Chinese Youth Announce That They’re “Lying Flat” and Resisting the Pressures of Modern Life

The “Lying Flat” move­ment tak­ing hold among young peo­ple in Chi­na involves doing exact­ly what it sug­gests: work­ing lit­tle, rest­ing a lot, and cul­ti­vat­ing the most min­i­mal­ist lifestyle pos­si­ble. Unlike Tim­o­thy Leary’s 1960’s mantra, “turn on, tune in, drop out,” lying flat, or tang ping (躺平), takes no stance on a coun­ter­cul­tur­al ethos or the con­sump­tion of mind-alter­ing drugs. But it has caused the author­i­ties alarm, even among Eng­lish-lan­guage observers. Con­sid­er the Brook­ings Insti­tute head­line, “The ‘lying flat’ move­ment stand­ing in the way of China’s inno­va­tion dri­ve.” Stand­ing in the way of inno­va­tion is a car­di­nal sin of cap­i­tal­ism, one rea­son the “niche Chi­nese Gen Z meme” of tang ping, Jane Li writes, “is ring­ing alarm bells for Bei­jing.”

The phe­nom­e­non began — where else — on social media, when 31-year-old for­mer fac­to­ry work­er Luo Huazhong “drew the cur­tains and crawled into bed,” Cas­sady Rosen­blum writes at The New York Times. Luo then “post­ed a pic­ture of him­self [in bed] to the Chi­nese web­site Baidu along with a mes­sage: ‘Lying Flat is Jus­tice.’”

His man­i­festo (above) claimed the “right to choose a slow lifestyle” by doing lit­tle work to get by, read­ing, gar­den­ing, exer­cis­ing, and, yes, lying supine as often as he liked. To fur­ther elab­o­rate, Luo wrote, “lying flat is my sophis­tic move­ment,” with a ref­er­ence to Dio­genes the Cyn­ic, the Greek philoso­pher “said to have lived inside a bar­rel to crit­i­cize the excess­es of Athen­ian aris­to­crats.”

Dio­genes did more than that. He and his fol­low­ers reject­ed every­thing about Athen­ian soci­ety, from work and mar­riage to the abstract rea­son­ing of Pla­to. Luo might have turned to a more tra­di­tion­al source for “lying flat” — the Daoist prin­ci­ple of wu-wei, or non-doing. But lying flat is not so much about liv­ing in har­mo­ny with nature as it is a state of exhaus­tion, a full-body admis­sion that the promis­es of cap­i­tal­ism — work hard now, rest hard lat­er — have not and will not mate­ri­al­ize. They are phan­toms, mirages, pre­cise­ly the kind of fic­tions that made Dio­genes bark with laugh­ter. The truth, Rosen­blum writes, is that for “essen­tial” work­ers at the bot­tom all the way up to the “inner sanc­tums” of Gold­man Sachs, “work has become intol­er­a­ble. Rest is resis­tance.”

In a work cul­ture that cel­e­brates “996” — 12-hour days, six days a week– rest may be the only form of resis­tance. Polit­i­cal repres­sion and lack of upward mobil­i­ty have fos­tered “an almost monas­tic out­look” in Chi­na, writes Li, “includ­ing not get­ting mar­ried, not hav­ing chil­dren, not hav­ing a job, not own­ing prop­er­ty, and con­sum­ing as lit­tle as pos­si­ble.” Since pick­ing up tens of thou­sands of fol­low­ers online, the lying flat move­ment has become the tar­get of a cen­sor­ship cam­paign aimed at stop­ping young Chi­nese work­ers from check­ing out. One gov­ern­ment-backed news­pa­per called the move­ment “shame­ful,” and news agency Xin­hua unfa­vor­ably com­pared “lying flat­tists” to front-line med­ical work­ers. The orig­i­nal man­i­festo, Lying Flat groups, and mes­sage boards where users post­ed pho­tos of seals, cats, and them­selves lying flat have been tak­en down.

Zijia Song writes of tang ping as part­ly a response to a tra­di­tion­al Chi­nese cul­ture of com­pet­i­tive­ness and over­work, but notes that there are sim­i­lar move­ments in Japan, Korea, and the U.S., where “Black activists, writ­ers and thinkers are among the clear­est voic­es artic­u­lat­ing this spir­i­tu­al malaise and its solu­tions,” writes Rosen­blum, “per­haps because they’ve borne the brunt of cap­i­tal­ism more than oth­er groups of Amer­i­cans.” What­ev­er their nation­al ori­gin, each of these state­ments defi­ant­ly claims the right to rest, pos­ing a threat not only to the Par­ty but to an ide­al of human life as end­less over­work for shiny trin­kets and emp­ty promis­es, dur­ing a glob­al pan­dem­ic and cli­mate cri­sis that have revealed to us like noth­ing else the need to slow down, rest, and com­plete­ly reimag­ine the way we live.

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

Bertrand Rus­sell & Buck­min­ster Fuller on Why We Should Work Less, and Live & Learn More

Bri­an Eno’s Advice for Those Who Want to Do Their Best Cre­ative Work: Don’t Get a Job

Will You Real­ly Achieve Hap­pi­ness If You Final­ly Win the Rat Race? Don’t Answer the Ques­tion Until You’ve Watched Steve Cutts’ New Ani­ma­tion

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Comments (3)
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  • Jan Wolitzky says:

    “Lying prone” means lying on your bel­ly, face-down. Lying on your back, face-up is supine.

  • After The Rage says:

    MGTOW, Tang Ping, So-shoku dan­shi, what­ev­er the name or label the phi­los­o­phy per­sists because when you get down to it it’s just com­mon sense for a man, the most log­i­cal con­clu­sion he can come to giv­en the cir­cum­stance he’s placed in.

  • Duke says:

    Good. About damn time. Same thing is pick­ing up in the west, albeit at a slow­er pace.

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