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Matthew Brooker

China Isn’t Going to Take This Lying Down

For the establishment, nothing is more dangerous than finding out young people today just don’t buy into its values. 

What if everyone does it?

What if everyone does it?

Photographer: Wang Xi/Xinhua/Getty

As it approaches its centenary, the Chinese Communist Party is obsessed with the specter of collapse. The world’s longest-surviving Leninist state is constantly on alert for potential challenges to its authority; for years, it has spent more on domestic security than on the rapidly expanding defense budget. How to counter a foe that refuses to stand up, though?

“Lying flat” is a potential threat, however ephemeral, to the social contract that has held China together for more than three decades. The phenomenon, which has gripped social media in recent weeks, describes the growing tendency of urban youths to opt out of the rat race and take unambitious, low-paying jobs or not work at all, eschewing conventional goals in favor of a minimalist, subsistence existence. It’s a social movement that is reminiscent of the West’s hippies in the 1960s or, more recently, the hikikomori hermits of Japan.