Chinese divided over youngsters' preference for 'lying flat' living
Mei Mei gets up at 10am every day. Normally she has breakfast at her ceramics studio before kicking off the rest of her daily routine: making ceramics or meeting friends, watching movies and reading books.
Mei Mei was born in the 1990s and lives in Jingdezhen, an ancient porcelain capital in east China's Jiangxi Province. She is immune to various pressures facing most of her peers and, as she said, enjoys a "casual and free" lifestyle.
On Chinese social media, Mei Mei can be categorized as someone who chooses to "tang ping" – the latest social buzzword, directly translated into "lying flat." The expression reflects a new attitude toward work and life among some young people in a world of rapid change and expanding possibilities.
Due to different backgrounds and circumstances, almost everyone has their own understanding of the term.
Netizens began to pay attention to the expression after a post was made on the online forum Baidu Tieba. The post's author, who lives alone without a stable source of income, described how he obtained happiness by picking up temporary jobs and leading a low-consumption life. He justified his attitude toward life by calling it "lying flat."
Many regard the post as an attitude to resist the overly intense competition in modern-day workplaces. In their opinion, success should not be measured by fame and wealth, but by inner peace and joy.
"I've never considered a 'nine-to-five' job. I'd love to maintain a slow tempo in work and life, and keep focusing on making ceramics," said Mei Mei. That was why she returned to her cozy hometown after studying in Britain, instead of trying to gain a foothold in a metropolis.
However, a small group of people has gone further in interpreting the new life philosophy. In a widely circulated post on Sina Weibo, the Twitter-like platform, a young woman complained that her boyfriend had joined a "lying-flat" chat group encouraging its members not to have a relationship, get married, or shoulder other responsibilities in order to save money for their own enjoyment.
The idea had a strong impact on the boyfriend, who has now become her ex-boyfriend, according to the post.
Such a mindset deemed sluggish by many people has drawn criticism.
"We don't want to see young people lose their morale. They should strive for a better future," said Zhang Sining, a researcher with the Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences.
At an entrepreneurs' summit, Yu Minhong, founder and CEO of the New Oriental Education & Technology Group, said that the hardworking spirit should still be advocated among youth.
He called on entrepreneurs to inspire young people to have a fighting spirit and encourage them to stay away from hedonism. "If everyone is 'lying flat,' who would work for the future of our country?" he questioned.
Worldwide, "lying flat" is not a new phenomenon. "It first appeared in Europe, the United States, and later in Japan, roughly in sync with the coming of a particular stage of economic development," said Ma Liang, a professor with the School of Public Administration at the Renmin University of China.
"For example, there are people who prefer not to work and live on welfare, and embrace a 'minimalist' lifestyle in many countries," he added.
Some pointed out that "lying flat" can only be realized by those who don't need to worry about food and clothing, which demonstrates the fact that many Chinese families have reached material abundance.
"With the support of their families, some young Chinese today have less pressure to survive, which makes it possible for them to choose a different way of life from their parents," said Zhang.
Ma proposed a more balanced and developmental view of the "lying flat" thinking, saying it "reflects the freedom of Generation Z to choose their lifestyle, and the progress of our society in accepting diverse values."
On many occasions, "lying flat" seems like a compromise but it actually shows that a person is clear about reality and open-minded about various possible circumstances in life, added Ma.
"Some young people say they are 'lying flat' but are actually seeking an independent lifestyle that is more suitable for themselves," said Ma.