Sunday, May 19, 2024

Lying flat: Why some Chinese youth are quitting jobs for ‘me time’ | World News – Times of India

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Amid an economic slowdown and rising joblessness, a segment of China’s youth is opting for a minimalist approach to life, dubbed “lying flat.” This trend sees young Chinese, faced with bleak job prospects and societal pressures, working only as much as necessary to cover basic living expenses, then dedicating their time to leisure or personal interests.
The big picture

  • China’s economy, which was hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic, has been recovering slowly, but still faces headwinds from domestic and external factors.
  • The official unemployment rate for urban residents aged 16 to 24 rose to a record high of 21.3% in June 2023, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.
  • This created so much uneasy that China stopped publishing employment data.
  • Many young Chinese, especially college graduates, are struggling to find decent jobs that match their expectations and qualifications, while facing rising living costs and social competition.
  • Some have decided to trade down to lower-paying or less-demanding jobs, while others have chosen to quit the workforce altogether and pursue their hobbies or passions.

Zoom in

  • As per reports, the term “lying flat” was coined by a blogger named Luo Huazhong, who wrote a post in April 2023 titled “Lying Flat Is Justice”, in which he described his decision to quit his job, sell his house, and live a frugal life in a rural area.
  • The post resonated with many netizens, who shared their own stories of “lying flat” or expressed their admiration for Luo’s lifestyle.
  • The term also inspired a viral song by singer Li Ermeng, titled “I Can’t Afford to Worship in the Temple of Wealth”, which mocks the futility of working hard and chasing money in a society that offers little reward or happiness.
  • The “lying flat” movement in China symbolizes a broader social trend where individuals, particularly the younger generation, are reevaluating traditional work ethics and societal expectations in the face of diminishing job opportunities and an increasingly competitive work environment.
  • This trend is particularly prevalent among Generation Z, who have grown up in a vastly different China compared to their parents and are more inclined towards seeking a balance between work and personal life, prioritizing mental health and personal well-being over the pursuit of wealth and status.
  • “Lying flat” serves as a form of silent protest against the high pressure, long hours, and often low satisfaction associated with conventional corporate jobs. It also questions the sustainability of such a lifestyle, especially in an era where economic growth is slowing, and job opportunities are becoming scarcer.

What they’re saying

  • Chu Yi, a 23-year-old from Shanghai, told Reuters that she quit her job at a fashion company two years ago because she had to work overtime and hated her boss.
  • She now works from home one day a week for a travel company, which gives her enough time to practice tattooing as part of a six-month apprenticeship towards becoming a full-time tattoo artist.
  • “For me, there is not much meaning to work,” Chu said. “Most of it seems to be finishing work for your manager and making your manager happy. So I decided I don’t want to work.”
  • She said that her current salary, although not much, was enough to cover her daily expenses, and that free time was worth more than several thousand yuan.
  • Zhou Yun, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Michigan, said that while it may seem that some youth were opting out of the corporate rat race, it was impossible to overlook their pessimism about the future.
  • “As China’s economy slows and the labour market remains tight, it is profoundly challenging for young people to navigate rigid social inequalities, tightening political control and dim economic prospects,” Zhou said.
  • He said that “lying flat” was a form of passive resistance and a coping strategy for young people who felt powerless and hopeless in the face of structural constraints and systemic injustices.

What’s next

  • In China, approximately 280 million Generation Z individuals, born from 1995 to 2010, are notably more pessimistic compared to other age demographics.
  • Addressing their concerns amidst the nation’s slowest economic growth in decades is critical for President Xi Jinping.
  • The Chinese government has been trying to address the issue of youth unemployment and underemployment, by launching various policies and programs to create more jobs, improve vocational education, and support entrepreneurship and innovation.
  • However, some analysts have argued that these measures are not enough to solve the root causes of the problem, such as the mismatch between supply and demand of talent, the lack of social mobility, and the unfair distribution of resources and opportunities.
  • The government has also been wary of the potential social and political implications of the “lying flat” phenomenon, which could undermine its legitimacy and stability.
  • It has censored online discussions and content related to “lying flat”, and urged young people to adopt a more positive and proactive attitude towards work and life.
  • Some state media outlets have also criticized “lying flat” as a selfish and irresponsible behavior that goes against the core values of socialism and the national rejuvenation agenda.

(With inputs from agencies)

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