In April 2021, Luo Huazhong, a 31-year-old Chinese man posted a photo of himself lying on his bed with a caption describing his philosophy of life: Why should we bury ourselves in a nine-to-five job and get a meagre income in return while we can just limit our needs to very basic ones, without bothering buying a house or even getting married and having children? The sort of pressure we usually feel merely comes from comparing ourselves with others, together with the backward worldview of the older generations.
“But, we don’t have to abide by these norms. I can live like Diogenes and sleep inside a wooden bucket, enjoying sunshine. I can live like Heraclitus in a cave, thinking about the ‘logos’. Since this piece of land had never had a school of thought that upholds human subjectivity, I can develop one on my own. Lying down flat is my philosophical movement. Only through lying down flat can humans stand at the center of the universe”, said Luo Huazhong.
This post immediately became popular among Baidu forums. Many people expressed their favor of this man’s proposition. The idea was so spread that it even became a movement called the “lying flat” movement, coined with the phrase used in the original writing: 躺平 (pinyin: tǎng píng).
Young people support this idea not because they are lazy, but because their definition of success has changed. Instead of laying the emphasis on making a fortune, they just want to lead a simple life in which they could have more control over their leisure time. China has been notorious for its 996 working hour system where employees have to work from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. for 6 days a week, yet still they cannot earn enough money to afford a house due to the drastic increase of real estate prices in big cities. Perhaps the moment their loans for buying an apartment are settled, it’s also their time to retire. What then is the joy of living? Even though the Chinese government encouraged the citizens to have up to three children, the problem is nurturing a child would cost another significant investment of a lifetime.
Acknowledging that this movement might have an adverse effect on the country’s labor force, which in turn lead to the downfall of the economy, they impose a restriction on it: deleting all the controversial posts and listing ‘tǎng píng’ as a censored keyword all over Chinese platforms. At the same time, many newspapers, such as the Xinhua News Agency, publicly criticized the idea of ‘lying flat’ as a shame and claimed that young Chinese people should have a positive outlook that working hard will secure a promising future.
This propaganda might in fact cannot change the mindset of the ‘lying flat’ advocates. Perhaps they have seen enough to know that the gap between the rich and poor in China has become so large that there are very few, if not no, chances at all for low-income people to become as wealthy as the ‘red capitalists’ rising after the economic reform in the 90s. Besides, why is it that “getting rich” should be a life’s goal? There are countless other alternatives for one to choose: philosophical inquiry, aesthetic pleasures, or craftsmanship exquisiteness, not to mention the fact that life is not necessarily purposeful whatsoever. While our life has yet been defined, why fill it with other people’s values, be it a marriage, or kid, or a working lifestyle that simply doesn’t fit?
Now, even though this movement was still little known in Vietnam. I myself would love to advocate the idea of ‘lying flat’. Ten years living and working in Ho Chi Minh City gave me the impression that millions of young people moving from rural provinces to the city for work end up realizing that their dream of owning a piece of real estate is too far away. The living expenses are constantly increasing, whereas the salary scale seems to stay unchanged. This is especially true during the pandemic when people have to dip into their savings for basic needs since the lockdown measure keeps being extended.
Lately, I have read about the children in the rural areas of China whose parents left them to work in the city. They are regarded as “the left-behind children” or 留守兒童 (pinyin: liúshǒu ‘értóng); the term posed the problem of inadequate provision of childcare due to rapid urbanisation. Also, there has been a new wave of young Chinese people escaping the hustle and bustle of city life and returning to their hometowns for employment, which even Xi Jinping himself validated as a way to develop rural areas. Given the similarity between Chinese and Vietnamese culture, and in the presence of the aforementioned facts, it is totally senseless to deny the detrimental impact of today’s urban lifestyle on some people’s well-being, and thus, it is absolutely understandable to open up to various life choices. ‘Lying flat’ is just one of them.