Young Chinese are increasingly frustrated and bored with work and life. The competition is so fierce that some people give up their dreams and aspirations and choose to “lie flat.” Faced with the modern Chinese definition of success—having a house, a family, a decent job, and money, they choose to give up.

Crystal Guo, 30, tells CNBC that she usually works for about half a year to a year before quitting. It’s what she describes as her new lifestyle of “intermittent working and persistent lying flat.” And now, she’s been fired twice in less than a year.

According to data from the National Language Resources Monitoring and Research Center of the Chinese Communist Party, “lying flat” is one of China’s top ten online buzzwords in 2021.

Jia Miao, associate professor of sociology at NYU Shanghai, explains: “The popularity of the term reflects the stress and frustration of young people.

In March, another term popped up online in China: “rotten,” which means “let it rot.” Posts related to the topic had more than 91 million views on Chinese social media giant Weibo as of Wednesday.

“Bai lan—”rotten” is a term used when young people refuse to put further efforts [in life] because they just can’t see any hope in doing so.”

Hard for young people to find work under the CCP’s ‘zero-COVID’ policy

According to China’s National Bureau of Statistics, the unemployment rate among 16 to 24-year-olds was nearly 20% in July, much higher than the national urban unemployment rate of 5.6%. The unemployment rate for that age group was 16.2% a year ago.

China’s economy has slowed sharply, with the country’s economic growth of only 0.4% in the second quarter, due to the CCP’s adherence to its extreme anti-virus policy. As a result, many economists are skeptical that the world’s second-largest economy can hit its full-year growth target of 5.5%.

Young people are victims of the CCP’s suppression of industry

Guo Jingjing said in an interview that it was “unbelievable” that she was fired twice in less than a year.

Her first layoff was in July last year when she worked at a private company providing after-school education services. However, she was fired when the CCP cracked down on the education system and implemented the “double reduction” policy.

She then used her severance pay to travel around China for half a year. Finally, in February this year, Guo Jingjing returned to her home in Shenzhen and found a job in a real estate company.

To her shock, her entire department was laid off shortly after that.

She said: “I’ve definitely been hit … the job market has been pretty tough this year. When I was trying to find another job, that’s when the tech industry was reporting layoffs.”

So, she says, “lying flat” has become her way of “escaping from reality.” After finding a stable official job, she chose to work part-time to cover daily expenses.

For young Chinese to get married and start a business is unrealistic

31-year-old Qiu Xiaotian also agrees with “lying flat.” 

“For me, it’s about refusing to be kidnapped by social expectations,” the photographer said. “For example, a house is so expensive. There’s no need to think about it because it puts a lot of stress on me.”

“Starting a family and starting a business” is usually the modern Chinese definition of success: having a house, a family, a decent job, and money.

For some, however, today’s volatile job market makes those aspirations increasingly out of reach, no matter how hard they work.

Jia Miao cited Shanghai and Beijing as examples. It is “almost impossible” for ordinary Chinese young people to buy a house in such a big city.

China’s housing price-to-income ratio is “much higher” than the international average, according to Zhuge Zoufang, a Chinese property market monitoring and research agency. According to international practice, a reasonable range for the price-to-income ratio is between three and six times.

According to data from Zhuge Zoufang, in 2021, the average housing price in China will be 12 times the average income.

“So many people choose to avoid thinking about it. They refuse to compete, they refuse to compete for money, apartments or marriage,” Jia said.
“Although I’m married, I don’t want to have children.” Qiu Xiaotian said, “I can’t give my children a good life.”

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