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nèi juǎn | 内卷

Involution is a term popularized on Chinese social media beginning in 2020, describing a feeling of burnout and unhappiness felt by students and workers, blue and white collar alike. The term was explained by Yi-Ling Liu for The New Yorker as such:

The Chinese term for involution, neijuan, which is made up of the characters for “inside” and “rolling,” suggests a process that curls inward, ensnaring its participants within what the anthropologist Xiang Biao has described as an “endless cycle of self-flagellation.” Involution is “the experience of being locked in competition that one ultimately knows is meaningless,” Biao told me. It is acceleration without a destination, progress without a purpose, Sisyphus spinning the wheels of a perpetual-motion Peloton.

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