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

Five years in the past, Luo Huazhong found that he loved doing nothing. He stop his job as a manufacturing unit employee in China, biked 1,300 miles from Sichuan Province to Tibet and determined he might get by on odd jobs and $60 a month from his financial savings. He referred to as his new life-style “lying flat.”

“I have been chilling,” Mr. Luo, 31, wrote in a weblog submit in April, describing his lifestyle. “I don’t feel like there’s anything wrong.”

He titled his submit “Lying Flat Is Justice,” attaching a photograph of himself mendacity on his mattress in a darkish room with the curtains drawn. Before lengthy, the submit was being celebrated by Chinese millennials as an anti-consumerist manifesto. “Lying flat” went viral and has since turn out to be a broader assertion about Chinese society.

A technology in the past, the path to success in China was to work arduous, get married and have youngsters. The nation’s authoritarianism was seen as a good trade-off as thousands and thousands had been lifted out of poverty. But with workers working longer hours and housing costs rising quicker than incomes, many younger Chinese concern they would be the first technology to not do higher than their dad and mom.

They at the moment are defying the nation’s long-held prosperity narrative by refusing to take part in it.

Mr. Luo’s weblog submit was eliminated by censors, who noticed it as affront to Beijing’s financial ambitions. Mentions of “lying flat” — tangping, because it’s recognized in Mandarin — are closely restricted on the Chinese web. An official counternarrative has additionally emerged, encouraging younger individuals to work arduous for the sake of the nation’s future.

“After working for so long, I just felt numb, like a machine,” Mr. Luo stated in an interview. “And so I resigned.”

At a music bar in Wuhan early this yr. Many younger Chinese concern they would be the first technology to not do higher than their dad and mom.Credit…Gilles Sabrié for The New York Times

To lie flat means to forgo marriage, not have youngsters, keep unemployed and eschew materials needs resembling a home or a automobile. It is the other of what China’s leaders have requested of their individuals. But that didn’t hassle Leon Ding.

Mr. Ding, 22, has been mendacity flat for nearly three months and thinks of the act as “silent resistance.” He dropped out of a college in his remaining yr in March as a result of he didn’t like the pc science main his dad and mom had chosen for him.

After leaving faculty, Mr. Ding used his financial savings to hire a room in Shenzhen. He tried to discover a common workplace job however realized that the majority positions required him to work lengthy hours. “I want a stable job that allows me to have my own time to relax, but where can I find it?” he stated.

Mr. Ding thinks younger individuals ought to work arduous for what they love, however not “996” — 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., six days per week — as many employers in China anticipate. Frustrated with the job search, he determined that “lying flat” was the best way to go.

“To be honest, it feels really comfortable,” he stated. “I don’t want to be too hard on myself.”

To make ends meet, Mr. Ding will get paid to play video video games and has minimized his spending by doing issues like chopping out his favourite bubble tea. Asked about his long-term plans, he stated: “Come back and ask me in six months. I only plan for six months.”

Children taking part in at a park in Beijing in June. “Lying flat” means to forgo marriage, not have youngsters and keep unemployed.Credit…Gilles Sabrié for The New York Times

While loads of Chinese millennials proceed to stick to the nation’s conventional work ethic, “lying flat” displays each a nascent counterculture motion and a backlash in opposition to China’s hypercompetitive work atmosphere.

Xiang Biao, a professor of social anthropology at Oxford University who focuses on Chinese society, referred to as tangping tradition a turning level for China. “Young people feel a kind of pressure that they cannot explain and they feel that promises were broken,” he stated. “People realize that material betterment is no longer the single most important source of meaning in life.”

The ruling Communist Party, cautious of any type of social instability, has focused the “lying flat” concept as a risk to stability in China. Censors have deleted a tangping group with greater than 9,000 members on Douban, a well-liked web discussion board. The authorities additionally barred posts on one other tangping discussion board with greater than 200,000 members.

In May, China’s web regulator ordered on-line platforms to “strictly restrict” new posts on tangping, in response to a directive obtained by The New York Times. A second directive required e-commerce platforms to cease promoting garments, telephone instances and different merchandise branded with “tangping.”

The state information media has referred to as tangping “shameful,” and a newspaper warned in opposition to “lying flat before getting rich.” Yu Minhong, a outstanding billionaire, urged younger individuals to not lie down, as a result of “otherwise who can we rely on for the future of our country?”

Mr. Luo, heart, at a pool corridor in Jiande. He stated mendacity flat allowed him to stay minimally and “think and express freely.”Credit…Qilai Shen for The New York Times

Mr. Luo determined to write down about tangping after he noticed individuals heatedly discussing China’s newest census ends in April and requires the nation to deal with a looming demographic disaster by having extra infants.

He described his authentic “lying flat” weblog submit as “an inner monologue from a man living at the bottom of the society.”

“Those people who say lying down is shameful are shameless,” he stated. “I have the right to choose a slow lifestyle. I didn’t do anything destructive to society. Do we have to work 12 hours a day in a sweatshop, and is that justice?”

Mr. Luo was born in rural Jiande County, in jap Zhejiang Province. In 2007, he dropped out of a vocational highschool and began working in factories. One job concerned working 12-hour shifts at a tire manufacturing unit. By the top of the day, he had blisters throughout his ft, he stated.

In 2014, he discovered a job as a product inspector in a manufacturing unit however didn’t prefer it. He stop after two years and took on the occasional appearing gig to make ends meet. (In 2018, he performed a corpse in a Chinese film by, in fact, mendacity flat.)

Today, he lives along with his household and spends his days studying philosophy and information and figuring out. He stated it was a super life-style, permitting him to stay minimally and “think and express freely.” He encourages his followers, who name him “the Master of Lying Down,” to do the identical.

Huawei workers consuming lunch within the cafeteria of the corporate’s headquarters in Shenzhen. “Lying flat” has turn out to be a backlash in opposition to China’s hypercompetitive work atmosphere.Credit…Noel Celis/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

After listening to about Mr. Luo’s tangping submit on a Chinese podcast, Zhang Xinmin, 36, was impressed to write down a tune about it.

Mr. Zhang, a musician based mostly in Wuhan, had stop his job in promoting 5 years in the past to pursue his music, and the concept of mendacity flat resonated with him. He referred to as his tune “Tangping Is the Right Way.”

Mr. Zhang uploaded the tune to his social media platforms on June three, and inside a day censors had deleted it from three web sites. He was livid.

“Nowadays, only running forward is allowed, but not lying down,” he stated. “It doesn’t make sense to me that they deleted this song.”

He ultimately uploaded the tune as a video on YouTube, which is blocked in China. The video exhibits him mendacity down on his couch, casually strumming his guitar as he sings in a breezy voice:

Lying down is absolutely good
Lying down is great
Lying down is the correct factor to do
Lie down so that you gained’t fall anymore
Lying down means by no means falling down.