Young Chinese Retreat From Rat Race in Search of Personal Peace | New
“Do you want to see how it starts?” asks Ying Feng, 21, before turning on his camera to show the green hills above the Chinese city of Xiamen. Stretching to the coast, the city’s skyscrapers rise like trunks of steel and concrete above the green surroundings.
A breeze catches Ying Feng’s dark hair and sundress as she sits down to watch the city come to life. A solitary bird sings its song.
“My parents taught me that if I needed peace, I would find it in church and in prayer,” she says through the WeChat call.
“But here, in the hills outside Xiamen, I found more calm than Christianity could ever give me.”
As she speaks, the first rays of the rising sun hit her face above the water beyond Xiamen.
“If only I could stop the sun right there,” she whispers, her eyes fixed on the red-orange hue of the sky. “Then I could stay here.”
But she can’t stay. Instead, she gets up and puts her mask back on.
“I should go home,” she said suddenly very tired as the day was just beginning.
“Work on my teaching internship will begin soon.”
When Ying Feng calls again, 2 p.m. has passed and she is at home in her rented apartment carefully folding her graduation gown.
She recently completed a degree in music and teaching at university, but the occasion was marked less by celebration and more by anxiety.
“I couldn’t really be happy about it when I know how difficult things are going to be after the summer,” she explains.
Ahead of her is the prospect of a week of work as an elementary school teacher during the day, private lessons in the evenings and piano lessons on the weekends. Even if she takes on all of this, 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 a busy professional life with low pay has caused her to rethink her career path, Ying Feng is silent.
“Sorry,” she apologizes and gives an exhausted laugh. “Twelve hours of internship emptied my brain. What was the question again? »
Hearing the question once again, Ying Feng sighed.
“Well, sometimes I just want to lay flat and let it all rot.”
Ying Feng isn’t the only one frustrated.
“Lying flat” (tang ping) and “letting rot” (bai lan) have become two terms that have become rallying cries for Chinese youth exasperated by the Chinese labor market as well as the broader expectations of Chinese society.
Since the spring of 2021, Chinese social media users like Douban, WeChat and Weibo have been sharing their own stories of how they left behind careers and ambitions to instead embrace a minimalist lifestyle with energy. space for free time and self exploration.
Among them are Alice Lu, 31, and Wei-zhe Wu, 29.
Lu was working in the communications and media department of a large IT company in Shanghai when she fell ill.
“I had been working weekdays, weekends, days and nights for years when I felt my body and mind crumble,” she explains.
She had to take time off to recuperate, and during this time she began to question her work-life balance. Eventually, she decided not to return to her field, but to open a noodle shop instead.
“The store may not be much, but it’s my thing. Now, I am in control of my schedule and I find that I finally have time to do nothing.
It was also after a meltdown 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.
“Afterwards, I started to wonder if this would also be my destiny.”
At the time, Wei-zhe Wu worked from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. six days a week as a project manager at a chemical plant outside Jinan, a city in the northeast halfway between Beijing and Shanghai.
“Even though the work took up all my time, I realized that the dreams I had for my life could not be fulfilled by my job at the factory.”
He gets up and pulls back a curtain to reveal the lights of the high-rise buildings in downtown Jinan twinkling in the night.
“I could never afford to live there, anyway,” he grumbles.
So he quit his job, moved back to his parents, and started doing freelance work instead.
“My parents will probably push me back into the rat race before long, but for now I just feel freer and healthier lying flat.”
A threat to Xi?
While young Chinese giving up their expectations and wanting more free time doesn’t seem like a big resistance, “doing nothing” has become one of Chinese society’s biggest sins, according to Ying Feng.
“From an early age, we are taught that free time should be filled with productive and meaningful activities.”
This is reflected in statements by the Communist Party of China (CCP) and President Xi Jinping in which they call on young people to work hard, think big and stick to Chinese socialism.
“Chinese youth are the vanguard of the challenges facing our nation on the road to rejuvenation,” Xi said at a ceremony marking the centenary of the founding of the Communist Youth League of China in May. .
The adoption of tang ping and bai lan as well as comments from Chinese leaders come at a time when several crises seem to be converging.
“Demographic and economic challenges loom on China’s horizon,” says Associate Professor Yao-Yuan Yeh, who teaches Chinese studies at the University of St Thomas Houston, US.
“So it’s important to the CCP that young people in China work hard and contribute their best to the Chinese economy. Especially now that the strong growth that has defined China’s economic miracle over the past decades is becoming increasingly difficult to sustain in the future.
This puts tang ping and bai lan 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 working hard. And when Xi emphasizes rallying around the patriotic values formulated by the CCP, the tang ping is about individuals finding peace within themselves.
As a result, CCP spokespersons and Chinese state media called Tang Ping disgraceful and unpatriotic. Yu Minhong, the billionaire owner of a tutoring company, has gone so far as to call a threat to China’s future a “flat lay.”
However, attacks on “flattening” have not been limited to rhetoric. Last year, The New York Times came into possession of a directive from China’s internet regulator ordering online platforms to strictly restrict new posts on tang ping.
“I was a member of an online forum where we were talking about ‘lying flat’,” Lu recalls.
“We had reached around 100,000 members when we suddenly couldn’t post anything new to the site.”
Yao, the academic, says the CCP is unlikely to allow the phenomenon to evolve into a political movement that could threaten the dominance of the party or Xi, who is set to win an unprecedented third term in a congress party later this year.
“Since the Chinese authorities are aware of the tang ping, any attempt to organize would be quashed.”
Still, if the tang ping continues to spread and young Chinese embrace a lifestyle that rejects hard work, it could become a danger to the CCP’s ambitions, he added.
When asked if she sees tang ping becoming a threat to the CCP, Alice Lu takes a deep breath.
“Some things are better not to discuss through WeChat.”