Skip to content

Chinese Generations Y and Z Caught Between “Involution” and “Lying Down”

Involution (内卷Nei Juan) and Lying Down (躺平 Tang Ping) have become buzzwords among Generations Y (born in the 1990’s) and Z (born in 2000) in China. One refers to “excessive competition” while the other one indicates “dropping out of competition.” Both of them reflect the frustration of China’s younger generation towards the fierce competition in society.

On Weibo, there are over 1 billion views on topics related to “Involution.” In 2020, “Involution” became one of the “top ten buzzwords” in China. Involution came from Clifford Geertz who used it to describe the agricultural process in which many centuries of intensifying wet-rice cultivation in Indonesia had produced greater social complexity without significant technological or political change. Generations Y and Z in China use it to describe their feeling of powerlessness when faced with competition. If they don’t work hard and don’t compete, they will fall behind or end up dropping out; they are repressed and unable to make a breakthrough. What they are facing is unlike the1990’s or early 2000 when China’s economy was taking off. That was the time when their parents benefited. Generations Y and Z missed that window. Meanwhile they have also found that their parents or employers do not understand them very well.

In April 2021, six months after the word “Involution” gained popularity, Lying Down (躺平 Tang Ping) appeared. It is a way that those in the younger generation show their resistance to “Involution.” “Lying Down” means that Generations X & Y withdraw from the competition by giving up what they think is meaningless. The state media quickly expressed concern and even condemned the words. Guangming Daily pointed out that “Lying Down” is disadvantageous to economic and social development. The society needs the younger generation to bring “creative contributions” when China’s economic development is facing challenges such as an aging population. Nanfang Daily criticized that it is shameful to “Lie Down” and not making an effort. Other media call it an irresponsible attitude towards their parents and tens and millions of tax payers. The official media reports are merely there to maintain social stability. They had to allow the younger generations to release their frustrations, but many people will undoubtedly regard “Lying Down” as a social problem.

Source: BBC, June 2, 2021