Chinese youth opt out of the rat race in search of personal peace | News

“Do you want to see how it started?” Ying Feng, 21, asked before turning on her camera to show the green hills above the Chinese city of Xiamen. Stretching all the way to the shore, the city’s skyscrapers rise like steel and concrete bodies above the verdant surroundings.

A breeze brushed Ying Feng’s dark hair and summer dress as she sat down to watch the city below come to life. A lone bird sings its song.

“My parents taught me that if I needed peace, I would find it in church and in prayer,” she said on the WeChat call.

“But here, in the hills outside Xiamen, I feel calmer than Christianity can give me.”

As she spoke, the first rays of the rising sun hit her face on the water outside Xiamen.

“If only I could block the sunlight right there,” she whispered, eyes fixed on the orange-red sky. “Then I can stay here.”

But she couldn’t stay. Instead, she stood up and put her mask back on.

“I should go back,” she said suddenly sounding very tired even though the day had just begun.

“My teaching internship will begin soon.”

When Ying Feng called back, 14 hours had passed, and she was at home in her rented apartment neatly folding her graduation gown.

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

She explained: “I really can’t be satisfied with that knowing how difficult things are going to be after the summer.

In front of her is the prospect of a week working as an elementary school teacher by day, private tutoring by night and piano lessons on weekends. Even if she takes on all of that, she feels that she won’t be able to earn enough to save for an apartment or start a family.

Chinese graduate students wear robes and hats
Graduates from Chinese universities face increasingly stiff competition for jobs, but some opt out altogether by taking lower-paying jobs so they can get a job. more time for yourself. [File: Cnsphoto via Reuters]

When asked if the prospect of a stressful work life with a low salary would make her rethink her career path, Ying Feng remained silent.

“Sorry,” she apologized and smiled exhaustedly. “12 hours of internships have drained my brain. What is the question again? “

Upon hearing the question again, Ying Feng sighed.

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

Lie flat

Ying Feng is not alone in her frustration.

“Lie still” (tang ping) and “let it rot” (bai lan) are two terms that have become a cry for help among young Chinese exasperated by the Chinese job market as well as their greater expectations. Chinese society.

Since spring 2021, users on Chinese social media such as Douban, WeChat and Weibo have been sharing their own stories of how they have left their careers and ambitions behind. In it, pursue a minimalist lifestyle, have free space and discover yourself.

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

Lu used to work in the media and communications department of a large IT company in Shanghai when she was sick.

“I worked weekdays, weekends, days and nights for years when I felt my body and mind falling apart,” she explains.

She had to rest to recuperate and during that time she began to question her work-life balance. In the end, she decided not to return to her field anymore and opened a pho restaurant.

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

It was also after his breakdown that Wu began to rethink his career.

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

“Then I started to wonder if it was my destiny in the end.”

Commuters crowded together on the platform during rush hour in Shanghai
Chinese commuters face a grueling routine with long working hours and six days a week being 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 leader at a chemical plant outside Jinan, a northeastern city located between Beijing and Shanghai.

“Even though work took up most of my time, I realized that the dreams I had in life could not be achieved by my job at the factory.”

He stood up and pulled 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 grumbled.

So he quit his job, moved in with his parents, and started doing some freelance work.

“My parents would probably push me back to rat racing not too long ago, but now I feel freer and healthier lying flat.”

A threat to Xi?

According to Ying Feng, young Chinese people giving up expectations and wanting more free time doesn’t sound like much of a protest, but “doing nothing” has become one of the great sins. in Chinese society.

“From an early age, we are taught that free time must be filled with productive and uplifting activities.”

This is reflected in statements from Communist Party of China (CCP) and President Xi Jinping in it calling on young people to work hard, think big and be loyal to Chinese socialism.

“Chinese youth are the vanguard against the challenges our country faces on the road to rejuvenation,” Xi said at a ceremony marking the centenary of the founding of the Communist Youth League of China. National in May.

Both the hugs of tang ping and bai lan as well as the comments from China’s leaders come at a time when several crises appear to be converging.

“Demographics and economic challenge looming over China’s horizon,” explains associate professor Yao-Yuan Yeh, who teaches Chinese studies at St Thomas’s University, USA.

“Therefore, it is important for the CCP that young people in China work hard and contribute their best to the Chinese economy. Especially now, the high growth rates that have defined the Chinese economic miracle in recent decades are increasingly difficult to sustain in the future.”

That puts tang ping and bai lan in direct opposition to the CCP’s demands.

While Mr. Xi urges young people to think big and work hard to achieve their goals, tang ping revolves around lowering expectations and working hard. And when Mr. Xi emphasizes the CCP-built set of patriotic values, tang ping is about individuals finding peace within themselves.

As a result, CCP spokespersons and Chinese state media have called tang ping shameful and unpatriotic. Yu Minhong, the billionaire owner of a tutoring company, has gone so far as to call “sleeping” a threat to China’s future.

Xi Jinping sitting at his desk in the Great Hall of the People clapping hands
‘Lie still’ is a potential threat to Xi Jinping’s efforts to encourage Chinese people to ‘think big’ and keep the country’s economy afloat [File: Florence Lo/Reuters]

However, attacks on “flattening” are not limited to fallacies. Last year, The New York Times had a directive from China’s internet regulator asking online platforms to severely restrict new posts on ping tang.

Lu recalls: “I was a member of an online forum where we would discuss ‘laying flat’.

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

Yao, the scholar, says the party is unlikely to allow the phenomenon to develop into a political movement that could threaten either party dominance or Mr. Xi, who is expected to secure a second term. three unprecedented at the party congress later this year. .

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

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

When asked if she sees ping tang growing as a threat to the CCP, Alice Lu took a deep breath.

“Some things are better not discussed over WeChat.”

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