HomeOppression and Human RightsChina Youth Embraced "Lying Flat" to Oppose Near Slave Labor Conditions.

China Youth Embraced “Lying Flat” to Oppose Near Slave Labor Conditions.

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In a striking response to China’s fervent innovation drive, a new movement known as “lying flat” (躺平, tangping) has emerged, challenging the relentless 9-9-6 work culture (9 a.m. to 9 p.m., six days a week). This phenomenon, which has gained momentum among young Chinese professionals, symbolizes a collective pushback against the nation’s intense work ethic and the pressures of consumerism.

Rooted in a desire for a simpler, less stressful life, the “lying flat” movement emerged as a viral social media trend, encapsulating the frustrations of a generation facing burnout from unrelenting work hours and societal expectations. The movement encourages young people to opt-out of the rat race, rejecting the traditional markers of success such as property ownership, marriage, and material consumption. Instead, it promotes a minimalist lifestyle, free from the shackles of overwork and consumer debt.

This cultural shift presents a significant challenge to China’s leadership, which has prioritized innovation and economic growth. The government’s push towards technological self-reliance and global dominance in the tech sector is increasingly at odds with the aspirations of the younger generation, who are questioning the cost of such ambition. State media and government officials have criticized the “lying flat” mindset, advocating for continued struggle and hard work as virtues. However, their calls often fall on deaf ears among those who view “lying flat” as a form of passive resistance and a quest for personal dignity and well-being.

The movement has its roots in the backlash against the “996” work culture, famously endorsed by tech giants like Alibaba and Tencent. This culture has led to instances of extreme overwork, with reports of employees suffering health crises and even fatalities. The response to this relentless work environment was first seen in the “996.ICU” campaign in 2019, which highlighted the physical and mental toll of such a lifestyle.

The tech giant Pinduoduo public scrutiny after two of its employees died. One collapsed after working past midnight, and another committed suicide, raising serious questions about the sustainability and ethics of such a demanding work environment. These incidents have sparked a wider conversation about work-life balance and the mental and physical toll of relentless work hours.

However, the “lying flat” movement goes beyond workplace grievances. It reflects a broader disillusionment with the narrative of relentless progress and consumption. In recent years, the Chinese government has encouraged domestic consumption as a key driver of economic growth, resulting in a surge in consumer debt and a stark contrast to the traditional culture of savings. This shift has placed additional strain on young professionals, who are now navigating the dual pressures of extreme workplace competition and the societal expectation to consume.

The emergence of the “lying flat” movement signals a profound change in the attitudes of China’s younger generations. It challenges the deeply ingrained notions of success and progress, advocating for a life that prioritizes personal well-being over material achievement. As China continues its pursuit of technological and economic dominance, it faces the growing need to address the societal and human costs of such ambition, recognizing the changing values and aspirations of its youth.

For anyone who has read “The Jungle” by Upton Sinclair, you will recognize the threat of unregulated capitalism in exploiting workers. While the authors and editor of this publication are firmly in the capitalist camp, we recognize the potential for exploitation of the weak by the powerful. Here in the U.S., our solution was to form unions, which did well during these times. it could be that China will do the same eventually. But not with 20% unemployment of the the targeted work force…

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