The low-desire life: why people in China are rejecting high-pressure jobs in favour of ‘lying flat’

It’s been dubbed ‘tangping’ – shunning tough careers to chill out instead. But how is the Communist party taking the birth of this new counterculture?

Name: Low-desire life.

Age: People – young ones especially – have been rebelling, dropping out, rejecting the rat race for pretty much ever, since the rat race began. But in China, it’s becoming more common. On trend, you might say.

And it’s China we’re talking about? Exactly. A few brave urban professionals are rejecting high-pressure jobs in order to pursue a low-desire life, also known as “tangping” or “lying flat”. It was possibly started by a man named Luo Huazhong, who quit his job as a factory worker in Sichuan province, then cycled to Tibet to hang out and get by on odd jobs. Luo called his lifestyle “lying flat” and wrote a blog about it.

What’s brave about that? The ruling Communist party is not a big fan of lying flat. Pretty much the opposite, in fact. Though some of its policies might have changed a little in the 100 years since it was founded – it now embraces the free market and consumerism, for example – hard work, drive and commitment are still central to the cause. Perhaps more so than ever.

How so? China’s population is ageing. Economic output per person has doubled over the past 10 years, but the number of people of working age is down by 5% in the same period. The country needs skilled workers, in tech and other industries, to maintain growth and continue on the path to global domination.

How big an issue is lying flat? Well, there aren’t any figures, but it’s a thing; people are talking about it.

Who is? Liao Zenghu, for one.

Liao Zenghu the novelist? The very same. Writing in the prominent business magazine Caixin, Liao described lying flat as a “resistance movement” against the “cycle of horror” of high-pressure schools and endless-hours jobs. “In today’s society, our every move is monitored and every action criticised. Is there any more rebellious act than to simply ‘lie flat?’”

Probably Liao Zenghu the ex-novelist now, then. Probably. Meanwhile Biao Xiang, a professor of social anthropology at the University of Oxford, told the New York Times: “People realise that material betterment is no longer the single most important source of meaning in life.”

What is the party saying? The Southern Daily newspaper, published by the party, said in an editorial: “Struggle is a kind of happiness. Choosing to “lie flat” in the face of pressure is not only unjust but also shameful.”

And the people? Hard to know. On the popular internet forum Douban, a tangping group with more than 9,000 members has been deleted by the censor.

Do say (as Luo Huazhong did): “I have been chilling. I don’t feel like there’s anything wrong.”

Don’t say (as Xi Jinping did): “Hard work is the path to happiness.”

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
‘A career change saved my life’: the people who built better lives after burnout
Chronic stress at work can lead to listlessness, fatigue – and a much higher risk of stroke and heart disease. But there are ways to save yourself before it’s too late

Emine Saner

08, Jun, 2021 @5:00 AM

Article image
‘Do I sound stressed to you?’ How a hard day at work changes the way you talk
Researchers have discovered that we speak more loudly and quickly after a testing time – even if we now feel calmer

21, Jun, 2022 @4:44 PM

Article image
Good old days: why body confidence improves after 60
A New Zealand study claims men and women become more satisfied with their bodies over time – bucking the expectations of our youth-obsessed culture

04, Aug, 2021 @5:12 PM

Article image
Can magic mushrooms really help you understand bitcoin?
That’s what one German billionaire says. But it’s not why the Aztecs and the hippies were such fans

26, Apr, 2021 @3:23 PM

Article image
A stunning second act! Meet the people who changed course in midlife – and loved it
It can feel as if our options narrow with every passing year. But taking a big risk could mean the second half of your life is much more exciting and fulfilling than the first

Emine Saner

26, Aug, 2021 @5:00 AM

Article image
‘It just doesn’t stop!’ Do we need a new law to ban out-of-hours emails?
During the pandemic many workers have felt more under siege than ever from work emails that arrive at all hours. Could the legal right to disconnect help?

Elle Hunt

29, Jun, 2021 @4:56 AM

Article image
Distraction disaster! Notifications are ruining our concentration – here’s how to escape them
Whether socialising with friends or completing a difficult task, a ping on your phone can destroy the moment. It is time to address the constant stream of interruptions

Amy Fleming

16, Dec, 2021 @8:00 AM

Article image
Are you having a laugh? Why NHS doctors will soon be prescribing a dose of comedy
They say laughter is the best medicine – and trauma patients in Bristol are about to put the theory to the test

03, Jan, 2022 @4:31 PM

Article image
The lark advantage: why naturally early risers are happier than night owls
The time you wake up every morning is baked into your DNA – and it could have an impact on your mood and wellbeing

08, Jun, 2021 @3:30 PM

Article image
Dozing from home: how workers have perfected the art of napping on the job
Homeworkers now squeeze in up to three snoozes a week, watch four TV episodes and a quarter never get out of their pyjamas, a new survey says

22, Mar, 2022 @2:33 PM