“Lying Flat” and “Letting It Rot”

“Lying Flat” and “Letting It Rot” September 21, 2022


On Labor Day we blogged about “quiet quitting,” in which workers do the least they can get by with.  It turns out that this is an even bigger problem in China, where it has become a generational craze.

Chinese millennials have a name for it:  “tang ping,” which means “lying flat.”  As in how a 30-year-old describes her lifestyle of working about six months and then quitting:  “intermittent working and persistent lying flat.”

They take this concept of working without caring a step further, giving rise to another popular term:  “bai lan,”  meaning “let it rot.”  When facing something difficult or a problem that needs attention, the new strategy is to do nothing about it.  “Let it rot.”

So chronicles Goh Chiew Tong, writing for CNBC, in her article ‘I accept being ordinary’: China’s youth are turning their backs on hustle culture.

Why is this?  “Lying flat” and “letting it rot” are a reaction against the traditional Chinese values of hard work, driven personalities, and hyper-competitive hustling.
Young adults are realizing that such behavior isn’t necessarily paying off anymore.  Goh Chiew Tong says that the benchmarks for success in China are described as “cheng jia li ye”: being able to buy a home (an apartment if not a house), have a family, have a good career, and have money.
Today, housing prices are out of sight for most young adults.  Unemployment in this demographic is 20%, compared to 5.6% for the general population.  And the economic downturn due to COVID shutdowns and the current global climate is especially discouraging for a population that had become used to rapid growth.  And without the prospect of social mobility, why start a family?
All of this is resulting in a culture of giving up and escapism.  Goh Chiew Tong records some poignant quotes from Chinese millennials:
“So many people are choosing to avoid thinking of it. They refuse to participate in competition, they refuse to compete for money, an apartment or marriage.”
“To me, it’s refusing to be kidnapped by societal expectations. For example, houses are so expensive, there is no point thinking about it because it’ll give me a lot of stress.”

“Even though I am married, I don’t wish to have kids either. Why should I when having one would cause my quality of life to drop drastically? I can’t give my child a good life.”

“When I was 22, I worried if I would have achieved nothing at 30. But now at 30, I accept being ordinary. I don’t think it’s as important to be rich, or be able to afford a house anymore. . . .When I was working, my life would revolve around work and I felt like I missed out on time to myself.”

Maybe some of this grows out of China’s Buddhist heritage, which cultivates detachment, the suppression of desires, and a quiescent attitude towards the world.  There is certainly nothing wrong with being “ordinary” or setting aside the desire for wealth.  And without the Christian doctrine of vocation, which gives labor meaning in an ethic of love and service to one’s neighbor, of course economic labor will be void of meaning, if it is only about personal “success” and money.  Or maybe it’s a form of passive aggressive resistance to Communism, with the party’s constant emphasis on “workers.”

That the China is plagued with the “tang ping” and “bai lan” mindset–which is alarming Communist officials–might be encouraging to Americans worried about China dominating the global economy.  Unless Americans adopt the same attitudes.


Illustration via YouTube


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