Chinese youth abandon rat race in search of personal peace News

Chinese youth abandon rat race in search of personal peace News
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“Want to see how it starts?” asks Ying Feng, 21, before turning on his camera to show the green hills above the Chinese city of Xiamen. Stretching down to the coast, the city’s skyscrapers rise like steel and concrete bodies above the green surroundings.

A breeze catches Ying Feng’s black hair and summer dress as he sits to watch the city below come to life. A single bird sings its song.

“My parents taught me that if I need peace, I will find it in church and prayer,” he said in a WeChat call.

“But here in the hills outside Xiamen I found more peace than Christianity could give me.”

As he speaks, the first rays of the rising sun fall on his face over the water outside Xiamen.

Looking up at the red-orange sky, he whispered, “I wish I could keep the sun there.” – Then I could stay here.

But he can’t stay. Instead, he stands up and puts his mask back on.

“I have to get back,” he said, suddenly looking very tired even though the day had just started.

“My teaching experience will start soon.”

14 hours have passed when Ying Feng calls again, and she is neatly folding her graduation gown in her rented apartment at home.

He recently graduated from university with a degree in music and teaching, but the occasion was marked by less celebration and more anxiety.

“Knowing how difficult things would be after the summer, I couldn’t be happier about it,” she explains.

She has the prospect of a working week as an elementary school teacher by day, private tutoring at night and piano lessons on the weekend. Even if he takes all this, he feels that he will not be able to earn enough money to keep an apartment or start a family.

Chinese graduates in gowns and caps
Chinese university graduates are facing increasingly tough competition for jobs, but some are refusing to take lower-paying jobs that give them more time. [File: Cnsphoto via Reuters]

When asked if the outlook of a busy working life with low pay has made him rethink his career path, Ying Feng remains silent.

“I’m sorry,” she apologizes and laughs wearily. “Twelve hours of practical work dried up my brain. What was the question again?”

Hearing the question once again, Ying Feng sighs.

“Well, sometimes I just want to lay flat and let it all rot.”


Ying Feng is not alone in his frustration.

“Sleep straight” (tang ping) and “let it rot” (bai lan) are two terms that have become rallying cries for Chinese youth frustrated by the Chinese job market and the greater expectations of Chinese society.

Since the spring of 2021, users on Chinese social media such as Douban, WeChat and Weibo have shared their stories of how they left behind their careers and ambitions instead of embracing a minimalist lifestyle with space for free time and self-discovery.

Among them are 31-year-old Alice Lu and 29-year-old Wei-je Wu.

When Lu fell ill, he was working in the communications and media department of a large IT company in Shanghai.

“For years I was working weekdays, weekends, days and nights until I felt my body and mind collapse,” she said.

He had to take time off to recover, and during that time he began to question his work-life balance. In the end, he decided not to return to his field, but to open a noodle shop instead.

“The store may not be much, but this is my personal business. Now I’m the master of my own schedule, and I realize that I finally have time to do nothing.”

Also, after the breakup, Wu began to rethink his career.

“In my case, it was a senior colleague who collapsed on the factory floor during a night inspection,” he said.

“Afterwards, I began to wonder if this would be my fate as well?”

During rush hour in Shanghai, passengers gather on the station platform
Chinese commuters often face a grueling schedule, with long working hours and six-day weeks the norm [File: Aly Song/Reuters]

At the time, Wei-zhe Wu worked as a project manager at a chemical plant near Jinan, a northeastern city halfway between Beijing and Shanghai, six days a week from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

“Even though work takes all my time, I realized that the dreams I set in my life cannot come true with my work at the factory.”

He stands up and pulls back the curtain, revealing the twinkling night lights of Jina’s downtown high-rises.

“I could never live there,” he sobs.

So he quit his job, moved back in with his parents, and started doing some freelance work instead.

“My parents will probably drag me back into the rat race before too long, but now I feel freer and healthier when I sleep straight.”

A threat to Xi?

According to Ying Feng, while it may not seem like resistance for young Chinese to let go of expectations and want more free time, “doing nothing” has become one of the biggest sins in Chinese society.

“We are taught from a young age that free time should be filled with productive and nurturing activities.”

This is reflected in the statements Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and President Xi Jinping urge young people to work hard, think big and stick to Chinese socialism.

“China’s youth are the vanguard of the challenges facing our nation on the road to rejuvenation,” Xi said at a ceremony marking the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Youth League in May.

Both the embrace of tang ping and bai la and the comments by Chinese leaders come at a time when several crises are looming.

“Demographic and economic problems China is on the horizon,” explains Yao-Yuan Yeh, an associate professor of Chinese Studies at the University of St. Thomas Houston, USA.

“Therefore, it is important for the CCP that young people in China work hard and contribute their best to the Chinese economy. “Especially now, it is increasingly difficult to sustain the high growth that has defined China’s economic miracle in recent decades.”

This puts tang ping and bai la in direct opposition to the demands of the CCP.

While Xi urges young people to think big and work hard to achieve their goals, tang ping revolves around lowering expectations and work intensity. While Xi emphasizes uniting around the values ​​of patriotism shaped by the CCP, tang ping is about individuals finding peace within themselves.

As a result, CCP spokesmen and Chinese state media called Tang Ping shameful and unpatriotic. Billionaire Yu Minhong, who owns a tutoring company, went so far as to call “straight sleeping” a threat to China’s future.

Xi Jinping cheers as he sits at a table in the Great Hall of the People
“Sleeping fast” is a potential threat to Xi Jinping’s efforts to encourage Chinese people to “think big” and keep the country’s economy growing [File: Florence Lo/Reuters]

However, the “straightforward” attacks were not limited to rhetoric. Last year, The New York Times obtained a directive from China’s internet regulator ordering online platforms to severely limit new posts about tang ping.

“I was a member of an online forum where we would discuss ‘sleeping straight,'” recalls Lu.

“We got to about 100,000 members when all of a sudden we couldn’t post anything new on the site.”

Academic Yao says the CCP will not allow this phenomenon to become a political movement that could threaten the supremacy of either the party or Xi, who is expected to win an unprecedented third term at the party congress later this year. .

“Given the Chinese authorities’ awareness of tang ping, any attempt to organize will be quashed.”

Still, if tang ping continues to spread and young Chinese prefer a lifestyle that rejects hard work, it could be a threat to the CCP’s ambitions.

Alice Lu takes a deep breath when asked if she sees Tang Ping becoming a threat to the CCP.

“Some things are better not discussed through WeChat.”

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