“Lying flat”: Millennials are leaving China’s “996” work culture to live “anxiety-free”
Two years ago, Li Chuang traded in the bustling metropolis of Beijing for the tranquility of an ancient monastery in central China.
By the age of 32, the daily job of managing editor at a leading publishing house had taken its toll.
“It wasn’t a fast or slow pace, but rather I felt it didn’t make sense,” Li said.
So he quit his job and made the pilgrimage to Wudang Mountain in Hubei Province, famous for its practice of Taoism and Tai Chi.
Among the snow-capped peaks surrounded by clouds, Li lived with local monks, embracing the Taoist philosophy of living in harmony with nature.
After six months he returned to town.
Li did not return to an office job.
Today, he runs a small grocery store in his grandparents’ vacant house in the hutongs, the narrow alleys of old Beijing.
It’s a working class neighborhood like the one where he grew up.
“I wanted to rediscover my roots, so I came back to my starting point in the hutongs,” he says.
Li Chuang is among a growing number of young professionals in China who reject the traditional narrative of success in favor of a minimalist lifestyle.
Instead of working hard, buying a house, getting married and having children, some young Chinese are pulling themselves out of the race and taking low-paying jobs – or not working at all.
This simple act of resistance is commonly called entanglement, or “lying flat”.
Nowadays, Li often practices tai chi in the morning, and when business is quiet in the evening, he plays the guitar or the guqin.
At nearly 190cm tall, he appears like a giant in his 15m² shop, stacked with everything from crisps to toilet paper.
He admits he doesn’t like labels. Instead, he prefers to describe himself as being ‘in research state’.
“May be [others] need these labels to understand how i can live without ambition.
The lying flat movement emerged in April after a blog post by factory worker Luo Huazhong titled, Laying flat is justice.
Exhausted from overwork, the 31-year-old resigned and cycled over 2,000 km from Sichuan Province to Tibet, doing odd jobs along the way.
“After working so long, I just felt numb, like a machine,” he told The New York Times in an interview. “And so I quit.”
Her change of lifestyle has become an inspiration to others. His post was celebrated as a manifesto against materialism.
Being flat resonated with students overwhelmed by the pressure to compete with millions of others each year for a place at a top university and then again for well-paying jobs upon graduation.
It was aimed at a generation of urban workers disillusioned with the famous “996” work culture, where staff are expected to work from 9:00 am to 9:00 pm, six days a week.
It is therefore not surprising that some young Chinese are starting to turn their backs on work and consumption as a common goal.
A national threat
For Chinese officials, this is the exact opposite of what the nation has demanded of its people.
The government wants a young generation of patriotic and productive workers.
“For the majority, there is no distinction between the humility or the nobility of their work,” President Xi Jinping said in a video clip that has circulated widely on social media in China and in China. foreigner.
“As long as society needs you, as long as you are respected and earn a living wage, that’s a good job.”
More than anything, China relies on continued economic development, especially as it grapples with an aging population.
The Communist Party called the tanging a “threat to stability”.
State media are calling it “shameful” and online discussions of the move are censored.
“We live in a society that will not allow you to quit smoking… Maybe in other countries people are allowed to dream of becoming a barber,” Li Chuang reflects.
Li admits that most of his friends and family, including his father, don’t share his enthusiasm for his new lifestyle.
“There are people who say to me, ‘You should be sorry that you let your parents down and wasted our country’s resources … You got a master’s degree with their support but you end up running a convenience store?’ ” he says.
“It’s like I have to say sorry to the whole country.”
Many of them reject his choice of work as a simple attempt to “escape”.
“Some people ask me, ‘Do you have a job now? “I say,” Managing the store is my job. “They are quite puzzled.”
Li’s mother, who helps in the store, is the only one supporting him.
“When he resigned, his father objected,” she says.
“He asked me, ‘How come you are okay with that? I said, ‘He’s my child, I know him. I know my child. Life is long and it is not even near the end. If he’s not happy, stop. ‘”
A change of generation
For generations, civil servants have been guaranteed lifelong employment and a pension under the “iron rice bowl”.
Mao Zedong believed that it was the duty of a Communist state to provide employment for everyone.
The government has assigned citizens a job for life with a guaranteed salary.
Schooling, housing and health care were included, provided by a worker danwei or “unit of work”.
But when Deng Xiaoping began in 1978 to transform China from a planned economy to a freer market economy, his supporters insisted that the iron rice bowl had to be broken if China was to modernize. .
Successive rulers have pursued the overhaul as part of China’s modernization.
Instead, today’s generation of workers are given employment contracts, skill tests, and perks like free housing and childcare that are unrelated to their jobs.
“For my parent’s generation, there wasn’t much to choose from,” Li said.
“They just went to work and didn’t have to think about changing jobs because the wages were all the same.”
He believes their identity was “formed in the context of collectivism”.
In contrast, Li says his generation is “more pluralistic because we face more choices and live in a more fragmented age.”
“The opportunities and challenges we face are probably greater than before.”
Therefore, Li presumes, the thinking of the older generation “will inevitably conflict with our own.”
This is the great paradox that many young Chinese face today.
Like their parents, they are expected to show loyalty to the state, but without the state benefits that their parents once enjoyed.
They face both the pressure to be competitive in a market economy and the pressure to conform in an authoritarian society.
According to Li, in today’s China, happiness is no longer distributed by the government but must be found in material success.
“Everyone gets their quota of ‘happiness’,” he says.
“If you get your quota, you have ‘happiness’. But is that happiness true happiness for you?”
Watch ‘China’s Future’ on Foreign Correspondent tonight at 8 p.m. on ABC TV and iview.