's lazy.

  11. wanda said,

    June 6, 2021 @ 2:20 am

    @SS: Thanks! I should have been less lazy and looked at the linked articles.

  12. Bathrobe said,

    June 6, 2021 @ 2:59 am

    One of the most essentialising books about the Japanese is also one of the most famous: The Chrysanthemum and the Sword by Ruth Benedict. She wrote it during the war (I believe) and had never been to Japan, basing her work on existing material and research. One of her claims was that the West had a culture of "guilt" while the Japanese had a culture of "shame". That meant (by implication) that the Japanese would do bad things quite free of guilt, as long as they didn't get caught out and shamed for their behaviour. It was well researched — it wasn't easy to write like your short caricature. It was also a very influential book and well respected. It took many years before it was very gradually debunked. I also have a book somewhere by one Tamie S. Lebra. It's a very interesting and useful book but carries a whiff of Nihonjin-ron ("Japanese-are-unique"), which is unfortunately very common in Japanese writing about Japan (if you will forgive the "essentialisation"). I'm afraid that it detracted from its value for me, but that did not stop me from profiting from its insights.

    Paul has obviously attempted to get behind the "wily Chinese" stereotype through his own observations and study of history and behaviour. Yes, it's a slanted view, and probably prejudiced, but it tries to dig deeper than the usual stereotypes by looking at the possible reasons for such behaviour or characteristics.

    I don't know how many foreign countries you've lived in, but in my experience people always attempt to come to an understanding of the country they are in by building up their own mental picture of and explanation for the characteristics of the country they are in. There are always aspects that puzzle or repel. You have to come up with some kind of rationalisation in order to interact with the country and its people, whether to do your job well, not give offence to people, or not get taken for a ride. Some of these representations are fairer than others. Open-mindedness and a willingness to accept people as people, wherever they are, is a good start. But it's never as simple as that.

    The concept of 'essentialisation' is a useful one, but the word is, in my opinion, too often used as a way of airily dismissing an opinion you don't like. I would never use it. It's too easy — to criticise someone for essentialising is, in effect, a way of nullifying everything they have to say, even those parts that have value as an observation, or as a departure point for further discussion. I would agree that Paul appears to have a rather jaundiced view of the Chinese, but teasing prejudice, preconceptions, essentialisation, and useful observations apart is the first step to a deeper understanding. To use the word 'essentialise' is to put up a road block from the very start.

  13. Bathrobe said,

    June 6, 2021 @ 3:11 am

    The T S Lebra book is Japanese Patterns of Behavior.

  14. Bathrobe said,

    June 6, 2021 @ 3:12 am

    And it was Takie S Lebra.

  15. Philip Taylor said,

    June 6, 2021 @ 3:34 am

    Are "essentialist" and "essentialisation" vogue words ? I had no idea what Wanda meant when she wrote "Wow. Essentialist much?", and I am no wiser having now read a further fourteen instances or so …

  16. Philip Taylor said,

    June 6, 2021 @ 3:35 am

    "no wiser" -> "not much wiser".

  17. Bathrobe said,

    June 6, 2021 @ 3:39 am

    The dictionary is your friend:

    Verb: essentialize

    characterize (a quality or trait) as fundamental or intrinsic to a particular type of person or thing

    "this approach is controversial because it could essentialize the ‘peaceful’ nature of women"

    portray or explain (a particular type of person or thing) in terms of one or more stereotypical or supposedly intrinsic traits.

    "nineties culture, over time, has been essentialized into a few symbols"

  18. Philip Taylor said,

    June 6, 2021 @ 3:47 am

    Thank you, but I now see (courtesy of Google Ngrams) that it is indeed a vogue word, having been virtually non-existent prior to the early 1980s. Probably another neologism without which we could happily have continued to exist for another millenium or so …

  19. Bathrobe said,

    June 6, 2021 @ 5:03 am

    You will also find that "essentialise" had a different meaning before the 1980s. For example:

    We idealize and essentialize and seek to know the very essence of personality, as personal idealists and yet, as empirical realists, we try to know psychologically what personality is and does. (1951)

  20. Philip Taylor said,

    June 6, 2021 @ 5:17 am

    So of the OED's two definitions (see below), was the 1951 writer using the first ? When I read your quotation, and before consulting the OED, I thought that the writer meant "regard as essential" rather than "make essential", but as he/she is writing of "essentiali[sing] … the essence [of something] I wonder if there was an unintentional tautology here …
    †a. transitive. To make essential; to give essence or being to. Obsolete.
    1669 T. Gale tr. Plato in Court of Gentiles: Pt. I iii. iii. 325 The Divine Opificer, by whose..effective word, althings were essentializ'd.

    b. To formulate in essential form, to express the essential form of.

  21. Victor Mair said,

    June 6, 2021 @ 5:26 am

    I remember when I was back in college and graduate school, and during the early stages of my career, I was always stumped when people would invoke sixty-four thousand dollar words like "essentializing", thinking thereby to clinch any argument without further evidence. Another such bellringer proclamation was "reification", and I found it curious that "essentializing" and "reification" mean pretty much the same thing. It really troubled me that such pompous, empty words had so much power in and of themselves. Later, I learned to ignore them and go forward with my historical and lexicographical research. So I am grateful to Bathrobe and Philip Taylor for helping me understand better the background of "essentializing" and the concept of "vogue words". This kind of thoughtful analysis puts matters in a much clearer perspective.

  22. Bathrobe said,

    June 6, 2021 @ 5:36 am

    I think the meaning is b., to formulate in essential form. That is, the person is attempting to find the essence of.

    The modern meaning puts the attempt to "formulate in essential form" in a negative light, by taking the meaning as "to ignore diversity and forcibly (wrongly) impose a judgement of what the essential character of something is (especially people or groups of people)". I think that what aggravated Paul's sin was that he imposed a negative stereotype on the Chinese. I agree that he showed a jaundiced attitude and generalised too generously, but I thought his examples showed an interesting take on certain kinds of behaviour on the part of some (many?) Chinese people.

  23. Scott P. said,

    June 6, 2021 @ 6:49 am

    that it is indeed a vogue word, having been virtually non-existent prior to the early 1980s.

    A usage that is 40 years old is 'vogue'???

    Anyway, 23 skidoo.

  24. David C. said,

    June 6, 2021 @ 10:03 am

    From this interesting discussion, I am reminded of Lu Xun's earlier works from the early 20th century satirizing the "national character" of the Chinese, including 阿Q正傳 (The True Story of Ah Q) [self-rationalizing failures as victories], and 狂人日記 (A Madman's Diary) [the cannibalization of individuals in the traditional Confucian society]. There are also parallels with Hu Shih's short story 差不多先生傳 (The Chronicles of Mr. Good Enough).

    I appreciate what Bathrobe has said so far about developing impressions about a country, its culture(s), and its people. These insights are by their nature generalized and overly broad, but they are useful in understanding how some/many in a culture are motivated, and how they tend to behave or react.

    I argue that many writers in China to this day reflect on and are preoccupied with theorizing on what makes the Chinese different, particularly in the current context of heightened tensions with the West.

    Rather than any "idleness" inherent in Chinese culture, I would attribute the desire to "lie flat" to many of the same economic factors that younger generations around the world are confronting with – concentration of wealth, unaffordable housing, decline in social mobility, slowing productivity growth, and the emergence of a class of overeducated workers.

    On top of that, it's also probably a reaction to the relentless messaging from the Chinese state in the past few years to 不负青春、不负韶华、不负时代 (live up to your youth, live up to the times) and to 奉献 (devote oneself [to the country]).

  25. ulr said,

    June 6, 2021 @ 2:43 pm

    "non-existent prior to the early 1980s"

    The concept of (methodological) essentialism plays a large role in Karl Popper's The Poverty of Historicism and The Open Society and Its Enemies, both of which were published in the 1940s. And Popper points out that the notion goes back to Plato's Theory of Forms.

  26. Bathrobe said,

    June 6, 2021 @ 4:50 pm

    Thank you to David C and ulr for your comments.

    With regard to foreigners' views about the cultures they live in, I would like to mention Andrew Watt's book The Truth About Japan!, published in 1989 by Tuttle. It's a relatively light-hearted book consisting of short quotes from what countless different foreigners have said about Japan since the Meiji era. One of my favourites is a 19th century observation that the Japanese were too lazy to ever make anything of themselves.

  27. Philip Taylor said,

    June 7, 2021 @ 8:00 am

    One might also mention The Bonjour Effect: The Secret Codes of French Conversation Revealed by Julie Barlow & Jean-Benoit Nadeau, which I not only enjoyed enormously but from which I learned a great deal.

  28. C.M. said,

    June 7, 2021 @ 1:33 pm

    Here's an interesting metaphor I heard in a podcast recently:

    Originally used to refer to people who reinvest (speculatively) in the stock market after repeated losses, "jiu3cai4" (lit. chives) now commonly refers to people who are supportive of, or at least turn a blind eye to, being exploited by others (esp. the government). This is ostensibly because chives grow back after being cut — if you're a chive, then even after you get exploited many times, you still grow back to keep getting exploited.

    On the other hand, those who tang3ping2 are in a sense the opposite of jiu3cai4, because they are lying flat – the sickle that is the government is unable to cut them as it swoops by.

  29. Victor Mair said,

    June 7, 2021 @ 5:14 pm


    Thank you very much for calling this metaphor, jiǔcài 韭菜 ("leeks"), to our attention.

    In the original metaphor about investing in the stock market after repeated losses, jiǔ ("leeks") would be a pun for jiǔ 久 ("long [term]; old), and cài 菜 ("vegetables") would be a pun for cái 财 ("money; wealth")

  30. Victor Mair said,

    June 7, 2021 @ 6:21 pm

    Chinese Generations Y and Z Caught Between “Involution” and “Lying Down”


    Involution (内卷 Nei Juan) and Lying Down (躺平 Tang Ping) have become buzzwords among Generations Y (born in the 1990’s) and Z (born in 2000) in China. One refers to “excessive competition” while the other one indicates “dropping out of competition.” Both of them reflect the frustration of China’s younger generation towards the fierce competition in society.

    On Weibo, there are over 1 billion views on topics related to “Involution.” In 2020, “Involution” became one of the “top ten buzzwords” in China. Involution came from Clifford Geertz who used it to describe the agricultural process in which many centuries of intensifying wet-rice cultivation in Indonesia had produced greater social complexity without significant technological or political change. Generations Y and Z in China use it to describe their feeling of powerlessness when faced with competition. If they don’t work hard and don’t compete, they will fall behind or end up dropping out; they are repressed and unable to make a breakthrough. What they are facing is unlike the1990’s or early 2000 when China’s economy was taking off. That was the time when their parents benefited. Generations Y and Z missed that window. Meanwhile they have also found that their parents or employers do not understand them very well.

    In April 2021, six months after the word “Involution” gained popularity, Lying Down (躺平 Tang Ping) appeared. It is a way that those in the younger generation show their resistance to “Involution.” “Lying Down” means that Generations X & Y withdraw from the competition by giving up what they think is meaningless. The state media quickly expressed concern and even condemned the words. Guangming Daily pointed out that “Lying Down” is disadvantageous to economic and social development. The society needs the younger generation to bring “creative contributions” when China’s economic development is facing challenges such as an aging population. Nanfang Daily criticized that it is shameful to “Lie Down” and not making an effort. Other media call it an irresponsible attitude towards their parents and tens and millions of tax payers. The official media reports are merely there to maintain social stability. They had to allow the younger generations to release their frustrations, but many people will undoubtedly regard “Lying Down” as a social problem.

    Source: BBC, June 2, 2021

  31. Mark Metcalf said,

    June 8, 2021 @ 9:27 am

    Additional insights (see Topic 1) from last week's Slow Chinese Newsletter:

    The unfairness faced by lying flat-ists is captured in this single confusing sentence:


    Edited Google Translation:

    "Small town expert test takers" thought that when they went to college, the Carp would Jump through the Dragon's Gate. But after falling down, they fell into a spicy hot pot and found that they had become "985 trash."

    To understand it, you need to know these three phrases:

    小镇做题家 (Xiǎo zhèn zuò tí jiā) – ‘small town expert test taker’

    Students from small towns at prestigious universities who got there with brilliant test scores from school. Once at uni, they realise there’s a huge gap between themselves and kids from middle or upper-class families in big cities, who have ‘better resources, more vision and more confidence’.

    鲤鱼跳了龙门 (Lǐyú tiàole lóngmén) – the Carp Jumped the Dragon Gate [becoming a dragon]

    Ancient Chinese folklore about the Yellow River Carp (黄河鲤鱼 – Huánghé lǐyú), a golden-scaled fish and one of the few that can survive the muddy water of the Yellow River. Legend has it that if the carp jumps over the Dragon Gate (in Yellow River Canyon in Hejin City, Shanxi Province) it will become a dragon. It’s a metaphor for describing brilliant people who have succeeded against all odds through hard work.

    985废物 (Jiǔbāwǔ Fèiwù) – [Project] 985 trash

    Project 985 (985工程 – Jiǔbāwǔ gōngchéng) was a programme to develop China’s elite universities announced at the 100th anniversary of Peking University on May 4, 1998. The name derives from the date of the announcement – May 1998, or 98/5. Its ‘waste products’ or ‘trash’ are students who have have graduated from elite universities but not gone on to have successful careers. On 10 May, 2020, a small group on Dou Ban was formed called 985废物引进计划 – ‘985 trash introduction plan’ for graduates to share their experiences. Within 3 months nearly 100,000 members had joined the group.

  32. David Marjanović said,

    June 9, 2021 @ 11:57 am

    I first encountered the term essentialism in discussions about taxonomic nomenclature in biology. Linné's approach was essentialist: an animal or plant belongs to a certain group if it has the essence of that group. An essence that evolves isn't an essence, however, and so this approach is not workable.

  33. Mark Metcalf said,

    June 10, 2021 @ 12:36 pm

    Yesterday's Financial Times had an article that provides more background information on this topic:
    ‘Obedience and fear’: the brutal working conditions behind China’s tech boom


    Unfortunately, I think it's behind a paywall.

  34. Philip Taylor said,

    June 10, 2021 @ 1:51 pm

    It is indeed (behind a pay-wall, that is), but this link appears to bypass that obstacle, at least for me.

  35. Victor Mair said,

    June 11, 2021 @ 8:53 am

    "Supine subversion: Why Chinese leaders worry about ‘tangping’ types"

    Week in China Jun 11, 2021 (WiC 544)


  36. Philip Taylor said,

    June 13, 2021 @ 2:10 pm

    "Malwarebytes", which I trust implicitly, warns me that the "weekinchina" site is compromised and refuses to allow me to go there unless I add it to a list of exceptions (which I have no intentions of doing). So, for anyone else interested in the story but unwilling to risk visiting an allegedly compromised site, here follows Google's cached version :

    Tsinghua: producing nannies

    A few weeks ago Chinese social media saw a marked uptick in the number of cat photos posted online. Only this time these cats weren’t playing with balls of string or balancing on top of bookcases – they were lying flat on their backs, supine, arms stretched straight by their sides.

    Other images included seals doing the same thing: lying flat on their backs, motionless.

    Many of these images were accompanied by the label tangping or ‘lying flat’ – a new buzzword for China’s disillusioned youth.

    Tangping is the latest iteration of a wider concept known as neijuan or ‘involution’. The idea is simple: it requires too much sacrifice to succeed in modern China. Jobs are excessively demanding, house prices are too high and raising children is too difficult (we first mentioned the tangping concept in last week’s Talking Point; see WiC543).

    The claim is that people are more than likely to burn out before they achieve the basic trappings of success, and that personal happiness is just as likely to be elusive too.

    So the solution is to step off the hamster wheel and give up the struggle – or, in the lexicon of the day, to simply tangping. The much discussed subject has accrued 1.8 billion views on Sina Weibo.

    Of course, this is not a message that the Chinese government likes to hear. It wants the young to have more children. It wants them to work hard so that China can become the rich and powerful nation it aspires to be.

    Hence the Southern Daily decries the new philosophy as “shameless” in a commentary that was also picked up by Xinhua and the People’s Daily. “The only happy life is a hardworking life,” it admonishes.

    The Guangming Daily agrees, slamming the new mantra as a disaster for the country’s economic and social development.

    The phrase originated on a now censored Tieba post in mid-April. The author was a young man going by the online name of ‘Goodhearted Traveller’. In the post he describes how he attained personal “freedom” by cutting his consumption and becoming comfortable with the idea of not being employed in a formal job for a living. He goes on to explain that he hasn’t held a full-time job in two years and that he spends as little as Rmb200 a month on essentials. If he needs a cash infusion he simply picks up a casual job – often playing a corpse at a nearby film studio.

    “Lying flat is my movement,” he wrote, referencing the Greek philosopher Diogenes, who made a virtue of poverty and was said to have lived ascetically in Athens.

    The debate about tangping continued last week – albeit in a more nuanced way – when it emerged that a graduate of the prestigious Tsinghua University had taken a job as a nanny. So was this another example of a demotivated youth not living up to her career potential, netizens wondered?

    It subsequently emerged that the woman had been hired by a wealthy family for her language skills and was set to earn a high salary by local standards of Rmb35,000 ($3,864) a month.

    That suggests she’d taken a route that was more ‘private educator’ than tangping disciple.

  37. /df said,

    June 14, 2021 @ 5:24 am

    "lying flat-ist" ? Surely "slacker" has that exact meaning?

    As in this NME article "The top ten movie slackers of all time" which begins …

    "The slacker is Generation X boiled down into a single film trope. Coming off the slick, soulless and frankly disastrous 80s, an entire generation just gave up, turned up the volume and lit a joint. …"

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