Chinese Whispers

China’s ‘snowflake generation’

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In this episode

Cindy Yu

Tangping, or 'lying flat', is a new lifestyle tempting China's millennials. Describing a minimalist stress-free life where one opts out of a career and raising family, lying flat is the young person's desperate answer to the infinite rat race of modern Chinese workplaces and society. But while there are few lie-flatters as of yet, the allure of the lifestyle has propelled the term into the mainstream. 

On this episode, I chat with millennial journalist Karoline Kan, author of Under Red Skies, about the phenomenonWe discuss what it is about modern working life, in particular, that disillusions young people (tune in to hear about the horrific '996' work regime - 9am to 9pm, six days a week), whether they (we) are a 'snowflake generation' compared to the struggles of their (our) parents, and what this means for the Chinese government's social contract with the people. As Karoline points out, at the end of the day, the lie-flatters are protesting against modern mores with their lifestyles, in the absence of all other methods of protest: 'We cannot change how the rules are made. We cannot decide how the society is running. But at least we can vote in this way that we are not happy with the current situation'.

As you might expect, many members of China's older generations (and the Communist leadership) see this as little more than laziness and immaturity. The Party, in particular, has argued that China cannot lie flat yet - it still needs a vibrant, productive workforce to continue economic growth. But Karoline argues that these arguments have little sway these days: 'It's not just about sacrificing for the motherland. It's not that time anymore... Compared to the older generation, they [young people] have a much stronger sense of their individual lives and what they really want'

Tune in to hear what the young people of China are really talking about.