What is the Chinese Grass Roots Movement: Lying Flat or Tang Ping?

1978 – Chinese Communist Party (CCP) imposes one-child per household law on the population. This forces families to choose, Boy or Girl. Parents chose to abort girls in favor of boys who could work and buy property, marry, etc.

The CCP ended the one-child policy to allow two-child households starting in 2016.

Too late. The damage was done. If you are age 20 to 40 and live in China, there are 17 MILLION more men than women. This has made competition for work, a home, and marriage very difficult. Cultural stresses of the man needing to buy a home, start a family, take care of the familial elderly, especially in rural areas, combined with fewer women available, has caused many young men to start “Lying Flat”.

Lying Flat is the idea that you own no home, own no car, own no debt, spend as little as possible and work only enough to survive, leaving you with lots of free time to pursue what you can afford, including not getting married. A comparison is the older men doing nothing but smoking cigarettes and talking in the park or street corners. Many worked their wholes lives and feel no guilt at doing nothing or Lying Flat. That has become their adopted lifestyle. With fierce competition for jobs, property (home), and single women, younger men in China are asking why they can’t choose that lifestyle too.

In a NHK Japan TV episode of Asia Insight (10/2021), a 35-year old man was depicted living in a rural farm area who quit his job as a piece-work welder 4 years ago.. He lives with his father who was disabled from a stroke. His mother died many years before. He spends about $3 per day on all expenses. He plays video games. He takes care of his father. He has no ambitions and enjoys his online experiences. He makes tofu to get about $20 a week. In his old job he worked as a welder doing piece work and could make $35 a week if he worked 60 or more hours. Then his pay was cut and he decided to quit his job. That was 4 years ago. He has been Lying Flat.

A second example was a man who worked various jobs in multiple cities. He wanted a home and family, but home values rose 10x  over 20 years. He knew he could never afford a home. After his business failed, he started Lying Flat. Now he rents a tiny apartment for $90 a month and works just enough as a remote IT person to meet his expenses. He never works overtime and always clocks out at 5:00 every day, shuts his work computer off and does not answer his work phone. He also has no ambition to “succeed” and does not plan to marry. He takes videos and pictures and posts on line. He has removed the stress of his job by doing the minimum and being proud of it.

The movement was going viral. T-shirts were selling. A song became very popular. It became a protest of the failure of the CCP to provide a path for success in job markets that pay poorly and offer little chance for significant advancement. The only path to more wealth is to work yourself to death. Lying Flat became a protest of the old-fashioned family norms of the man supporting the family dynasty and the stress/guilt imposed on young men to follow those norms.

The movement did not sit well with the Chinese Communist Party and plans for rapid global expansion. The websites selling T-shirts is shut down. The song is not played. The CCP has published multiple propaganda on multiple platforms to denounce this concept of Lying Flat and living your life for yourself.

China has very clear cut social classes that are hard to break from, making the class you are born into mapping your life. Work, hard, make money, move up the ladder financially and socially.

If there is no hope to work hard and become ‘more’, then “Why”?

Public protests are illegal in China. Lying Flat is the silent response.

Doing the minimum to impact surroundings, enjoying nature, enjoying the free time, not stressing about what is not there and what you don’t have.

The Chinese Communist Party Media says in 2021:

As our country pursues economic growth, it grapples with aging and a declining birth rate, we must be cautious of “Lying Flat.

Lying Flat is not justice, it is shameful.

China is filled with new opportunities. Those who persevere can attain success.

A life of perseverance is a happy life.

Perhaps “Lying Flat” is akin to reducing our carbon footprint? Should we all retire to wanting less, owning less, but becoming more?