Representational image | Qilai Shen | Bloomberg
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The Chinese youth are taking a stand against the extraordinary circumstances of these times by literally lying down on the ground and doing nothing. Tang Ping, or what has been called ‘lying flat’, is a passive resistance movement that has been brewing in the country, which is notorious for its fatigue-inducing ‘996’ working hour system besides other demands that leave little space for self-care. The growing online movement, which had about 10,000 members before the forum where it originated was taken down, is not only a response to the shrinking labour market but also about a world with massive burnout. China went further to “strictly restrict” any such content on its online platforms through an order passed by its internet regulator, a New York Times report said.

The figures reported by Hindustan Times quoting Chinese media showed that the unemployment rate in the country among those aged between 16 and 24 is 13.1 per cent. Additionally, more than 20 crore youngsters graduated last year and were looking for jobs. And the Covid pandemic of course has made matters worse.

The ‘lying flat’ movement is not an isolated expression of frustration among today’s youth. The resistance is a counter against today’s economic reality where employees across the world are working longer and harder but aren’t able to cope with skyrocketing prices and inflation. They also save much less today than their parents did.


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Young adults already vulnerable

The social and economic integration of young people across the world was already a challenge, however, the Covid-induced global recession has threatened the loss of 5 to 25 million jobs, with young adults being most vulnerable. They are usually the first to be laid-off or forced to work in lower quality, unsafe jobs with meagre pay. So millennials in Xi Jinping’s China are literally lying down.

The New York Times report quotes Yang Zhan, an anthropologist at Hong Kong Polytechnic University who is a part of the movement, saying that people convinced by the discourse of self-development were willing to suspend their life in the hope of a better future. “That sense of optimism seems to be disappearing,” he added.

The report also quotes Yicheng Wang, a PhD student in political science at Boston University, who posted a picture of himself resting on his bed in the middle of the day as a part of the movement. He believes there is no possibility of “upward mobility”, therefore he has joined several other disenchanted youth in what he termed a “sophistic movement.”


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Lost grads of the pandemic

A poll conducted last August by UNICEF on the impact of the Covid crisis on jobs, education, rights and mental well-being of Latin America’s young population demonstrated that 30 per cent of the total participants experienced anxiety and depression due to the current economic situation.

With global workforce participation witnessing a decline of 5 per cent for women, compared to only 3.9 per cent for men, women are finding it harder than ever to close the gender gap. They are also twice as likely to be stressed about the availability of jobs compared to their male counterparts during the pandemic, a survey by LinkedIn said.

The trend in India appears to be same with a serious youth unemployment crisis looming large. A LinkedIn survey revealed that 30 per cent of Gen Z and 26 per cent of millennials were troubled by the lack of jobs, and the employment decline was 2.5 times more than that of adults, Moneycontrol reported. The fallout includes a rise in contractual jobs, underemployment (where highly skilled individuals are employed in low-skilled jobs), vote bank politics and state reservations for native residents.

Economic uncertainty, coupled with low confidence about professional future, has effectively made Indian youth the most ‘worried’ generation.

According to research quoted in Mint, graduates who begin their careers during a recession earn less for at least “10-15 years than those who graduate during periods of prosperity”. Just when “millennials or Gen Y” were setting foot in their peak earning years and making major life decisions, the coronavirus showed up. So, their concern about the future is not wholly unfounded.


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A counterculture movement

Key moments in history like the ongoing pandemic can alter society, people’s thinking, and reshape cultural conversations. For instance, the outbreak of plague during the middle ages changed the equation between humans and God in Europe, while the Bubonic plague forced a transformation from serfdom to industrial revolution after killing half of the continent’s population.

Now the Covid pandemic has held up a mirror and exposed the current economic vulnerabilities, prompting those affected to voice their dissatisfaction. The Gamestop debacle, which pitied millennials on Reddit against powerful stockbrokers or the “old order”, is one of the many such examples of recent resistance.

The Chinese ‘lying flat’ movement exemplifies a renouncement of the famous ‘grind culture’ that dominated the previous eras. But it has largely been limited to the middle-class Chinese in Beijing, Shenzhen and other major cities, proliferating in the obscure sections of social media. The poorer youth population, on the other hand, do not have the luxury of ‘doing nothing’ because they lack a safety net and, in most cases, are the sole earners in their families.

But one thing is for sure, the way we work is changing.

Views are personal.

(Edited by Srinjoy Dey)

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