"Lying flat" and "Buddha whatever" (part 2)

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A week or so ago, we looked at the phenomenon of "lying flat" (see under "Selected readings" below).

Karen Yang writes from China:

Hahahahha, tang ping ["lying flat"] was kind of a hot topic last month, for about one week. Maybe it’s because the College Entrance Exam was on-going, people tended to talk about life attitude such as tang ping or work hard. But you know how fast the Internet in China moves on,  so I wouldn’t say tang ping is a significant movement.

On the other hand, foxi (佛系) is a rather more frequently used word similar to tang ping. Basically it describes that young generations in East Asia, especially in Japan, tend to be indifferent or even negative about money, promotion, marriage, raising kids and so on, just like a Buddha. It’s an attitude in response to the heavy pressure brought by social development. 

It turns out that we went deeply into Fóxì 佛系 in this post, "Buddha whatever" (2/1/19), and that we determined it to have a Japanese origin starting from 2014.

After seven years of usage and study, we now have a good idea of the meaning, implications, and nuances of Fóxì 佛系 which, for the moment, I will translate as "Buddha-like", though we will examine the morphology and semantics of the expression in greater detail below.

Wiktionary has a basic, reliable entry for Fóxì 佛系:

  1. (slang, neologism, of a person) carefree, calm and easygoing (supposedly resembling a practitioner of Zen Buddhism); zen; chill
    佛系青年  ―  fóxì qīngnián  ―  zen youth (slang)

There is a long, thorough, magisterial article in Wikipedia, which has the following sections:


    1 Etymology
        1.1 Origins
        1.2 Morphology
        1.3 Roots in Buddhism and Chinese culture
        1.4 Social context
    2 Usage
        2.1 Technology industry
        2.2 Advertising
    3 Comparison to other subcultures
    4 Commentary
        4.1 Criticism
        4.2 Praise
    5 See also
    6 References
    7 Further reading

There's no question that Fó 佛 in this expression means "Buddha", but getting a handle on xì 系 is much more subtle and difficult.

According to Wiktionary, xì 系 means:

  1. department; faculty
    中文  ―  zhōngwén   ―  Chinese language faculty
  2. system
    太陽 / 太阳  ―  Tàiyáng  ―  the Solar system
  3. to belong to; to be part of; to fall under; to be categorised as; to be classified as

In the expression Fóxì 佛系, I suppose that 系 stands for "category" — like "Which 系 ('category') do you fall under / may you be classified as / belong to"?  It resembles another trendy word for grouping young people, viz., zú 族 ("clan; tribe") (see under "Selected readings" below).

In other words, by styling someone as Fóxì 佛系, you are saying that he or she belongs to the Buddha category of person — not interested in material, mundane things.

Through Googling, you can find the following renderings of Fóxì 佛系 at various places on the web:



having a calm attitude towards a difficult or disappointing situation

Used to convey a fatalistic recognition that future events are out of the speaker's control.

Que sera sera ("What will be, will be")

In the face of all the horrors we've been through during the last year and a half, which type would you rather be, Fóxì 佛系 ("Buddha-like") or tǎngpíng 躺平 ("lying flat")?  As for me, I'm a playfully oblivious adherent of the Zhuāngzi pài 莊子派 ("Chuang Tzu school").


Selected readings

  • "'Lying flat' and 'Involution': passive-aggressive resistance" (6/4/21)
  • "Tribes" (3/10/15)
  • Victor H. Mair, tr., Wandering on the Way: Early Taoist Tales and Parables of Chuang Tzu (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1998; first ed. New York:  Bantam, 1994); also available as Zhuangzi Bilingual Edition, translated by Victor H. Mair (English) and Minci Li (Modern Chinese) (Columbus:  The Ohio State University Foreign Language Publications, production of the National East Asian Languages Resource Center, OSU, 2019) — this is actually a trilingual edition, since the 736 pages volume also includes the original Classical Chinese version.


  1. Bathrobe said,

    June 24, 2021 @ 9:09 am

    This is a pretty standard Japanese usage. It’s used to describe what “tradition” or style a person belongs to. It’s basically an abbreviation of 系統 keitō. I can only think of one example of this: ビジュアル系 bijuaru-kei, “visual style”, applied to a visually aesthetic style of rock music band a few decades ago, but it can really be used for any kind of style or affiliation.

  2. Bathrobe said,

    June 24, 2021 @ 9:16 am

    As is obvious after you read it, my previous comment was related to the use of 系kei.

  3. rpsms said,

    June 24, 2021 @ 9:45 am

    I see a lot of use in the English discussions of "foxi" (including quotes) and some even seem to distinguish it from the Chinese (both in glyphs and spacing) in the same breath. Does this (possibly phantom) distinction actually exist and does it have a different pronunciation?

  4. rpsms said,

    June 24, 2021 @ 9:47 am

    (by Chinese glyphs I mean, the discussion frequently included actual Chinese and also Romanized renderings)

  5. Victor Mair said,

    June 24, 2021 @ 9:50 am


    Extremely good and important observations and questions. I hope that other commenters will be able to answer them.

  6. Bathrobe said,

    June 24, 2021 @ 2:32 pm

    Actually wiktionary has a good definition of 系 as a suffix that fits this usage exactly.

    系けい • (-kei)

    system, family quotations ▼
    kandō suru kei no kyoku
    an emotionally stirring kind of musical piece
    iyashi-kei no josei
    a soothing kind of woman
    moe-type anime

  7. Bathrobe said,

    June 24, 2021 @ 10:51 pm

    This Japanese website (https://www.chaitopi.com/2019/05/06/%E4%B8%AD%E5%9B%BD%E8%AA%9E%E3%81%AE%E6%B5%81%E8%A1%8C%E8%AA%9E%E3%83%BB%E7%AC%AC1%E5%BC%BE%EF%BC%88%E4%BD%9B%E7%B3%BB%E3%81%AA%E3%81%A9%EF%BC%89/) introduces the Chinese term 佛系 as follows (my loose translation edited from Google Translate):


    Fo-xi (仏系)

    Refers to a passive attitude towards life typified by the attitude that "anything will do" or "che sera sera". The appearance of "Fo-xi" dates to 2014 and is derived from the new word "Buddanshi (仏男子, Buddha boy)" introduced in Japanese women's fashion magazines. Buddanshi describes a young man who likes to move at his own pace and thinks that romance is a bother. It was exported to China in a slightly different form as "Fo-xi qingnian (佛系青年, Buddha-style youth)."


    "Fo-xi" began to become seriously popular in China in 2017 when "People born in the 90's are beginning to have a families" became a trending topic on Weibo. Chinese influencer Zhang Wei had a WeChat official account which coined expressions such as "Fo-xi food customers" and "Fo-xi gamers" to describe the lives of young people born in the 90's, and these became popular. It refers to phenomena such as eating yesterday's lunch today, or keeping on playing games without defeating your enemy.


    On the other hand, "Fo-xi" does not necessarily have a bad meaning. Many people become disgusted with life and choose a Fo-xi lifestyle. It can be said that living by doing what you like without worrying about the opinions of others is a kind of high-level lifestyle.

    — Note that the article claims that "Fo-xi" was actually coined in China based on a slightly different Japanese expression.

  8. Bathrobe said,

    June 24, 2021 @ 10:56 pm

    I note that much of this content (and more) is found at the Wikipedia article.

  9. Bathrobe said,

    June 25, 2021 @ 2:17 pm

    In fact, this could be a case where the Chinese have created a new expression on the Japanese model that does not actually exist in Japanese.

  10. Bathrobe said,

    June 25, 2021 @ 5:01 pm

    I'm a bit slow to come up to speed here. All the explanations about the etymology/morphology, both here and at Wikipedia, seem to be missing something. I'll try to fill in the missing links.

    First, as has been pointed out, the term 佛系 does not exist in Japanese. In fact, it's not even clear how it should be read in Japanese. Butsu-kei? Hotoke-kei? (The second is complicated by the fact that it can mean either 'Buddha' or 'deceased person' in Japanese.)

    The expression that is used in Japanese is "Buddanshi". This can be written ぶっ男子 or 仏男子. As Nathan Hopson pointed out, it is a portmanteau word; it consists of 仏陀 Budda 'Buddha' plus 男子 danshi 'man, male'. In fact, 仏男子 could theoretically be read a number of ways, including hotoke-danshi, hotoke-otoko, butsu-danshi, butsu-otoko, even butsu-danji (on the model of Kyūshū-danji 'Kyushu male', noted for his masculinity), but it's not, because, as a portmanteau, this is actually a kind of play on words: Budda + danshi = Buddanshi.

    So much for the Japanese side.

    In Chinese 佛系 is explained above as meaning "to belong to; to be part of; to fall under; to be categorised as; to be classified as". It seems to me that this is missing the point. 佛系 may be Chinese, but it is actually modelled on Japanese. (In Japanese the term 和製英語 wa-sei eigo 'Japanese-created English' is used for words like アフターサービス afutā-sābisu 'after service' = 'after-sales service', which looks like English but is found only in Japanese. 佛系 is a kind of "Chinese-created Japanese". It looks like Japanese but is in fact a Chinese invention.)

    The key here is the word 系. In Japanese it has several related meanings, the most important being 'forming a connected group'. From this it is found in expressions like 理科系 rika-kei (the sciences as opposed to the arts) and 外資系 gaishi-kei 'foreign (company)'. It is also semantically related to 系統 keitō, which refers to 'lineage'. It has become very popular as a word referring to a loose lineage or grouping, such as the examples from Wiktionary above, and in this sense it is loosely equivalent to 族 zoku 'tribe', although it does not represent such a tightly-bound group as 族 zoku. It's common in the popular arts, as in ビジュアル系 bijuaru-kei 'visual-style' or 萌え系 moe-kei 'moe-style'. It seems to me that the Chinese have specifically copied this usage in coining 佛系. And while it bears the strong imprint of this Japanese usage, it doesn't exist in Japanese — in fact, it sounds awkward in Japanese, and my feeling is that it is only likely to catch on in Japan if it is re-imported from Chinese.

    There is a certain sloppiness in the wording of the Wikipedia article, which I suspect was largely written by Chinese speakers. The article blithely states that “The neologism "Buddha-like" or "foxi" (Chinese: 佛系) was used for the first time in a 2014 issue of the Japanese women's fashion magazine Non-no” . No it wasn't. The term ぶっ男子 originated in a 2014 issue of the Japanese women's fashion magazine Non-no). 佛系 originated in China, and as I said, is a Chinese term, modelled on Japanese usage, inspired by the Non-no term. The equation of 'Buddha-like mindset', '佛系‘, and 'ぶっ男子' as though the three are exactly the same word is the cause of the confusion.

  11. Bathrobe said,

    June 25, 2021 @ 6:05 pm

    Two amendments:

    Hotoke-kei? (The second is complicated by the fact that hotoke can mean either 'Buddha' or 'deceased person' in Japanese.)

    佛系青年 fóxì qīngnián 'Buddha-style youth' originated in China, and as I said, is a Chinese term, modelled on Japanese usage

  12. Victor Mair said,

    June 25, 2021 @ 10:17 pm

    Exchange between Bathrobe and VHM

    Bathrobe: After a few blundering attempts I've finally figured out what is wrong with etymologies given for 佛系, which fail to draw a clear distinction between languages.

    VHM: No wonder I couldn't get any Japanese specialists to tell me how to pronounce 仏系 in Japanese.

    Bathrobe: Hah!

    Yes, interlingual usages are difficult between languages like Chinese and Japanese, where use of the same script can confuse things. Chinese seem particularly prone to confusing language and script, as the Wikipedia article suggests.

    My personal theory is this:

    The Japanese term was picked up by a Chinese person in Japan. That person would have had to be well versed in the latest fads and youth culture in Japan.

    When it came to explaining ぶっ男子 in Chinese, however, "佛男子" didn't really cut it. Does it mean some kind of Buddhist boy? So what better than to create a faux-Japanese term that people in gaming, manga, anime and other Japanese-themed subcultures in China would understand? How about "仏系青年" (butsu-kei seinen)? Sounds trendy Japanesey (ending in 系), as we want it to, and gets the meaning across perfectly — a "tribe" of young people with Buddha-like characteristics.

    No guarantee that this is correct, but if it is, it would seem to be a nice example of cross-linguistic fertilisation.

    Mind you, this is only a theory (although I think it's probably right). I haven't backed it with research into sources.

    That Wikipedia article is really new! 1 June 2021. It is very hard to tell whether the creator is Chinese or not. Could be someone working from Chinese sources who got their wires tangled, and thought that 佛系 was really used in Nonno.

  13. Josh R said,

    June 27, 2021 @ 7:41 pm

    Many thanks to Bathrobe for perfectly encapsulating and recording for posterity the same dive down this rabbit hole that I experienced.

  14. Josh R said,

    June 27, 2021 @ 7:45 pm

    An added note.

    I dare say that, stripped of context, a Japanese person encountering 仏男子 for the first time would likely read it "futsu-danshi" and assume it referred to French boys, 仏 being the kanji shorthand for France.

    Note 2: Today I learned that my IME will automatically convert ぶっだんし into 仏男子. Either Microsoft's IME updaters are REALLY on the ball, or I am REALLY out of the loop.

  15. Victor Mair said,

    July 3, 2021 @ 8:19 am

    Chinese Millennials Are ‘Chilling,’ and Beijing Isn’t Happy About It



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