The low-desire life: why people in China are rejecting high-pressure jobs in favour of ‘lying flat’
It’s been dubbed ‘tangping’ – shunning tough careers to chill out instead. But how is the Communist party taking the birth of this new counterculture?
Name: Low-desire life.
Age: People – young ones especially – have been rebelling, dropping out, rejecting the rat race for pretty much ever, since the rat race began. But in China, it’s becoming more common. On trend, you might say.
And it’s China we’re talking about? Exactly. A few brave urban professionals are rejecting high-pressure jobs in order to pursue a low-desire life, also known as “tangping” or “lying flat”. It was possibly started by a man named Luo Huazhong, who quit his job as a factory worker in Sichuan province, then cycled to Tibet to hang out and get by on odd jobs. Luo called his lifestyle “lying flat” and wrote a blog about it.
What’s brave about that? The ruling Communist party is not a big fan of lying flat. Pretty much the opposite, in fact. Though some of its policies might have changed a little in the 100 years since it was founded – it now embraces the free market and consumerism, for example – hard work, drive and commitment are still central to the cause. Perhaps more so than ever.
How so? China’s population is ageing. Economic output per person has doubled over the past 10 years, but the number of people of working age is down by 5% in the same period. The country needs skilled workers, in tech and other industries, to maintain growth and continue on the path to global domination.
How big an issue is lying flat? Well, there aren’t any figures, but it’s a thing; people are talking about it.
Who is? Liao Zenghu, for one.
Liao Zenghu the novelist? The very same. Writing in the prominent business magazine Caixin, Liao described lying flat as a “resistance movement” against the “cycle of horror” of high-pressure schools and endless-hours jobs. “In today’s society, our every move is monitored and every action criticised. Is there any more rebellious act than to simply ‘lie flat?’”
Probably Liao Zenghu the ex-novelist now, then. Probably. Meanwhile Biao Xiang, a professor of social anthropology at the University of Oxford, told the New York Times: “People realise that material betterment is no longer the single most important source of meaning in life.”
What is the party saying? The Southern Daily newspaper, published by the party, said in an editorial: “Struggle is a kind of happiness. Choosing to “lie flat” in the face of pressure is not only unjust but also shameful.”
And the people? Hard to know. On the popular internet forum Douban, a tangping group with more than 9,000 members has been deleted by the censor.
Do say (as Luo Huazhong did): “I have been chilling. I don’t feel like there’s anything wrong.”
Don’t say (as Xi Jinping did): “Hard work is the path to happiness.”