“Do you want to see how it starts?” asks Ying Feng, 21, before turning on her camera to show the green hills above the Chinese city of Xiamen. Stretching all the way to the coast, the city’s skyscrapers rise like logs of steel and concrete above the green surroundings.
A breeze catches Ying Feng’s black hair and summer dress as she sits back to watch the city come to life. A lonely bird sings her song.
“My parents taught me that if I needed peace, I would find it in church and in prayer,” he says in the WeChat call.
“But here, in the hills outside Xiamen, I have found more calm than Christianity could give me.”
As he speaks, the first rays of the rising sun hit his face on the water beyond Xiamen.
“If only I could stop the sun right there,” he whispers, his eyes fixed on the orange-red hue of the sky. “Then I could stay here.”
But she can’t stay. Instead, she stands up and puts her mask back on.
“I should go back,” she says suddenly sounding very tired even though the day has just started.
“Work on my teaching internship will start soon.”
When Ying Feng calls back, 14 hours have passed and she is in her rented apartment carefully folding her graduation gown.
He recently completed a degree in music and teaching at university, but the occasion was marked less by celebration and more by anxiety.
“I really couldn’t be happy about that when I know how tough things are going to be after the summer,” he explains.
Before her is the prospect of a week’s work as an elementary school teacher during the day, private tutoring at night, and piano lessons on the weekends. Even if she assumes all of that, she feels she won’t be able to earn enough to save for an apartment or start a family.
When asked if the prospect of an intense working life with low wages had made her reconsider her career path, Ying Feng fell silent.
“Sorry,” he apologizes and lets out an exhausted laugh. “12 hours of internship work has exhausted my brain. What was the question again?
Hearing the question once again, Ying Feng sighs.
“Well, sometimes I just want to lie down and let it all rot.”
Ying Feng is not alone in her frustration.
“Lie down” (tang ping) and “let it rot” (bai lan) are two terms that have become rallying cries for young Chinese exasperated by the Chinese job market, as well as society’s broader expectations. China.
Since the spring of 2021, Chinese social media users such as Douban, WeChat, and Weibo have been sharing their own stories of leaving behind careers and ambitions to embrace a minimalist lifestyle with room for free time and self-exploration.
Among them are Alice Lu, 31, and Wei-zhe Wu, 29.
Lu had been working in the communications and media department of a large IT company in Shanghai when he fell ill.
“I had been working weekdays, weekends, days and nights for years when I felt my body and mind break down,” she explains.
He had to take some time off to recover, and during that time he began to question his work-life balance. In the end, he decided not to go back to his field, but to open a noodle shop.
The store may not be a big deal, but it’s up to me. I now own my own schedule and find that I finally have time to just do nothing.”
It was also after a breakdown that Wu began to rethink his career.
“In my case, it was my senior colleague who collapsed on the factory floor during an overnight inspection,” he says.
“Then I began to wonder if that would also be my destiny eventually.”
At the time, Wei-zhe Wu was working 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. six days a week as a project leader at a chemical plant on the outskirts of Jinan, a northeastern city halfway between Beijing and Shanghai.
“Although work took up all my time, I realized that the dreams I had for my life could not be achieved with my work at the plant.”
He stands up and pulls back a curtain to reveal the lights of Jinan’s downtown skyscraper twinkling in the night.
“I could never afford to live there anyway,” he growls.
So, he quit his job, moved in with his parents, and started freelancing.
“My parents will probably push me back into the rat race before long, but for now I feel freer and healthier lying down.”
A threat to Xi?
young Although Chinese people who abandon expectations and want more free time may not seem like much resistance, “doing nothing” has become one of the biggest sins in Chinese society according to Ying Feng.
“From a very young age we are taught that free time has to be filled with productive and enriching activities.”
This is reflected in the statements of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and President Xi Jinping calling on young people to work hard, think big, and stay true to Chinese socialism.
“Chinese youth are the vanguard against the challenges facing our nation on the path to rejuvenation,” Xi said at a ceremony marking the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Youth League of China in May.
Both the embrace of tang ping y bai lan and the comments from Chinese leaders come at a time when several crises appear to be converging.
“demographic and economic challenges are looming on the Chinese horizon,” explains Associate Professor Yao-Yuan Yeh, who teaches Chinese studies at the University of St Thomas in the United States.
“Therefore, it is important to the CCP that young people in China work hard and contribute the most to the Chinese economy. Especially now that the high growth that has defined the Chinese economic miracle in recent decades is becoming increasingly difficult to sustain in the future.
That puts tang ping and dance in direct opposition to the CCP’s demands.
While Xi calls on young people to think big and work hard to achieve their goals, the tang ping revolves around lowering expectations and work intensity. And when Xi emphasizes uniting around the patriotic values formulated by the CCP, tang ping is about individuals finding peace within themselves.
As a result, CCP spokesmen and Chinese state media have called tang ping shameful and unpatriotic. Yu Minhong, the billionaire owner of a tutoring company, has gone so far as to call “lying on the ground” a threat to China’s future.
However, attacks against flat-lying have not been limited to rhetoric. Last year, The New York Times obtained a directive from China’s Internet regulator directing online platforms to strictly restrict new posts in tang ping.
“I was a member of an online forum where we were discussing ‘lying on the floor,’” Lu recalls.
“We had reached around 100,000 members when suddenly we couldn’t post anything new to the site.”
Yao, the academic, says the party is unlikely to allow the phenomenon to develop into a political move that could threaten the dominance of the party or of Xi, who is expected to secure an unprecedented third term at a party congress to end of this year. .
“Given the Chinese authorities’ awareness of tang ping, any attempt at organization would be nullified.”
Still, if tang ping continues to spread and younger Chinese opt for a lifestyle that rejects hard work, it could become a danger to the CCP’s ambitions, he adds.
When asked if she sees that tang ping is becoming a threat to the CCP, Alice Lu takes a deep breath.
“Some things are better not to discuss through WeChat.”
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