EYESHENZHEN  /   Opinion

Tangping not a solution to rat race

Writer: Wu Guangqiang  |  Editor: Jane Chen  |  From: Shenzhen Daily  |  Updated: 2021-07-05

A Chinese term began to catch on overnight recently: tangping, which literally refers to lying down flat, implying a passive attitude towards fierce competition, heavy life pressure, and exploitation by the greedy. In short, sick and tired of the endless rat race, some young people, mostly the ones born after 1990, have turned to a nonchalant and submissive posture in the face of challenges in life.

The term is said to have first appeared in a Chinese Quora-like Q&R platform. In a post in response to the topic of young people facing the high housing prices, a respondent wrote, "I don't care how high the housing prices are; I have lied down flat anyway."

The initial reactions to the term were incomprehension and confusion. However, it soon went viral, as it has obviously struck a chord with many young people.

To better understand the term, it is necessary to look at another catchphrase popular among the youth: neijuan, which means rat race, or to be more specific, cruel peer competition that serves neither competitor.

Many young people have come to the conclusion that with the haves having carved up the wealth cake and having monopolized all the social resources necessary for success, the younger generation has virtually been deprived of opportunities to climb the social ladder, however hard they try. As a result, some find it wiser to take a nonresistant position than to get involved in a hopeless struggle. In this sense, tangping is a passive response to neijuan.

Those who lie down flat are listless and indifferent in work and life, with no passion or desire for anything. They don't buy houses or other expensive items. Nor do they get married and raise children. They maintain a lowest possible consumption in the belief that such a thrift life can help free them from anxieties and depression.

Despite the novelty of the term, however, the concept is nothing new. Ever since the advent of human societies, there have been people who try to escape from the earthly world. Hermits, recluses, dervishes, ascetics, all these refer to the same group: the ones who stand aloof from worldly joy and anguish.

If someone criticizes them for their negative attitude, they will defend themselves arguing that they are forced to do so. "I do want to get married and have a child, but I can't afford it despite my painstaking efforts. In this case, I have no choice but to face the reality and lead a happy-go-lucky life," moaned a young man.

Not alone, they have some predecessors in other advanced countries including the United States, Japan and South Korea. The group of the same nature may have different names in different places, but they behave alike. In some high-welfare states, the phenomenon is even more common.

Public opinion is mixed over the phenomenon. Harsh criticizers simply dismiss them as lazybones without dreams or goals and claim lying down flat is just an excuse for their laziness. A professor from Tsinghua University slammed the doers of lying down flat as extremely irresponsible, saying they fail to live up to their parents' and other hard-working tax-payers' expectations.

On the other hand, the sympathizers think it is understandable given the current circumstances. With rocketing housing prices, salary-earners can't possibly own a house on their own no matter how assiduously they work. Ruthless employers like certain food delivery platforms are trying to squeeze the deliverymen of every drop of their blood by shortening their delivery time with the aid of algorithms.

I can sense desperation and anger in these young people and I agree that there is some validity in their discontent with the unfair treatment they receive in their work and lives. The governments at all levels should provide the young with fair opportunities to achieve their goals. Measures should be taken to make housing, education and medical service more affordable and young people's legal rights must be well protected.

Yet, I am strongly opposed to the deliberate adoption of a passive attitude toward challenges in life. Escape from challenges or submission to pressure will lead not only to individual failure, but to the decline of a nation as well.

(The author is an English tutor and freelance writer.)