Tang ping (躺平, literally translated as “lying flat”) is a term that we have seen circulating online in the last few months. It has emerged as the rallying call of Chinese millennials who have had enough of the rat race.
Exhausted by a culture of hard work with seemingly little reward, young Chinese men and women have taken to this new trend as an antidote to society’s pressure to find jobs and perform well while working long shifts.
It rebelling against society through a simple act of resistance: lying down and not moving.
Examples of the tang ping way of life include not getting married, not having children, not buying a house or a car and refusing to work extra hours or in more extreme cases, not to hold a job at all.
Does this spell doomsday for Chinese millennials?
Tang ping soon became a buzzword and received much discussion. Supporters portray it as a rejection of struggle and endless striving. Critics say it is defeatist. Chinese state-owned media have urged millennials to reject the idea.
This idea of not overworking, being content with more attainable achievements and allowing time to unwind — has inspired numerous memes and follow-up reports from around the world.
In Singapore, Mothership even came up, tongue-in-cheek, with a local version 站睡 (“zhan shui”, or literally to sleep standing up), which acknowledges that with our aspirations, Singaporeans might not be able to fully commit to doing the absolute bare minimum. Better to 站睡, said the article — do enough to get by, without getting into trouble.
The resonance of 躺平 shows how in every culture, country and in every generation, people are asking themselves what is the meaning behind their existence.
While keeping up to societal pressure and expectations is not just a common phenomenon facing China youths, I believe that this Covid-19 pandemic has also taught us to rethink what really matters in life.
Taking stock of life is necessary
We are officially in the second part of 2021. How time flies as I think back on the resolutions I set at the beginning of the year.
With living day to day keeping our heads above the water, it is good to take time to pause and evaluate about where we are and to learn to be mindful of what is happening around us at the moment.
Consider these things: What are you putting up with at the moment? What do you think you should be doing right now, professionally and personally? How do you currently feel? How do you want to feel?
It is important to find the gap between your expectation, your aspiration and your reality. And to see if you are doing anything to address that mismatch, if any.
This way, we gain a better perspective of where we are, and where we want to be, clearing our headspace that tends to be cluttered with the mess from day to day living and life challenges.
When we do that, we are better able to deal with the external pressures on us — to put pressure from our peers, our friends, our family and society in general, in the proper perspective.
That way, we may not have to reject such expectations wholesale with a 躺平, or to glide through life with a 站睡, because we are steady in our foundations with a 站稳 (“zhan wen”, literally, to stand firm), so to speak.
Then with that confidence, knowing what we want for ourselves, we don’t have to strive (and stress!) to attain external standards of living imposed on us.
Taking a break promotes overall wellness
I think it is important to make the distinction between speaking up and complaining.
Every generation has its problems, and everyone has our fair share of encountering stress that puts us out of our comfort zone. Could it be that young people today are simply being more vocal in expressing our emotions and stress? Everyone gets bruised by life, perhaps our way of dealing with that is by talking more about it.
Stress thresholds are different for every person and while we are all works-in-progress, it helps to exercise greater empathy for people who may be overwhelmed with life.
Strike a balance and find your middle ground
There will always be a gap between what we want for ourselves and what others want us to become.
It is a difficult call here, because while we are responsible for our own mental health, we should also be mindful of the love, consideration and yes, expectations of the people around us.
When their expectations do not match yours, the key is to communicate and find out where they are coming from, so that you can discuss how to meet each other in the middle.
While it is good to consider the love from family and friends or people who care for us that may motivate us to work hard and not disappoint, ultimately we are the owner of our lives and we make that call for ourselves.
Always ask yourself, what about me? What should I do for a life I wish to lead?
Take your time, lie down if you must, then stand up, stand firm and you’ll find your way.