What is “so ping”, the social movement born of the pandemic in China and why President Xi Jinping worries

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“I keep getting rid of the negative energy in my life. I think that in 2022 there will be an improvement from 2021, but I don’t want to do anything yet. I will continue to ‘lay down’. I enjoy this state.”

When Jeff (not his real name) left his hometown of Hangzhou for a high-paying job as an app developer in Beijing several years ago, like many young Chinese professionals, work became his life.

What little free time he had outside of work was spent playing what he describes as “meaningless” computer games.

He did not develop a social circle in his new city and eventually gave up trying.

But when the pandemic hit, life as I knew it came to an abrupt halt. Like many other workers, covid made him reevaluate his priorities in life.

When talking to his artist friends in his hometown, he realized that even though they had little money, they always had something interesting to say about their day and what they were doing, while all he had was work.

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When his company started laying off staff due to the pandemic, he was forced to work 60 to 70 hours a week.

Finally he couldn’t take it anymore and took some time off to travel.

During his stay in Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, he had an epiphany after seeing groups of elderly people gathered in a nearby bar. just relaxing, chatting and watching football for hours.

His mind kept going back to them. Why couldn’t he be like them, just relax and lie down?

And then he did exactly that. He came home and quit his job.

He is one of many Chinese citizens who have resigned or reduced their work commitment in the past two years.

The idea of ​​”lying on your back”, or tang ping“In Chinese, it means to take a break from relentless work.

The movement tang ping took off during 2021 as many felt they were under increasing pressure to always work harder and outperform their peers.

Tang ping is a protest movement and a way of life.

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Tang ping is a protest movement and a way of life.

Tired of working hard

The background to this trend is a shrinking labor market in China, which means that young people are now under pressure to work much longer hours and are burned out.

People “feel very listless now that they have to deal with the coronavirus and are exhausted. They literally just want to go to bed with a book, or sit and watch TV, instead of keeping up the momentum by working hard,” says Kerry Allen, an analyst at BBC China media.

This means that while the covid pandemic may be winding down, the movement tang ping it’s not.

On Chinese social networking sites, users post messages saying they don’t want to go back to the way they were before the pandemic and now have the confidence to lead a slower-paced life.

China’s past one-child policy has meant that many young professionals grew up without brothers or sisters, and this has increased the feeling of tension for many people.

Alibaba founder Jack Ma has been criticized for supporting a culture of working long hours.

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Alibaba founder Jack Ma has been criticized for supporting a culture of working long hours.

The traditional values ​​of being able to own a home and have children are still very important in China.

However, many people in their 20s and 30s worry that they can never achieve these things.

Those who are only children argue, for example, that they will also have to care for elderly parents and that for many people property prices are increasingly out of reach.

In 2019, tech tycoon and Alibaba group founder Jack Ma was criticized for endorsing China’s so-called 996 work culture, where people work from 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., six days a week.

Last year, the highest court and the country’s Ministry of Labor ruled that these practices were illegal.

However, if working 996 is still what it takes to be successful professionally, it is perhaps not surprising that some young people choose not to do it altogether.

Demographic trends mean that social pressures on young people are likely to intensify.

By 2035, the OECD forecasts that the 20% of China’s population will be over 65which will put more pressure on young people to support older generations.

Jeff, who did not want to be identified for fear of a negative response, describes his own decision to leave his job and life in Beijing as “a silent protest [contra] current rules. Don’t accept when people tell you to learn more and work harder.”

Chinese President Xi Jinping recently warned against

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Chinese President Xi Jinping recently warned against “lying down.”

This may sound almost subversive in China. The sentiment it expresses is so pervasive that even justified an explicit warning from President Xi Jinpingin an article in the daily of the Central Committee of the Communist Party published last October.

“It is necessary to prevent the solidification of social strata, smooth upstream channels, create opportunities for more people to become rich, form a development environment where everyone participates, and avoid ‘involution’ and ‘isolation,'” he wrote.

None of these intergenerational tensions is unique to China.

In both the US and Europe, economists speak of a ‘Great Renunciation’, with millions of workers retiring, quitting, or refusing to take jobs they find worthless or unrewarding.

So could “lying on your back” be the Chinese version of these trends?

Dr Lauren Johnston, Research Associate at the China Institute at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, says the situation in China it has different causes.

First of all, there are young rural migrants in Beijing or Shanghai, who now realize “how far behind they are, in terms of being able to earn enough money to buy a house, or to compete with young people from the city who grew up speaking English and wearing fancy clothes.

Johnston explains that some of this group may now be thinking of returning to their hometowns and agreelowest paid jobs to be with their families.

On the other hand, there are the children of richer and more successful parents who are not “as hungry as the super-achievers of poorer families.”

The expert believes that the so-called “tiger cultureChina’s school is an additional barrier, where parents feel under intense pressure to help their children achieve, something the school alone cannot do.

They feel they have to pay for extra lessons in math, Chinese, English, and music, or prepare for competitive entrance exams.

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It remains to be seen how all this will play out at a time when China is faces a difficult economic outlook: a slowdown in growth, an increase in debt and a possible total contraction of the country’s real estate sector.

As for Jeff, after pressure from his parents, he finally got another job, but he says it’s a much less demanding job.

He earns half of what he used to earn, but ensures that has much more flexibility and for now he plans to stay.

“I will be able to continue doing all my hobbies that I discovered during my ‘lying down’ time, like skiing and rock climbing. I have time to do what I love, I am very satisfied.”

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