Chinese youth abandon the rat race in search of personal peace News

Chinese youth abandon the rat race in search of personal peace News
Written by boustamohamed31

“Want to see it start?” asks Ying Feng, 21, before turning on her camera to show the green hills above the Chinese city of Xiamen. Stretching all the way to the coast, the city’s skyscrapers rise like trunks of steel and concrete above the green surroundings.

Breeze catches Ying Feng’s black hair and summer dress as she sits down to watch the city below come to life. A lonely bird sings its song.

“My parents taught me that if I need peace, I will find it in church and in prayer,” she says in the WeChat call.

“But here, in the hills outside Xiamen, I found more peace than Christianity could give me.”

As she speaks, the first rays of the rising sun strike her face over 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 stands up and puts her mask back on.

“I have to get back,” she says suddenly, sounding very tired even though the day has just started.

“My teaching internship will start soon.”

When Ying Feng calls again, 2 p.m. has passed and she is at home in her rented apartment, neatly folding her prom dress.

She recently completed a music and teaching degree at university, but the occasion was marked less by celebration and more by anxiety.

“I can’t be happy about that knowing how hard things are going to be after the summer,” she explains.

Before her lay the prospect of a work week as an elementary school teacher during the day, private lessons at night and teaching piano at the weekend. Even if she takes it all on, she feels she won’t be able to earn enough to save for an apartment or start a family.

Chinese graduates in gowns and caps
Chinese university graduates face increasingly fierce competition for jobs, but some are opting out altogether, taking lower-paying jobs that give them more time for themselves. [File: Cnsphoto via Reuters]

When asked if the prospect of an intense working life with low pay has made her reconsider her career, Ying Feng remains silent.

“I’m sorry,” she apologizes, smiling wearily. “Twelve hours of intern work drained my brain. What was the question again?

Hearing the question once again, Yin Feng sighed.

“Well, sometimes I just want to lay down and let it rot.”

Flat lay

Ying Feng is not alone in her frustration.

“Lay it down” (tang ping) and “let it rot” (bai lan) are two terms that have become rallying cries for Chinese youth irritated by China’s labor market as well as the higher expectations of Chinese community.

Since spring 2021, users of Chinese social media such as Douban, WeChat and Weibo have been sharing their own stories of how they left behind careers and ambitions to embrace a minimalist lifestyle with space for leisure and self-exploration.

Among them are 31-year-old Alice Lu and 29-year-old Wei-zhe Wu.

Lu was working in the communications and media department of a large IT company in Shanghai when he became ill.

“I was working weekdays, weekends, days and nights for years when I felt my body and mind collapse,” she explains.

She had to take time off to recover, and during that time she began to question her work-life balance. In the end, she decided not to return to her field, but to open a noodle shop instead.

“The store may not be much, but it is my personal thing. Now I’m the master of my own schedule, and I find that I finally have time to just do nothing.”

Also after the collapse, Wu began to rethink his career.

“In my case, it was my senior colleague who collapsed in the factory during a night inspection,” he says.

“After that, I started to wonder if this was going to be my fate in the end.”

Commuters crowd a station platform during rush hour in Shanghai
Chinese travelers often face a grueling schedule with long working hours and six-day weeks as the norm [File: Aly Song/Reuters]

At the time, Wei-zhe Wu was working from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. six days a week as a project manager at a chemical plant outside Jinan, a northeastern city halfway between Beijing and Shanghai.

“Even though work was taking up all my time, I realized that the dreams I had for my life could not be achieved by my factory job.”

He stands up and pulls the curtain aside to reveal the lights from the tall buildings in downtown Jinan twinkling in the night.

“I’ll never be able to afford to live there anyway,” he snorted.

So, he quit his job, moved back in with his parents, and started freelancing instead.

“My parents will probably push me back into the rat race soon, but for now I just feel freer and healthier lying down.”

A threat to Xi?

While letting go of expectations and wanting more free time among young Chinese may not sound like much resistance, “doing nothing” has become one of the biggest sins in Chinese society, according to Ying Feng.

“We are taught from a young age that free time should be filled with productive and uplifting activities.”

This is reflected in statements from Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and President Xi Jinping, in which they urge young people to work hard, think big and stay true to Chinese socialism.

“China’s youth are the vanguard against 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.

Both the embrace of tang ping and bai lan and the comments by Chinese leaders come at a time when several crises seem to be converging.

“Demographic and economic challenges are looming on the Chinese horizon,” explains Associate Professor Yao-Yuan Ye, who teaches Chinese studies at the University of St Thomas Houston in the United States.

“Therefore, it is important to the CCP that young people in China work hard and contribute as much as possible to the Chinese economy. Especially now that the high growth that defined China’s economic miracle in recent decades is becoming increasingly difficult to sustain in the future.”

This puts tang ping and bai lan in direct opposition to the demands of the CCP.

While Xi urges young people to think big and work hard to achieve their goals, Tang Ping revolves around lowering expectations and work intensity. And as Xi emphasizes uniting around the patriotic values ​​articulated by the CCP, tang ping is about people finding peace within themselves.

As a result, CCP spokesmen and Chinese state media called Tang Ping shameful and unpatriotic. Yu Minghong, the billionaire owner of a tutoring company, went so far as to call “lying horizontally” a threat to China’s future.

Xi Jinping sat at a desk in the Great Hall of the People and clapped
“Lie down” is a potential threat to Xi Jinping’s efforts to encourage the Chinese to “think big” and keep the country’s economy growing [File: Florence Lo/Reuters]

Attacks against “lying down” are not limited to rhetoric, however. Last year, The New York Times obtained a directive from China’s Internet regulator ordering online platforms to strictly limit new posts on tang ping.

“I was a member of an online forum where we discussed ‘lying flat,'” Lu recalls.

“We had reached about 100,000 members when suddenly we couldn’t post anything new on the site.”

Yao, the academic, says the CCP is unlikely to allow the phenomenon to develop into a political movement that could threaten the dominance of either the party or Xi, who is expected to secure an unprecedented third term at a party congress later this year. year.

“Given the Chinese authorities’ awareness of tang ping, any attempt to organize will be cancelled.”

However, if tang ping continues to spread and younger Chinese choose a lifestyle that rejects hard work, then it could become a danger to the CCP’s ambitions, he added.

When asked if she sees Tang ping evolving into a threat to the CCP, Alice Lu takes a deep breath.

“Some things are better not discussed on WeChat.”

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