China's Generation Z shouts 'lie down' amid increasing pressure but never really drops their responsibilities
The ‘lying down’ generation
Published: Jun 01, 2021 02:26 AM
Young generation Photo: CFP

Photo: CFP

"Eating only two meals a day will cost less than 200 yuan ($31.4) per month. Then, I only have to work one or two month(s) a year to make a living," a post, allegedly written by a generation Z nicknamed Xiaoxin, has gone viral on Chinese social media this week, causing a heated discussion about today's youth and their response to stress in life.

In this post, Xiaoxin imagined a life of low expenses that he may have if he works for only two months a year. He even listed a very cheap daily recipe consisting of rice, eggs and vegetables, and "chicken meat on the weekends if I'm in good mood," he wrote.

The idea of low material desire, low consumption and refusing to work, marry and have children, dubbed as a "lying down" lifestyle, recently struck a chord with many young Chinese like Xiaoxin, who are eager to take pause to breathe in this fast-paced and highly-competitive society.

Many millennials and gen Zs complained to the Global Times that burdens, including work stress, family disputes and financial strains, have pushed them "against the wall." They said they hate the much hyped "involution," which roughly means that "people are competing for limited resources," joking that they would rather give up some of what they have rather than getting trapped in an endless competition against peers.

Single mother Qiu Weiliang, aged 31, said she chose to "lie down" last year after she had tasted the bitterness of entrepreneurial failure and a marriage crisis. 

"Now I'm divorced and I hardly start a business," Qiu told the Global Times, saying she does not have a house or much savings in her bank account.

"But I feel much more comfortable than during the previous painful days, when I only slept for four hours a day busy working, raising a child and quarreling [with my then husband]," she said.

Photo: VCG

Photo: VCG

'Lying down' under stress

Qiu spends 3,000 to 4,000 yuan a month, mostly on charity events such as rescuing stray cats and dogs. She seldom buys electronic products or clothes as she used to, and never cares about how much money the small shop she runs can bring.

"I barely make ends meet," Qiu said. "But I don't care."

The younger generations, most coming from single-child families, are relatively more self-centered and more sensitive to pressure than their elders, Chinese sociologists and educators told the Global Times. "Instead of always following the "virtues' of struggle, endure and sacrifice to bear the stresses, they prefer a temporary 'lying down' as catharsis and adjustment," they said.

"Many netizens' support for 'lying down' has been a great relief for me as it shows that I am not alone. Many people share the same idea of slowing down to escape the stress of work," Zhao Ziyin, a 25-year-old marketing planning employee in a renowned real estate company in Fuzhou, capital of East China's Fujian Province, told the Global Times.

In March, Zhao joined the "Lying Down Group" on the major Chinese social media platform Douban. This is a group of young people who want to "lie down" in the face of the immense pressure of study and work. Here they talk and comfort each other by sharing their spiritual food, like reality shows, that portray a slow and quiet life.

For Zhao, screaming "lie down" together with her online friends is a way to spiritually defy and overcome work difficulties. She chose to "lie down" after she got tired of the company's depressing "996" work culture, working from 9 am to 9 pm six days a week.

"We always had an endless amount of meaningless planning to complete. Because I always accepted such a toll without a complaint, I managed to stay in this company until now, although it has a high turnover rate," Zhao complained. "But in fact, I've been suffocating under the pressure for a long time."

Under the encouragement of the netizens, now the days of "lying down" are perfect for Zhao. She follows a school routine, taking a 10-minute break for every 45 minutes of work to surf on Weibo or play mobile games. She leaves work on time as much as possible on days when she doesn't get urgent tasks.

"In the past, I did not dare to voice my dissatisfaction and I hid it in my heart, but now I have found an escape. I also learned that working hard does not mean you have to make progress every moment. In the midst of exhausting work, to get a short break may be one of the best ways to get the strength to stand up again."

"Lying down" is a kind of expression to get a certain comfort in a state of low desire," Zhang Yiwu, professor of cultural studies at Peking University, told the Global Times.

"Some young people use this term to describe their situation and mentality, which reflects their psychological imbalance of thinking that their efforts and rewards are not equal under high pressure, accompanied with a sense of helplessness towards social competition," Zhang pointed out.

Competition is particularly fierce among young Chinese parents, who worry their children may "lose at the starting line." Some parents told the Global Times that they are suffering huge peer pressure from a few kids who are the same age as their children but are smarter.

In terms of English learning, the standard "smart" or "talented" means a six-year-old is able to "read the original English edition of Harry Porter," according to Li Sitian, an administrative staff at a Shanghai-based university.

Li said she and her husband spent between 40,000 and 50,000 yuan each year merely on their seven-year-old daughter's after-school classes. "Adding the housing mortgage, we are almost in the 'moonlight clan,' (the people who spend their entire salary before the end of each month)," she told the Global Times. 

From the age of three, Li's daughter has attended online and offline English, math, music, piano, go game, painting, swimming and badminton classes in the past four years, which took most of her childhood away. "Even now, my daughter can only rest and play on Saturdays, as her Sundays are always filled with after-school classes," Li sighed.

On Monday, China officially further relaxed its family planning policy, allowing couples to give birth to three children. This is bittersweet to some parents who want to have one more kid but are daunted by the huge cost of money and energy to raise a child.

It is understandable that some young people, under the growing pressures from, child-rearing to paying the mortgage, try to live in a simple way and leave these worries behind, Chinese scholars said, calling the public for more understanding of this "lying down" group.

"They are not bright and shiny elites or public celebrities, but ordinary young people who have been taught too many abstract responsibilities and promised too many bright futures in the process of growing up," Zhang told the Global Times. "They usually lack opportunities to communicate with their employers, teachers and even family members on an equal footing when encountering difficulties."

Photo: VCG

Photo: VCG

Facing the reality

Interestingly, the majority of millennials and gen Zs who claim to be big fans of the "lying down philosophy," still do not spare their praise and admiration for the hard working role models.

Recently, Wei Dongyi, an assistant professor of mathematics at Peking University holding a bottle of water and two steamed buns for an interview, has been gaining a lot of popularity among young people on the Internet for his brilliant academic achievements, and his simple, hardworking lifestyle.

In the eyes of many, Wei is a special type of elite. In Beijing, his monthly living expenses do not exceed 300 yuan, he hardly watches TV nor does he surf the Internet, spending most of his time studying mathematics. 

With his hard work, he was the full mark winner of the 49th and 50th International Mathematical Olympiad. It only took him eight years to complete all the courses for his bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees, and successfully stayed in the school as a Mathematics teacher.

"We can accept a temporary 'lying down' as a short rest, but it's no use running away. Especially to see that many peers who are better than us are still working hard, I have to 'stand up' and face the reality sooner or later," said Zhao. 

As a fresh graduate with no savings, Zhao said she needs to earn money to pay off her housing mortgage. She also has some requirements and expectations for herself, hoping to improve her family's quality of life.

"The mental outlook displayed by China's young people is definitely not depressed or decadent," Sun Wenwen, an HR staffer at Kuaishou, one of China's most popular short video-sharing platforms, told the Global Times. "In our office, for example, although many young people often said they wanted to quit and go back home to live off their parents, they did not really stop the tasks they were doing. Although it is hard, they are still actively stepping out of their comfort zone and taking on more responsibility."

In Sun's opinion, being content with a peaceful moment by avoiding struggle and competition is neither condemnable nor worthy of praise.

"Especially young people who are working hard in big cities, pinned with the expectations of their parents, or even the whole family while also enjoying the best resources in the most developed areas in China. For them, to abandon their existing careers and return to the 'snail shell' is actually a self-abandonment that requires courage," she said.

While attending the "Lying Down Group," Zhao also joined the "Standing up after lying down mutual help group" on Douban.

Founded on May 13, this organization has already enrolled over 5,000 members in less than a month, where people talk about their daily experiences of braving stress and share their efforts to return to normal study or work, discussing success stories and encouraging and comforting members who have temporarily failed. 

"In an era of ubiquitous involution, it's tempting to lie down but once we have chosen to do so, we are no longer dare to face anything that requires efforts and may have uncertain benefits," wrote Jenny Jing, founder of the "Standing up after lying down mutual help group." 

"I want to build a small home to welcome those of you, who like me, lost the courage to stand up after lying down and cherish our once brave and strong selves," Jenny Jing said.

With the tremendous improvement of living conditions, some Chinese youth have partially lost the spirit of hardship and are not willing to bear too much hard work. But in fact, lying down is not entirely comfortable, while indulging in the temporary ease of burdens, young people who lay down always feel guilty about their constant loss of morale far beyond their reach, Shi Gang, Director of the Psychology Education Center of the China Agricultural University, told the Global Times.

"The philosophy of lying down can hardly bring more positive energy to society but fortunately, in China most students are still positive," Shi said, noting that according to his observation, fewer than 10% of the 310 first-year undergraduates who attend his center have been less motivated in their study.

"Young people on campus have both aspirations and confusion about their future, but most of us have rejected setting ourselves up in chains to waste opportunities and challenges," Wang Jian, a postgraduate student at Peking University's Shenzhen Graduate School, in South China's Guangdong Province, told the Global Times.

Zhang noted that in times of "global involution," young people all over the world are faced with more severe challenges but China keeps making continuous efforts to create a more comfortable environment for the development of young people, providing more channels and platforms to create more opportunities and rewards for their efforts.

"At the same time, we need to emphasize that the spirit of struggle is never out of fashion in any age or society. Our society needs to make young people believe and actually feel that being persistent is a realistic and feasible path to transcend themselves and solve many practical problems, care and inspire young people and help them to continue to grow stronger on their way to responsibility," he added.