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Growing ‘Lying Flat’ Movement Threatens to Derail China’s Ambitions

Published: June 8, 2021
China’s economic growth is being threatened by a new “lying flat” movement among young citizens. Shoppers wait in line outside a Chanel store at a mall on April 18, 2021 in Beijing, China.
China’s economic growth is being threatened by a new “lying flat” movement among young citizens. Shoppers wait in line outside a Chanel store at a mall on April 18, 2021 in Beijing, China. (Image: Kevin Frayer via Getty Images)

A growing sentiment in mainland China known as “lying flat” is threatening Beijing’s political and economic ambitions, adding further tension to an already volatile socioeconomic situation.

“Lying down” or “lying flat” is a form of passive resistance or protest by young Chinese people in the face of what is seen as fierce competition in education, gruelling work hours, and limited future prospects.

The idea has inspired many young people to refuse a traditional life of continuing education, establishing a career, and having a family. Instead, their focus is on getting by on the bare minimum in life and enjoying what they have.

The idea took root on the social media platform Baidu after a post titled “Tang Ping is Justice” by a user with the moniker, “Kind Traveler,” went viral. The post stated, “I haven’t worked for more than two years, and all I am doing is playing. I don’t feel there is anything wrong with that.”

“The pressure mainly comes from finding my place after comparing myself with people around me and from the traditional concept of elders, which appears around you all the time. Every time you see the news and hot searches. They are about stars falling in love, getting pregnant etc. They are like some kind of ‘invisible creatures’ that are creating pressure on your mind. People don’t have to succumb to it,” the post continued.

“I can be like Diogenes, who only sleeps in his barrel in the sun, or Heraclitus who lives in a cave and thinks about ‘Logic.’ Since this land has never really been holding up the tide of human wholeness, I can make it for myself. Lying flat is my wisdom movement. Only by lying flat, human beings are the measure of all things.”

The post, which has since been deleted by authorities, describes a life where traditional life ambitions are set aside in favor of a simpler life devoid of trappings such as a busy career or a family. “Lying flat” flies in the face of Beijing’s directives as it struggles to address an aging workforce, a looming population crisis, and growing apathy among its populace.

Beijing pushes back

Nanfang Daily, a Chinese state-run media outlet, published an article titled “Lying Down Is Disgraceful. Where Does the Justice Come From?” in retaliation to the popular post. The article stated, “Struggle itself is a kind of happiness… At any time and any development stage, the struggle is always the brightest undertone of youth.”

While criticizing “lying flat,” the article uses official keywords of Chinese Communist Party (CCP) propagandists such as “struggle” and “vigorous fight.” The terms are meant to mobilize Chinese people to participate in CCP initiatives.

“Li Fengliang, an associate professor with the Institute of Education at Tsinghua University, criticized the young people’s choice of ‘lying down’ and called it irresponsible as they are letting down their parents and taxpayers.” reported the Epoch Times

Compounding crises

The popular movement is gaining traction at the worst possible time for the CCP. The recent census, conducted once a decade, revealed an aging population that could soon stifle economic growth and place a significant burden on the regime. 

At a time when Beijing is encouraging couples to have multiple children, many young people are preferring to instead “lie flat.” In desperation, the CCP recently announced a three-child-policy, ending their two-child-policy that was enacted in 2016. Before that, a one-child-policy from 1979 was in place.

While the gap between the rich and poor continues to grow, and more young people become disenchanted with their future prospects, “lying flat” may become the answer to a young person’s woes and a spreading cancer to the ruling communist party.