From China Digital Space
nèijuǎnhuà | 内卷化
A sense of burnout and unhappiness felt by students and workers, blue and white collar alike, which was popularized on Chinese social media in 2020. The term from the work of American anthropologist Clifford Geertz, who describes "agricultural involution" as the intensification of existing agricultural practices in lieu of innovation, leading to enormous input of labor for marginal gains for laborers. At The New Yorker, Yi-Ling Liu explains involution as "acceleration without a destination, progress without a purpose, Sisyphus spinning the wheels of a perpetual-motion Peloton." At Sixth Tone, Wang Qianni and Ge Shifan describe involution as "the opposite of evolution," a process that "traps participants who know they won't benefit from it."
A combination of social and economic issues has led to the explosion of involution in digital discourse. It is used to critique China's increasingly competitive and cutthroat society, particularly for the growing middle class. Parents feel enormous pressure to get their children into the best schools and universities, while children feel ever increasing pressure to perform academically, while tech workers and white collar employees suffer from the long hours of 996 work culture. Many young Chinese are pushing back by "lying down."