The evolution of ‘lying flat’ in 5 buzzwords: Why China’s youth are over the rat race

Chinese youth are no longer just “lying flat” mentally. They’re taking it quite literally, posting pictures of themselves sprawled out on the streets in defeated poses.

After becoming an internet buzzword in 2021, the lying flat or 躺平 trend — which refers to the rejection of societal pressures to overwork and over-achieve — has evolved. Chinese workers are finding new ways this year to express their disillusionment with the rat race.

In June 2023, China’s unemployment rate for young people ages 16 to 24 hit a new record high of 21.3 percent (for comparison, the US’ youth unemployment was 7.5 percent that month). Those that have managed to find a job aren’t exactly loving it either, with positions typically offering long hours and low pay.

As such, burnt-out Chinese millennials and Gen Z are quiet quitting, straight up resigning, or turning to some interesting gigs for extra cash. Below are five trends that capture the country’s changing attitudes toward the workplace and life.

Zombie-style graduation pictures

Chinese graduates are posting photos of themselves sprawled on the ground as the youth unemployment rate hits a record high. Photo: Xiaohongshu

Late June is the start of graduation season in China, when social media feeds are overrun with students wearing caps and gowns and proudly showing off their diplomas. But some netizens have gotten creative about their graduation announcements this year by posting photos of themselves lying face down on the ground in what they’ve dubbed “zombie-style” poses.

On Xiaohongshu, the hashtag “zombie style” (#丧户风) has just a few thousand views. Instead, many of the pictures are tagged as “graduation picture,” “creative graduation picture” and “lying flat.” 

For the most part, the trend is all in good fun. “By taking funny pictures with friends, I can record more interesting moments,” a 2023 graduate of Beijing Normal University tells Jing Daily on Weibo. “I already found a job I like, so I can prepare to start working after graduation and move to a new city to begin a new life. I’m looking forward to it.”

But not all graduates feel so optimistic about the future. Besides being confined to their dorms during the pandemic akin to “being locked in a prison,” the job search looked “particularly dismal” this year, said a Nanjing University graduate to the Washington Post.  

As the number of graduates surges every year — the class of 2023 has nearly 11.6 million students — the competition for scarce roles becomes even more fierce.

Scratch tickets

Lottery machines can be found in train stations and shopping malls across China. Photo: Xiaohongshu

Pessimistic about their financial prospects, Chinese Gen Z are looking for a little extra luck. Scratching lottery tickets has become their new favorite after-work hobby, causing lottery machines to spring up at train stations, shopping malls, and convenience stores across the country. 

In April 2023, lottery ticket sales reached a whopping $7 billion (50 billion RMB), up 62 percent year on year, the highest April figure in a decade, according to China’s Ministry of Finance. 

“Lottery ticket prizes aren’t much, at most a million RMB, but it’s like a small goal that young people look forward to achieving,” writes Xiaohongshu account @三联生活实验室, calling scratch tickets a “psychological massage.” Similar to blind boxes, scratch tickets offer buyers quick gratification and a sense of accomplishment. 

Lottery ticket bouquets have become go-to gifts for birthdays and resignations. Photo: Xiaohongshu

The popularity of lottery tickets has been driven by local bloggers and livestreamers. On Xiaohongshu, the hashtag “winning the lottery” (#彩票中奖) has 277 million views while “scratch tickets” (刮刮乐) has 112 million views. In addition to sharing livestreams of themselves scratching tickets, netizens have also turned lottery tickets into bouquets as a way to celebrate birthdays, marriages, and resignations. 

“This is just a chance for today’s young people to make a fortune in the face of desperation in reality,” writes Xiaohongshu user @老默总监文案. 

Quiet quitting

Xiaohongshu’s mental health sub-account recently posted a campaign about quiet quitting, with a meme (left) that reads “me about to quit my job.” Photo: Xiaohongshu

A trend that went viral on TikTok last year, quiet quitting is now infiltrating Chinese offices. On Xiaohongshu, famous comedian Li Dan describes the phenomenon as “serious half-heartedness”: “I won’t put any emotion into it but I’ll do the work; I won’t give 100 percent, just 60 percent.”

In China, overtime and overwork culture is still prevalent, despite labor laws capping the work week to 44 hours (anything above requires extra compensation). Given a lack of enforcement, stories of toxic work environments have gone viral; in June of this year, real estate conglomerate Wanda Group went so far as to publicly humiliate an employee for checking his phone during lunch.

Wanda Group went viral for publicly shaming an employee for using his phone during lunch, garnering 270 million views on Weibo. Photo: Weibo

“Selling oneself to capitalism and working like cattle or horses is worse than being in prison; at least in prison one can have some time to go outside,” commented one Chinese netizen after the Wanda Group incident went viral on Weibo.

More young Chinese workers are choosing to do the minimum requirements of their job instead of going above and beyond. On Xiaohongshu, the term “mental resignation” (#精神离职) has 10 million views. Last month, the platform’s mental health sub-account even created a campaign around the trend, educating its followers on the stages of burnout and telling them to be more like the character Squidward from SpongeBob Squarepants.

Xiaohongshu user @奇想的笔记 lists out the ways employees can set boundaries at their workplace, such as not treating colleagues as friends, not meddling in other people’s business, and learning how to say no to tasks. “If you easily lower your bottom line, you will only become a weak and gullible person in the eyes of others.”

Resignation parties

The newly unemployed are throwing parties at hotpot restaurants to celebrate their resignation. Photo: Xiaohongshu

Life’s big moments call for a celebration — and for some, that’s finally quitting the job they hate. Newly unemployed netizens are throwing parties for themselves featuring giant banners, pageant-style sashes, flowers, balloons and a cake. Hotpot chains like Haidilao and Hotpot Factory (怂重庆火锅厂) are popular places to host the event, with staff offering to hang up banners and perform a song.

On Xiaohongshu, various topics related to quitting have racked up millions of views. The hashtags “how are you doing after naked resignation” (#裸辞后的你过的怎么样), which refers to quitting a job without something lined up, “I resigned,” (#我离职了) and “quitting from an internet giant” (#互联网大厂理智) have totaled 325.3 million, 178 million views, and 11.5 million views, respectively. 

Amid the celebratory posts, some netizens are being more realistic about what it means to quit without a plan. Xiaohongshu user @王同学的裸辞日记, who claims to have left a major internet company, points out several challenges people could face after resigning. 

“Without a stable income from the company, you need to accept changes in the composition of your income… Without a company to shield you from the wind and rain, it is even more cruel to face the business world,” he writes in a post.

Still, Xiaohongshu creator @茜茜喲西, who makes content about her life after quitting her job, reminds her 15,000 followers: “Have you forgotten why you resigned in the first place? Isn’t it because you worked hard every day, and ended up making your boss and landlord rich, while you’re still poor with a lot of grievances. So what if you resign?”

“Have you forgotten why you resigned in the first place? Isn’t it because you worked hard every day, and ended up making your boss and landlord rich, while you’re still poor with a lot of grievances. So what if you resign?”

Full-time children

Chinese adults vlog about their experiences being “full-time children,” which often involves spending time with their parents and doing household chores. Photo: Xiaohongshu

“Work from home” has taken on a whole new meaning. In recent months, some Chinese workers have stepped back from their 9-to-5 (or 9-to-9, if they’re in tech) for a new gig: being a full-time child. 

These adult children are choosing to return home to take care of their parents in exchange for financial support or rent-free living. 

The hashtags “full-time daughter” (#全职女儿) and “full-time children” (全职儿女) are trending on Xiaohongshu, with 36.3 million views and 2.3 million views, respectively. Blogger Elle Lee, an unmarried 36-year-old, shares her average day being a full-time daughter, which includes walking the dog, preparing three meals, cleaning the house, and keeping her parents company.

Being a full-time child is usually just something to do in-between jobs or while studying for post-graduate entrance exams. Some online commenters have criticized the trend as a new form of “gnawing the old” (啃老), or mooching off one’s family, but others see it as a way to spend time with their aging parents.

“Many old people in foreign countries rent their houses to young people at a low price or free of charge, just hoping to have someone to accompany them to chat and help some difficulties in life,” Lee writes on Xiaohongshu. 

“In today’s society, it’s easy to leave the older generation behind. They don’t understand a lot of new things, and it’s hard to learn,” says Lee. “Don’t deny the value of full-time children, just as you wouldn’t deny the value of full-time wives!” 


Consumer Insights, Gen-Z, Millennial