Lying Flat

Justin Pickard

Tangpingism, a movement encouraging its proponents to lay flat, resonates strongly with FoAM’s long-running interests in aimlessness, receptivity, and doing nothing (broadly defined), a stream of work that included The Futures of Doing Nothing, a futuring project on responses to stress, overwork, and “the negative space of the consumerist work-ethic”.

Including excerpts from from the Tangpingist Manifesto in the Anarchist Library and, a place for rebels, naysayers and mischief-makers.

Tang ping (“lying flat”) is a lifestyle and protest movement that emerged among young people in early 2020s China, responding to a culture of overwork. Tang ping was associated with an “involuted” socioeconomic system; increasingly complex, more competitive, but subject to diminishing returns, with people working ever harder to achieve less. Writer Yi-Ling Liu describes the Chinese experience of involution as “acceleration without a destination, progress without a purpose, Sisyphus spinning the wheels of a perpetual-motion Peloton” (See: Liu, China's ‘Involuted’ Generation) Tang ping, and Tangpingism, allowed its adherents to express their dissatisfaction with a perceived breakdown in social mobility, consciously opting out of the default social norms to get married, have children, buy a home or car, and find corporate employment. Instead, committed Tangpingists adopted a more modest and simple lifestyle, shrinking their needs and doing the minimum required to get by.

Below, we reprint some gleaned excerpts from an anonymously-authored 2021 Tangpingist Manifesto. According to its translators, the text’s “exact origins are hard to discern”; it appears to have been originally posted to the social media app WeChat, then shared to Chinese-language platforms outside the Great Firewall (or vice versa) on 1 June 2021. A full, (an)archived version of the text can be found at the Anarchist Library. Tangpingist Manifesto

“A chive lying flat is difficult to reap”


Excerpts from the Tangpingist Manifesto 躺平主义者宣言

“Some of the young people, disgusted at what they see before them, are moving on. Rather than being crushed by a sinister life, they simply live instinctually. Their poses resembling rest, sleep, sickness, and death, are not meant to renew or refresh, but are a refusal of the order of time itself.

“The call of those great times that longed to convert life into fuel, once so violently urged them to move forward, is now just an irritating fly buzzing in their ears. This is the moment when one kind of magic fails, and another comes back to life.

This ‘lying flat’ movement, initiated from below, can be seen as a strategy of withdrawal from the imperative to maximise consumption and production and a refusal of the endless demands for competitiveness and constant self-improvement.

Lin and Gullota

“As a matter of fact, if it weren’t for the reminder of the Tangpingists, people would have forgotten that there is still such a thing as “justice.” Just as exploited employees try to reclaim their time from the bosses (...) the Tangpingists, who walk the same path, demand compensation for the endless overdrafts of the past. It’s believed that this remediation requires practitioners to reduce one’s needs in order to survive by consuming the least and working the least. Yet another growing desire is the redistribution of time and space by society as a whole, so that lying flat may become the practice of most people.

“Just rotate the world 90 degrees, and people will discover this unspoken truth: the one who lies flat is standing, and the one who stands is crawling. This secret worldview has become an insurmountable obstacle between the Tangpingists and the citizens. And until the world has been completely changed, the Tangpingists have no reason to change their posture.

“When Diogenes lay in his barrel and looked out at the world, he did not appear isolated. He did not shy away from advocating his ideas to passersby, and he placed the wooden barrels in the most prosperous road in the center of the ancient Greek world. He was poor, but full of life: lighting up every face in the street with a lantern during the day, supposedly searching for the real man; stepping on the fine carpet of Plato’s house, stating he was stepping on the idealist’s poor vanity; walking against the flow of the crowd as they left a theater and when asked why, claiming “It is what I have been doing all my life.” When his wooden barrel was crushed by iron hoofs, people quickly made another one for him.

“Few people know that the order we live in today is more ubiquitous and indestructible than it was in the days of the city-state that imprisoned most slaves. And who do we expect to rescue our ruined barrels? If we reject the order that imprisons most of us, but leave behind the order that separates and divides us and prevents us from loving one another sincerely, what have we rejected?

“A Tangpingist is the smallest autonomous region, and their body is an out-of-control place that drifts around. On any occasion, in any situation, whether it’s work, entertainment, classes, meals, mourning, weddings, Tangpingists practice their own ritual, Tangping. Faced with any person or entity, whether it is a leader, a boss, a division commander, or banknotes, medals, and national flags, Tangpingists are loyal to their own label, which is Tangping.

Tangpingists invent their own festivals. In the midst of such festivals, they celebrate neither harvest nor victory. They lie down on the highways where the traffic flows, in the factories where the machines run and the bodies are numb. They neither spend nor indulge. They lie down in shopping malls that serve as contemporary churches, in stately or majestic palaces or modern complexes. In the midst of such celebrations, they do not provide more leisure for themselves, but for others. They did not erect these shelters for themselves, but for all the oppressed.”

Planning with the Seasons

Further reading & references