Skip to content

“Tang Ping,” A New Form of Social Disobedience in China

Since April 2021, “Tang Ping (躺平),” or lying flat, has become the hottest buzzword in mainland China, especially among the younger generation.

It means to take a rather passive attitude toward life and to stay away from the fierce competition, such as fighting for a better job or promotion, buying an apartment that is too expensive to afford, participating in investment options in the hope of getting rich, and other similar endeavors.

Why would the up-and-coming generation rather lie flat than climb the social ladder?

To understand this new phenomenon, we must talk about two other buzzwords.

One is called “Jiucai (韭菜),” or leek. {1}

A leek is a popular green vegetable used in Chinese cuisine. It is a perennial plant, easy to grow and quick to spread. The best part is that one can cut the top part for food and the lower part will grow up again. In other words, it can be harvested multiple times during its growing season.

Originally, “Jiucai” was a self-deprecating term used to describe the naïve, inexperienced individual investors in China. China’s stock market has gone through ups and downs many times. Usually any institutions, many of which were government-owned, managed to get through any hard times without much suffering. Sometimes there were suspicions that these organizations created turmoil in order to suck in other people’s money. The individual investors were usually the biggest losers. They saw their accounts go up and all of a sudden everything got wiped out. Thus, they call themselves the “Jiucai,” who had been cut in the stock market.

Yet, more such investors would jump into the market later. They became the fresh ”Jiucai,” ready for a new round of harvesting.

Today, middle-class Chinese consumers call themselves “Jiucai.” They realize the harvesting field is not just the stock market, but also the housing market and consumer fields in general.

With the economy slowing down and with trade wars with the West escalating, white-collar workers in the private sector and small to mid-size business owners feel they are also “Jiucai.” They see that their interests are being sacrificed to save the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). {2}

A cartoon on the internet vividly depicts the situation. It shows one hand grabbing a bunch of “Jiucai” and the other hand using a sickle. The hammer and sickle are part of the Communism’s hammer and sickle symbol.

The other buzzword is “Nei Juan (内卷).” “Nei” in Chinese means “inside,” and “Juan” means “rolling.” It describes a process that curves inward. It implies an endless, senseless competition: Since there are many people in the competition, only some will win. One can work extra hard to increase his chance of winning, but his effort will soon be equalized as everyone will be working extra hard. The net result is an increased workload and intensified competition, with no one gaining at all. It is basically an acceleration without a destination, progress without a purpose. The closest word in English is “involution.” {3}

A typical “Nei Juan” example is the vicious internal competition in the meal delivery business in China. Many people want to be delivery people due to lack of other job opportunities.Therefore, they would ask for less paybut promise faster delivery service. In 2019, a delivery driver made $1.41 for each order. In 2021, it dropped to $0.63. At the same time, companies demanded that the delivery time drop from 40 minutes per delivery to 30 minutes, and then in late 2020to 25 minutes.After that, people said that it could not be done any faster. {4}

In the end, there was no shortage of applicants. Every day, at least 6 million drivers are out there making deliveries on their scooters. They have become a major cause of the many traffic accidents that occur. Often, these traffic accidents are fatal.

Another example is in China’s hypercompetitive tech industry, where grueling work hours have become the norm. Tech workers coded their work hours as “996,” meaning 9am to 9pm, 6 days a week. Some extreme cases are known as “007,” meaning from midnight to midnight, 7 days a week. {5}

Last December, a twenty-two-year-old employee at the eCommerce company Pinduoduo collapsed on the ground in the middle of the night. She was on her way home from work. She died six hours later, apparently from exhaustion and overwork.  Her case was one of many.

In 2020, the word “Nei Juan” made it to the top ten list of the most popular buzzwords in China.

The new buzzword, “Tang Ping,” or lying flat, came six months later.

It first appeared among the young generation. They realized that a college degree means nothing in the job market. China produces 9 million college graduates each year, among which a few million have a hard time finding a job. Many end up delivering food on scooters. If they are lucky to find a job, their salaries are barely enough for them to support themselves, let alone a family. Even if they were to work for 50 plus years, they still wouldn’t be able to afford an apartment. The prices in China’s real estate market are monstrously high.

So why bother with the rat race? They decided to throw in the towel.

They don’t want to get married (it would force them to buy an apartment).

They don’t want to have kids. (It would force them to pay a lot of money to raise their child and give him an in-school and out-of-school education).

They don’t want to own any property.The price of housing is way beyond their means.

They don’t want to work extra hours or even hold a job. It is the government or the company that would rake in or get the benefits of their hard work, while they would get little or nothing back.

One Weibo user said in a post, “You can’t stand up, but you don’t want to kneel down. Then you can only lie flat.”

When you lie flat, the sickle can’t reach you. At least that is the hope. {6}

This vast form of passive civil disobedience came at a time when the communist regime was promoting “working and consuming” to keep the economy running, as it faces international isolation.

It came at the time that the regime was introducing the three-child policy to combat the decrease in the birth rate and the increase in the aging population.

As a sign of concern, the Chinese social media platform Douban has censored a discussion group of nearly 10,000 members about “Tang Ping.” Overnight, T-shirts, cell phone cases, and other products with “Tang Ping” or “Jiucai” designs on them were taken off the shelves. Many state-run media are urging young people to ditch the idea.

Xinhua news agency set an official tone in May, “The new generation is not a generation that chooses to lie flat, but one that chooses to work hard!”

Nanfang Daily newspaper published an article titled, “Tang Ping Is Shameful; How Can It Be Justified?” An article on Guangming Daily newspaper said, “Tang Ping” obviously brings much harm to society’s economic development. The article called for the “Tang Ping” generation to work hard instead. The Communist Youth League criticized the “Tang Ping” idea on its Weibo, “In the midst of great winds and waves, the members of the young generation have lived up to their mission, to their families, and to their country. They have faith, have dreams, have endeavors, and have devotion. They never choose Tang Ping.” {7}

Obviously, Tang Ping has touched a nerve in the CCP regime.


1. CNN, “China’s middle class: We’re being picked like leeks by the government,” November 3, 2018.
2. QQ, “Promise Me, To Be that Sharp Sickle,” March 2, 2021.
3. The New Yorker, “China’s ‘Involuted’ Generation,” May 14, 2021.
4., “Deliver People Reached Limit to Delivery Meal.”
5. Quartz, “A niche Chinese Gen Z meme is ringing alarm bells for Beijing,” June 18, 2021.
6. Washington Post, “Young Chinese take a stand against pressures of modern life — by lying down,” June 5, 2021.
7. Radio Free Asia, “T-Shirt, Mobile Phone Cases, and Car Stickers about Tang Ping Are All Taken Down from Online Stores,” June 22, 2021.