More Chinese 20-somethings are rejecting the rat race and ‘lying flat’ after watching their friends work themselves to death

More Chinese 20-somethings are rejecting the rat race and ‘lying flat’ after watching their friends work themselves to death. By Cheryl Teh.

“8 a.m. means it’s time to lie down,” Zhang told Insider. “Though I don’t have a job to go to, so I can lie down anytime. It’s great.”

Zhang is a Chinese millennial who has joined the ranks of a social movement called 躺平主义 — the “lying flat movement.” It’s a mindset, a lifestyle, and a personal choice for some disillusioned Chinese youth who have given up on the rat race and are staging a quiet rebellion against the trials of 9-9-6 work culture.

The idea of “lying flat” is widely acknowledged as a mass societal response to “neijuan” (or involution). “Neijuan” became a term commonly used to describe the hyper-competitive lifestyle in China, where life is likened to a zero-sum game. …

Neijuan goes hand in hand with China’s “9-9-6” culture. The term refers to China’s “hustle” culture, where people work 12 hours a day from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., six days a week. The 9-9-6 lifestyle was strongly championed by Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba, who once in 2019 called the 72-hour workweek a “blessing.” Long workdays are not only common but “expected” of staff, despite China’s labor policy mandating that employees not work more than eight hours a day.

Poor enforcement of labor laws has led to rampant cases of overwork. Stories of people dying at their desks or suffering from depression and exhaustion are not uncommon. …

Protest by not joining in:

There are many ways to “lie flat,” … including not getting married and starting a family, and rejecting overtime work and desk jobs… The movement advocates for “lying down” — both literally and metaphorically. …

It’s who you know, so why bother?

Zhang, the 27-year-old night owl, told Insider that he did not start out wanting to join the “lying flat” movement, but his struggles to conform to expectations made him one of its most ardent followers.

“Since I made a permanent move to Shanghai four years ago, I’ve sent out more than 2,000 job applications and been to hundreds of interviews,” Zhang said. “I got a job at an accounting firm after my second year of job-hunting, but I resigned after four months. That lifestyle just wasn’t for me.”

It was a staggering disappointment to Zhang’s parents, who run a small business in his hometown. They had high expectations of him after he graduated from the Shanghai Jiao Tong University, one of the nine elite C9 League colleges in the country, with an acceptance rate equivalent to an Ivy League school in the US.

But it was precisely his experiences at Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Zhang said, that made him think “lying flat” was the way to go. He referred to his ??? (“fuerdai,” a slang term for “rich second generation”) classmates who got jobs within weeks of graduating off recommendations from family members and other inroads, and people in his cohort who started businesses using seed funding from their parents.

“Sons of businessmen and daughters of officials got a head start that was equivalent to an entire lap or two around the track. I think it is inevitable that people like me would lose the race. So that made me think, why do I even try?”

At least he doesn’t do job interviews where blacks and women are automatically favored ahead of him.