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Young people in China are ‘lying flat’ in protest of gruelling work culture

The movement rejects the hyper-competitive ‘9-9-6’ lifestyle of working 12 hour days six days a week which is increasingly resulting in burnout and even death

A growing number of disillusioned young people in China are rejecting the pressures of a hyper-competitive work and lifestyle culture in the country by joining a movement that advocates “lying flat”. 

The movement, known as tangping, uses lying down both literally and metaphorically to protest the rat race of China’s relentless “9-9-6” work culture which encourages and even demands employees work nine am to nine pm, six days a week. It’s a practice that is increasingly leading to exhaustion, burnout, and people being literally worked to death. And it’s not just affecting adults. The pressures of this hyper-competitive culture, known as “neijuan” or involution, extend to students as well who face gruelling university entrance exams before entering the cutthroat job market.

Disillusioned with the pressures and struggles of endless striving, young people are quietly rebelling with metaphorical acts of lying flat – not getting married, not having children, not buying a house or a car, and refusing to work extra hours or to hold a job at all are all examples The Washington Post reports. Some proponents have likened the movement to the Beat Generation, while others see it as a form of nonviolent resistance against consumerism. 

The movement is gaining momentum though censors are trying to suppress it. A 9,000-member-strong “lying flat” community on social media platform Douban was recently shut down from the site. New groups are now emerging in its wake. Meanwhile, the Chinese Communist Party's Youth Wing has disavowed the movement, posting on Weibo in May: “The Chinese youth have never opted to lie flat. We have beliefs, dreams, ambition, and the ability to contribute to our nation.” The government-backed Guangzhou paper Nanfang Daily called the philosophy “shameful”, according to The Washington Post.

Advocates of the movement, however, say that lying flat is not about giving up or withdrawing from society. “‘Lying flat’ doesn’t mean lying down all day or being jobless. It means going at your own pace and doing what you like,” Yubo Li, 31, told Insider. “I resent the idea of having to work myself to death just to move up the corporate ladder.”

Burnout isn’t just an issue affecting workers in China. In 2019, the World Health Organisation (WHO) officially recognised the “work-specific mental and physical exhaustion” as a chronic health condition. Revisit our feature exploring the global phenomenon here.