Kaki OkumuraI writes, draws, and share ideas. She keeps it simple, helpful, and approachable– if you’re looking for a bit of calm in a chaotic world, I hope she will give you a bit of comfort through her work
“Lying flat is my wise movement,”
It’s a quote from a user on the since-deleted post on the Chinese discussion forum Tieba, on how instead of participating in a capitalist society, they were going to live it out by ‘lying flat’.
The words for lying flat in Chinese are tang ping, and it has since become a popular social protest buzzword by young Chinese on societal pressures, and the value in choosing a more low-profile, modest lifestyle. People are choosing to not get married, to not have kids, to not have a job, and to have as few material things as possible.
“You’re beaten up by society and just want a more relaxed life… ‘lying flat’ is not waiting to die. I still work, but just don’t overstretch,” — Wang, 24.
What surprised me most about reading about this phenomenon was my reaction to it: Yeah, I get it.
This trend is not too different from Japan’s version of hikikomori, or young people who become recluses in their parent’s home and refuse to leave their room for months or years at a time. Although there is a slight but powerful difference between the two ideas, in that while being a hikikomori is not always a voluntary choice, tang ping is a choice of empowerment.
To be happy, people need to rest — there is no way around it. They say that if you do work that you love that you will never work a day in your life, but even people who have their dream jobs will learn to hate it if it burns them out. And these social protesters who are choosing ‘tang ping’, well they are just trying to do what makes them happiest, and that is a very natural thing for any person to do.
It’s easy to dismiss people, especially young people, who seemingly reject hard work or refuse to participate in society as lazy, but you don’t need to agree with tang ping to understand where it’s coming from, and why we need to be paying attention to it. Competition starts at an increasingly younger and younger age, cram schools are the norm and not the exception, and spending your 20s working 12-hour days is not unheard of.
Tang ping’s existence is similar to why restrictive diets or fanatical fitness regimes gain popularity, even though they have no sustainable credibility. People pushed to their limit will often go to the extreme for a solution — because when taken over the edge, extreme solutions seem like the only viable solution.
Yet the real solution lies somewhere less revolutionary.
It’s not as simple as instructing people to sleep earlier at night or installing nap pods in the office. Ideally it will come from a place where schools and workplaces encourage a society that allows room for creativity, risk, fun, and exploration without the repercussions of falling behind. More likely it will start from a place where individuals take it into their own hands to identify their values, priorities, and ease the pressure on themselves independent of what others expect of them.
It’ll take some social rejection and discomfort — no one associates working hard with knowing when to rest. But hard work, like all things, is best accomplished in moderation.