Work or Well-being? Young Asians Diverge on the Path to Happiness

ByThe Counter Journal

Facing a sluggish economy and bleak job prospects, a growing number of young Chinese are embracing a lifestyle philosophy known as “lying flat” (躺平, tǎng píng). This trend describes individuals who choose to prioritize personal fulfillment and work only enough to cover basic needs, rejecting the traditional pursuit of high-paying careers and material wealth.

Chu Yi, a 23-year-old former fashion company employee from Shanghai, exemplifies this movement. Disillusioned by long hours and an unpleasant work environment, she opted for a part-time remote position, allowing her to pursue her passion for tattooing through a six-month apprenticeship. “Work seems pointless if it only benefits your manager,” she asserts during an interview with Reuters. 

Chu’s experience reflects a broader trend. Though precise data is unavailable, the youth unemployment rate skyrocketed to 21.3% in June 2023, with many graduates settling for lower-paying jobs. This coincides with China’s slowest economic growth in decades, prompting pessimism among Generation Z (born 1995-2010), who are statistically the most negative age group nationwide.

President Xi Jinping faces a significant policy challenge in appeasing this disillusioned generation. In January 2024, the Human Resources Ministry pledged increased efforts to bolster youth employment, acknowledging the urgent need for solutions.

The “lying flat” phenomenon highlights the changing values and aspirations of young Chinese, prompting societal and economic reevaluations. Addressing these shifts could prove crucial for China’s future stability and growth.

However, it’s important to note that this trend isn’t universally embraced by young Asians. A recent survey on young Asians’ values on major online networks covering Malaysia, Singapore, China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan shows a contrasting picture. Malaysian youth, aged 18 to 45, scored considerably higher in their “4E” values (Engagement, Energy, Execution, and Expectation) compared to their Chinese counterparts. This suggests that young Malaysians are generally more energetic and less likely to adopt the “lying flat” mentality.

This comparison underlines the diverse perspectives and experiences among young Asians across different countries. While economic and social factors influence choices, cultural nuances and societal expectations also play a significant role in shaping youth aspirations.

Key Takeaways:

  • Young Chinese face a tough job market and are increasingly choosing “lying flat,” prioritizing personal fulfillment over traditional career paths.
  • This reflects economic challenges and Gen Z pessimism, posing a policy challenge for China.
  • However, young Malaysians show contrasting “4E” values, suggesting they reject “lying flat” and embrace a more energetic approach to life.
  • This comparison highlights diverse regional perspectives and the complex factors shaping youth aspirations.

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