“The work has become unbearable. Rest is resistance. ”- New York Times on the“ Lying Flat ”movement
I first heard of the “Tang Ping” (躺平) or “Lie flat” movement from my father when I visited my parents.
For those who have never heard of “Tang Ping” (躺平), it started with a 31-year-old factory worker in China named Luo Huazhong (social media nickname: “Kind Traveler”) who had a picture of himself April, lying in bed with the curtains drawn, on the popular Chinese site “Baidu”.
In the caption he wrote:
“Lying flat is justice.”
When asked why, he said he was protesting China’s “996” hypercompetitive middle class culture – working 9 am to 9 pm, 6 days a week – a lifestyle praised by Ali BaBa founder and workaholic Jack Ma.
Huazhong is giving up the Chinese dream of suicide at work in order to buy a car, a house, nice clothes, and fancy things – all the trappings of a bourgeois lifestyle. He fights back by not fighting at all. By adopting a “slow lifestyle of reading, exercising, and doing odd jobs,” he simply lets go and refuses to gamble.
To paraphrase the wise words of well-known award-winning economist Ali Wong:
“He doesn’t want to lean forward. He wants to lie down.”
His post immediately went viral. Chinese millennials now see him as a spiritual leader and want to follow in his footsteps (bicycle steps?) To cycle 1300 miles from his home province of Sichuan (where I am from) to Tibet and only eat 2 meals a day. and get by on just $ 60 a month.
Given that the Tang Ping movement is about resisting hard work, I was shocked that my own father spoke about it.
If you’ve read my book, you will know that the concept of “chi ku” or “eating bitterness” is something my father instilled in me since I was a child. It is the concept that in any situation, no matter how dire, you must persevere by walking through obstacles without complaint. Turning a negative into a positive is seen as a strength and overcoming difficulties is seen as character building rather than something to avoid.
That’s why I was so surprised that he said just the opposite: refusing to work hard, throwing up his hands and just saying, “Fuck it!”
Mainly because work is basically my father’s religion. This is a man who preferred an office meeting to his only daughter’s wedding and ran back to this office to finish his job at some point during a terrible earthquake (while everyone else was evacuated)!
And he still he thinks this movement still makes sense? Interesting.
During a discussion of similarities in beliefs between the Lying Flat movement and the FIRE movement, I realized that Tang Ping is Asia’s first step towards financial independence.
Disenchantment at working ourselves to death for the American / Canadian / Chinese dream
When I saw my colleague collapse and almost die from overwork at his desk, that was my wake up call to change my life. This is how we got on this FIRE path and as a result I have spent the best years of my life and traveled the world over the past 6 years. Even though we had to return to Toronto due to the pandemic and family health emergencies, the past year was still hugely rewarding as FIRE bought back our time so we can reconnect with family and friends and help them heal.
And this overworking phenomenon can be observed around the world, especially in China, where people work 12 hours a day, 6 days a week.
It was only recently that Chinese citizens (especially millennials) began to wonder, “What is this all for?”
A house? A wagon? Status at work?
They began to realize that this is all an illusion. Homes in China are unaffordable, a car can only be used to drive to work with no time to go elsewhere, and status at work doesn’t matter when companies start laying off people over 35 to get them through to replace younger workers for a fraction of the wage.
The Chinese dream is broken, just like the American and Canadian dreams. There’s no point in working so hard for so little wages.
Rebellion against the status quo
FIRE is a way to rebel against the status quo – by killing yourself by working crazy hours in hopes of retiring at 65 if you manage to do it.
The Tang Ping / Lay Flat movement is also a rebellion. The workers realized that despite their hard work, they couldn’t get any further, so they just gave up and chose not to work. Since they do not have the privilege of voting, protesting, or striking, their version of the rebellion is to settle down and refuse to work. Why work hard for something you will never get? Use minimal effort to survive.
Choose minimalism over consumerism
FIRE enthusiasts know that to truly be free, you need to optimize your spending. Because no matter how much money you have, if you are forgotten you will have to work harder and harder to pay for it.
For this reason, the FIRE community prefers minimalism over consumption. The more things you have, the more money and time it will take to maintain them.
Minimalism frees you from having to work longer hours to pay for things you don’t need, and gives you the mental clarity and breadth to spend your time with the people you love.
The lay-flat movement also advocates minimalism instead of consumerism. Instead of dressing up, going out to expensive dinners to impress coworkers, and filling your house with designer furniture, spend your time with friends doing simple things like books, walks, or picnics. All of this can be done for free or next to nothing.
By choosing a minimalist lifestyle, the founder of Tang Ping can travel and live on a measly $ 60 a month.
The philosophies of stoicism and Buddhism
Stoicism and Buddhist life philosophies both advocate letting go of things over which you have no control and living in the moment.
This is attractive to FIRE enthusiasts and the lay flat movement because instead of swimming against the current and making futile efforts, we choose to live in the moment rather than constantly striving to climb the corporate ladder and be in the To compete in rat race.
The founder of the Lay Flat movement chose his social media name as “Kind Hearted Traveler”. This is on the mark as, after making the decision to quit his job, he cycled around China and led a simple, monastic life. This independence of location has helped him to regain his time, as he no longer has to pay excessive rents and is professionally tied to an expensive city.
When we became financially independent, we also decided to decouple from Toronto as we no longer had to work. As a result, we found that traveling around the world was far cheaper than living in a large metropolis.
The Lay Flat Movement and the FIRE Movement both know that when you are no longer tied to a job in an expensive city, it will cut your expenses significantly and you can win back your time doing things you enjoy do.
One of the best things about the lay flat movement is that it’s popular enough to worry the communist government. After all, they have experience suppressing street riots and protests, but what to do if the form of rebellion is passive resistance? Just like their failure to force people to procreate when the one-child policy became a problem, it is kind of hard to fight people who refuse to fight.
Chinese citizens are realizing that there is no longer any point in working your way to death for the Chinese dream. Will they take up the FIRE movement as their solution to the insane 996 working conditions? Only time can tell.
What I do know is that the FIRE movement is definitely spreading in Asia, considering how well our book is being received in Japan and South Korea.
What do you think? Have you heard of the Tang Ping movement? Do you think it is the first step towards FIRE in China?
Life update: To our readers, I apologize for my slowness in replying to your comments and replying to your emails lately. My mother was recently rushed to the emergency and hospitalized so I was busy dealing with this family health crisis. She is stable now, but someone her age with the same condition in British Columbia literally died after waiting 4 hours for a doctor because COVID overwhelmed hospitals. In this respect, my mother is very lucky.
I really hope you are considering getting vaccinated if you are not because you are not only helping those who cannot get vaccinated, but you are saving lives by not using up precious resources in the hospital emergency room . Both Wanderer’s father and my mother are patients with life-threatening non-COVID-related illnesses who could have died from COVID due to a lack of staff in the hospital. A big thank you to the doctors and nurses who helped them during this time.
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