Commentary: Chinese youth want to “stay flat”. The authorities take them seriously

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HONG KONG: China’s social contract is unraveling, and a song deleted from the country’s internet vividly captures the problem.

“Lying flat is good, lying flat is wonderful, lying flat is good, lie down so you don’t fall”, sings Zhang Xinmin in Chinese as he is lying on a sofa strumming a guitar.

“Lying flat”, a tendency among young Chinese to withdraw from stressful jobs, represents the antithesis of a development model which has experienced extraordinary growth over four decades by mobilizing the maximum efforts of its population.

Beijing is more than a little disturbed. “In this turbulent era, there is nothing like lying flat and waiting for prosperity,” Wu Qian, an official spokesperson, said this week. “There is only the splendor of the struggle and the effort. Young people, come!

READ: Comment: In China, authorities fear that wanting to relax could spark the next youth revolution

Such concerns are at the root of several initiatives to galvanize people and encourage families to have more children. Among those measures, the decision last week to crack down on after-school tutoring, a $ 100 billion business that puts considerable stress on schoolchildren while taxing their parents’ finances, is crucial.

New rules issued by the Council of State, or cabinet, prohibit for-profit tutoring in basic school subjects. The news struck like love at first sight, causing the stock prices of US-listed industry leaders TAL Education, New Oriental and Gaotu Techedu to fall.

China’s leader Xi Jinping’s antipathy to after-school tutoring was telegraphed. In March, he criticized a “mess” in the sector and called it “a chronic disease that is very difficult to cure”.

READ: Is school out? Tuition fee restrictions add to anxiety for Chinese parents

CITY LIFE BECOMING A HAMSTER WHEEL

But the fact that Beijing has been willing to administer what could be a death blow to an industry that employs hundreds of thousands of people reveals how seriously it takes the problem.

For tens of millions of middle-class people in major Chinese cities, life has become a hamster wheel of increasing efforts and decreasing rewards. A slew of housing, education, health care and other expenses are rising faster than average wages, making many people feel like they are running to stand still.

“The latest measures to bring down tutoring companies after classes are in line with the shift in focus towards the quality of life of the Chinese people,” said Yu Jie, senior researcher at Chatham House, a think tank based in London.


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