Lay Flat and Let It Rot

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Gen Z woman daydreaming at her desk, representing the lay flat and let it rot movements in China.

I’m sitting across from my boyfriend while eating hotpot on a Saturday. We’re jumping between random topics: League of Legends, the panda videos they’re playing on the flatscreen TV in the restaurant, the episode in the Marineford arc of One Piece that we just watched (RIP to my boy).

Classic hotpot chit chat.

While munching down on a piece of corn, I casually let slip, “Ugh, I just wanna rot today.”

That elicits a glance up from my boyfriend’s pile of meat and bowl of fried rice.

“You want to rot?”

“…Yeah?”

“ROT?! Are you…serious?”

Let me explain his reaction. He’s from Singapore, a culture built on hard (hard) work, relentless drive, and pursuit of perfection. I am from the United States. I bleed red, white, and blue. My alarm clock plays bald eagle screeches and the national anthem. I’m literally doing the Pledge of Allegiance right now.

Keeping these cultural differences in mind, his reaction came from my word choice. Rot.

You see, in many parts of Asia (including some of the places he grew up), there’s a concept called tang ping (躺平) that first started floating around the internet towards the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Bai lan (摆烂) is another, newer variation that shares a similar meaning.

Tang Ping = Lay Flat

Bai Lan = Let It Rot

These terms are much more drastic than my Saturday TikTok time, wrapped under three blankets with my dog snoring next to me. Tang ping and bai lan are lifestyles. Movements of a generation.

While we were finishing up our final bites of chili-broth-soaked meat, he started to fill me in on the lore behind these concepts.

Let’s get into it.

The Origins of Laying Flat

In its essence, tang ping describes the rejection of societal pressures to overwork, take on responsibility outside of your job scope, and participate in rat race culture.

It prioritizes mental, physical, and emotional health over climbing the corporate ladder.

At face value, you have my attention.

It’s similar to the “quiet quitting” movement that was popular in the United States around 2022, which entails only doing what is required of you. Hitting the bullet points in the job description, and nothing else. Work-related activities solely within work hours. Not one second of overtime, so help me god.

Standing ovation for that.

In China, young people are finding office work to be increasingly unfulfilling. They’re demoralized by slowing economic growth and the grueling hours expected of them that previous generations faced without protest. It’s becoming commonplace to see newer generations deviate from the paths of their parents, quitting their demanding jobs in favor of lower pay, but gaining more freedom to pursue fulfilling ventures and foster a life outside of their career.

Bai lan is the more extreme version of this, which describes actively embracing complete deterioration, rather than trying to improve yourself. It constitutes the voluntary retreat from pursuing your goals because they’re “too difficult” or “unrealistic” or “just not worth it.”

The prevalence of bai lan is growing. This should be alarming to you, and even more so if you relate.

So, What Now?

Let’s set aside the political aspect, and look at these concepts at face value. Young people are feeling increasingly unfulfilled, and this isn’t an issue that’s specific to China. It’s happening in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Japan, South Korea. We are all realizing that the societies built by our predecessors often aren’t optimized for happiness and fulfillment.

Call us crazy, selfish, lazy – whatever, dude. We just want careers that are defined by the pursuit of joy. We reject the societal pressures to overwork, over-achieve with nothing to show for it, and exist within the rat race only to receive ever-diminishing returns. It’s simply not worth our time, and it’s becoming less attractive as the years go on.

Tang ping and bai lan are a silent protest against a system that demands reform.

We are not our parents’ generation, and dead pigs aren’t afraid of boiling water.

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Head Writer and Editor for GradSimple. She also translates all of Ricky's incoherent raccoon ramblings into readable content (newsletter subscribers know what's up).

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