Quote of the Day: “Not So Much ‘Lying Down’ as Finding It Impossible to Get Ahead”

Today’s quote of the day derives from netizen backlash to the Communist Youth League’s (CYL) recent video broadside against “lying down”—referring to the much-discussed phenomenon of people slacking off, quietly giving up, or dropping out of the rat race as a means of coping with a hyper-competitive society that treats workers as “huminerals” to be relentlessly exploited and ultimately discarded.

The video, widely circulated on the Chinese internet, was titled “CYL Central Committee: ‘Only a Tiny Minority Are Truly Lying Down, While the Vast Majority Are Working Tirelessly.’” This was followed by an online survey that asked viewers to choose whether they were among the “tiny minority who lie down” or “the vast majority who work tirelessly.” To the amusement of many online observers, and at odds with the propagandistic tone and intent of the video, fully 93 percent of respondents confessed to being among that “tiny minority” of slackers, while only seven percent identified themselves as card-carrying members of the “vast majority” of indefatigable workers.

Columnist, pop psychologist, and WeChat blogger Tang Yinghong (唐映红, Táng Yìnghóng) put an interesting spin on the survey, cautioning that while most of the respondents were probably jesting, the CYL was likely correct in declaring that only a tiny minority were inclined to “lie down” because slacking off is a luxury that only the privileged few can afford. The vast majority of Chinese young people, Tang wrote, are simply too busy struggling to make a living to even contemplate dropping out or slowing down:

Today’s so-called “Four Won’t Youth”—those who won’t date, get married, buy homes, or have children—aren’t so much “lying down” as finding that it is impossible to get ahead, mired as they are in a struggle to financially support themselves. [Chinese]

In the past, the Party-state has taken aim at the “Four Won’t Youth” referred to in the quote above. In 2023, a document suspected to originate with the Guangzhou branch of the Communist Youth League called for an effort to transform these young people into “Four Will Youth,” willing to go out on dates, get married, purchase real estate, and procreate. Screenshots of the alleged document were eventually censored on Weibo. A leaked 2021 censorship directive, translated by CDT, instructed major e-commerce platforms to remove from sale any items featuring the terms “lie down,” “lie-downism,” or “involution.” (CDT’s most recent ebook lexicon contains updated entries for terms related to “Four Won’t Youth,” including “lying flat,” “involution,” and “Kong Yiji literature.”) 

In his WeChat article “Don’t Be Fooled by What They Call ‘Lying Down,’” Tang also delved into Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and cited recent data on employment, income, and poverty to support his assertion that the vast majority of ordinary Chinese workers are so beset by precarity that they would not dream of becoming bona fide slackers:

According to data recently released by [job recruitment website] Zhaopin.com, only 43.9 percent of college students graduating with bachelor’s degrees received job offers. Among recent postgraduates, the number who received offers was as low as 33 percent. This suggests that the vast majority of young college graduates are finding it difficult to support themselves.

[…] According to the National Bureau of Statistics’ “China Statistical Yearbook 2021,” there are 560 million people in China with a monthly income of less than 1,000 yuan [approximately $138 U.S. dollars], and 310 million people with a monthly income of between 1,000 and 2,000 yuan. These two groups combined account for 62.1 percent of China’s total population, an absolute majority. In contrast, only 10.8 percent of the population earns more than 5,000 yuan [$690 U.S. dollars] monthly, which makes them a clear minority.

Think of it this way: 90 percent of Chinese society is in a precarious position, working tirelessly just to support themselves. They cannot afford to lie down; if they appear to have given up, it is simply “learned helplessness.” [Chinese]


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