“I don’t want to lean in. I want to lie down,” this famous line of comedian Ali Wong describes the desire to do nothing in one’s life and career. Unexpectedly, the “lying down” approach is catching on among young people in mainland China and has caught the attention of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The Party’s propaganda labeled the “lying down” trend “disgraceful” as the regime is concerned about its repercussions on society.
“Lying down” or tang (lie) and ping (flat) has become a popular slang in the mainland. People who choose the “lying down” lifestyle say that they don’t want to be money-making machines. They want to be minimalists and don’t plan on establishing a career, owning a home, and raising a family.
Independent commentator Wu Te told The Epoch Times that “lying down” is a passive form of resistance adopted by many young Chinese as a response to the fierce competition in education and the job market in the mainland—they don’t see a way out.
The trend began with a “Tang Ping is Justice” post on social media Baidu Post Bar by user “Kind Traveler” on April 17. The author said, “I haven’t had a job for over two years. I have been fooling around, and I don’t feel there’s anything wrong about it.” He added that all the online news around him were about celebrities falling in love or getting pregnant, “as if an invisible living being produced a mindset that was imposed on me.” Defying the pressure from peers and his family, he claimed, “Lying down is my wise movement.”
The post has since been deleted by authorities, but the idea quickly spread. Many netizens expressed their support of “lying down” because they feel hopeless and believe that their efforts wouldn’t make any difference in the current Chinese society. Chinese netizens often call themselves “chives” because they are easy to grow and subject “to cuts or harvests.” The cuts or harvests refer to incidents in which individual citizens lose out to communist elites and institutions.
“Chongqing News Guy,” a reporter on Chinese news portal Sina, said, “Lying down is the chives’ new civil disobedience movement. It’s a silent and helpless choice.”
“Lying down shows a person’s ultimate disappointment of his or her future. The persistent inequality in society drives it,” said netizen “Aboriginal.” He continued, “When your monthly income is less than 1,000 yuan [about $140], how do you feel?”
Ever since Chinese Premier Li Keqiang revealed at a People’s Congress meeting in May 2020 that over 600 million Chinese—40 percent of the population— lived on 1,000 yuan (about $140) per month or less, “monthly income less than 1,000” has become a popular phrase on the Chinese internet. China has seen significant inequality, with the top 1 percent owning a greater share of wealth than the bottom 50 percent.
On May 20, Chinese state-owned media Nanfang Daily (also known as Southern Daily) published an article headlined, “Lying Down Is Disgraceful. Where Does the Justice Come From?” The Xinhua News website then reprinted it. The report argued, “Struggle [fen dou] itself is a kind of happiness. … At any time and any development stage, the struggle is always the brightest undertone of youth.” The word fen dou means “vigorous” and “fight.”
While criticizing the “lying down” movement, the article tried to reinforce the value of “vigorous fight,” an official keyword that is used when the CCP’s propaganda needs to mobilize the Chinese people on any 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.
‘Adaptive Behavior’ and a ‘Benign Choice’
“Lying down” is an adaptive behavior in response to the family and societal environments, according to Yang Jingduan, a psychiatrist and fifth-generation traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) doctor in the United States. It’s human nature to seek survival, minimize pain, or pursue happiness. Sometimes young people make immature choices due to their frontal lobes not being fully developed before they reach 25 years old, Yang told The Epoch Times. When the environment changes, the adaptive behavior may change as well. Therefore, “lying down” may not be a permanent choice for some young people in China.
Yang added that out of the many choices, “lying down” is “benign and harmless.” If a society is people-centered, then the society should respect people’s choices. He had seen similar cases among his patients in America: some chose to relax after achieving success; some gave up and “laid down” because of setbacks; and some decided to step back because they couldn’t handle the stress due to medical conditions.
Having lived in China for decades, Yang categorizes mainland Chinese into three groups: people who are standing, those who bend their knees to the authorities, and people who lie flat. His view is that no one, except for the CCP ideology, is standing in China. He said that the older generation in the mainland was brainwashed and accepted that everyone had to make money while following the authorities’ orders. Even the high-ranking CCP officials are doing the same thing.
Yet the CCP’s brainwashing isn’t as successful on the Chinese youth, Yang said. He believes that young people know that they cannot stand up to the CCP and the society, and they choose not to submit to authoritarian rule. Therefore, they lie flat.
“Those who bend their knees [to authorities] aren’t qualified to criticize those lying flat,” Yang told The Epoch Times.
According to commentator Wu Te, the “lying down” approach would be challenging in China because of pressure from family members and society. If young people stopped working, the social welfare system in the country wouldn’t be enough to support them.
“However, ‘lying down’ expresses young people’s disappointment over their future and the outlook of society. The sentiment behind the decision makes the CCP regime feel uneasy and embarrassed. Therefore, the propaganda dished out criticism,” he added.
U.S.-based China affairs commentator Alexander Liao said that the young people’s movement of “lying down” might lead to social decline, which makes the CCP nervous. According to Liao, the communist regime can handle an economic crisis, but it is not good at coping with social trends. The regime can use food stamps to ration supply and address shortages, but cannot force people to work or spend their money.
Yet calling “lying down” “disgraceful” might not help, added Liao, because criticism was something that many young people chose to ignore in order to deal with the mainland’s stressful environment.