The Tang Ping Movement: Asia’s First Steps Towards Financial Independence

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Photo credit:  By David Bartus in People

“Work has become Intolerable. Rest is resistance.” – New York Times on the “Lying Flat” movement

I first heard about the “Tang Ping” (躺平) or “Lying Flat” movement from my Dad during a visit with my parents.

For those of who’ve never heard of “Tang Ping” ( 躺平), it started with a 31-year-old factory worker in China named Luo Huazhong (social media nickname: “Kind-Hearted Traveler”), who posted a picture of himself this April, lying in bed, curtains drawn, to the popular Chinese site “Baidu”.

In the caption, he put:

“Lying Flat is Justice.”

When asked why, he said he was protesting China’s hypercompetitive middle-class culture of working “996”—working 9am to 9pm, 6 days a week—a lifestyle praised by Ali BaBa founder and workaholic Jack Ma.

Huazhong is giving up on the Chinese Dream of killing yourself at work to afford a car, a house, nice clothes, and fancy things—all the trappings of a middle-class lifestyle. He is fighting back by not fighting at all. By choosing a “slow lifestyle of reading, exercising, and doing odd jobs to get by,” he is simply letting go and refusing to play.

To paraphrase the sage words of noted award-winning economist, Ali Wong:

“He doesn’t want to lean in. He wants to LIE DOWN.”

Immediately, his post went viral. Chinese Millennials now see him as a spiritual leader and want to follow in his footsteps (bike steps?) of cycling from 1300 miles from his home province of Sichuan (where I’m also from) to Tibet, eating only 2 meals a day, and getting by on just $60 a month.

Given that the “Tang Ping” movement is all about resisting hard work, I was shocked that my own Dad was talking about it.

If you’ve read my book, you know that the concept of “chi ku” or “eat bitterness” is something that Dad instilled in me since childhood. It’s the concept that you must persevere no matter how bad the situation is by pushing through obstacles without complaint. Turning a negative into a positive is seen as a strength and overcoming hardship is seen as character building rather than something to avoid.

That’s why I was so surprised to hear him talk about the exact opposite: refusing to work hard, throwing up your hands and just saying “fuck it!”.

Especially given that work is basically my dad’s religion. This is a man who chose an office meeting over his only daughter’s wedding, and at one point, ran back into said office to finish his work during a freaking earthquake (while everyone else was evacuated)!

And he yet he still thinks this movement makes sense? Interesting.

During a discussion over similarities in the beliefs of the “Lying Flat” movement and the FIRE movement, I realized that “Tang Ping” is Asia’s first step towards Financial Independence.

Here’s Why

Disillusionment from Working Ourselves to Death for the American/Canadian /Chinese Dream

When I saw my co-worker collapse and nearly die at his desk from overwork, it was my wakeup call to change my life. That’s how we got onto this FIRE path and as a result, I’ve been living the best years of my life travelling the world for the past 6 years. Even though we had to come back to Toronto due to the pandemic and family health emergencies, this past year has still been extremely rewarding, as FIRE has bought back our time so we could reconnect with family and friends and help them heal.

And this phenomenon of overwork can be seen throughout the world, especially in China, where working 12 hours a day, 6 days a week is common.

It wasn’t until recently that Chinese citizens (Millennials especially) started asking themselves “what is all this for?”

A house? A car? Status at work?

They started to realize that all this is an illusion. Houses in China are unaffordable, a car can only be used to drive to work since you have no time to go anywhere else, and status at work doesn’t matter when companies start to lay off anyone over the age of 35 to replace them with younger workers for a fraction of the pay.

The Chinese Dream is broken, just like the American and Canadian dreams. There’s no sense in work so hard for so little reward.

Rebelling Against the Status Quo

FIRE is a way to rebel against the status quo–killing yourself working crazy hours, hoping to retire at 65, if you make it.

The Tang Ping/Lay Flat movement is also a rebellion. Workers realized they can’t get ahead no matter how hard they work, so they simply give up and choose not to work. Since they don’t have the privilege of voting, protesting, or striking, their version of rebellion is to lay down and refuse to work. Why work hard for something you will never get? Put in the bare minimum effort to survive.

Choosing Minimalism over Consumerism

FIRE enthusiasts know that to be truly free, you need to optimize your spending. Because no matter how much money you have, if you spend into oblivion, you will always have to work harder to pay for it.

This is why the FIRE community tends to choose minimalism over consumerism. The more stuff you have, the more money and time you need to maintain them.

Minimalism frees you from having to work longer hours to pay for things you don’t need and gives you the mental clarity and bandwidth to spend your time doing things you enjoy with the people you love.  

The Lay Flat movement also advocates for minimalism over consumerism. Instead of dressing up in fancy clothes, going out for expensive dinners to impress colleagues, and filling up your house with designer furniture, spend your time doing simple things like reading books, going for walks, having picnics with your friends. All of which can be done for free, or next to nothing.

By choosing a minimalist lifestyle, the founder of the Tang Ping, is able to travel and live on a measly $60 USD a month.

The Stoicism and Buddhism Philosophies

Stoicism and Buddhism life philosophies both advocate for letting go of things you have no control over and living in the moment.

This is attractive for FIRE enthusiasts and the Lay Flat movement because instead of swimming against the tide and putting in futile effort, we are choosing to live in the moment, and not continuously striving to climb the corporate ladder and compete in the rat race.

Location Independence

The founder of the Lay Flat movement chose his social media name as “Kind Hearted Traveller”. This is on brand since after he decided to give up his job, he biked around China, living a simple, monastic life. This location independence has helped him get his time back because he no longer needs to pay exorbitant rent and be tied to an expensive city due to his job.

When we became financially independent, we also decided to decouple ourselves from Toronto since we no longer needed to work. As a result, we discovered that travelling the world was far less expensive than living in a major metropolitan city.

The Lay Flat movement and FIRE movement both know that when you no longer are tied to a job in an expensive city, this significantly decrease your expenses and lets you buy your time back to do things that you enjoy.

One of the best things about the Lay Flat movement is that it’s popular enough to worry the communist government. After all, they have experience quashing unrest and protests in the streets, but what do you do when the form of rebellion is passive resistance? Just like their failure to compel people to procreative once the one child policy became a problem, it’s kind of hard to fight people who refuse to fight.

Chinese citizens are waking up to the fact that working themselves to death for the Chinese dream no longer makes sense. Will they pick up the FIRE movement as their solution to the insane 996 work conditions? Only time will tell.

What I do know is that given how well our book is doing in Japan and South Korea, the FIRE movement is definitely spreading in Asia.

What do you think? Have you heard of the Tang Ping movement? Do you think it’s the first step towards the FIRE in China?


Life update: To our readers, my apologies for my slowness in answering your comments and replying to your e-mails lately. My mother was recently taken into emergency and hospitalized so I’ve been busy dealing with this family health crisis. She’s stable now but someone her age with the same condition in British Columbia literarily died after waiting for a doctor for 4 hours due to hospitals being overwhelmed by COVID. So, in that sense, my mother is extremely lucky.

I really hope you consider getting vaccinated if you’re not, because not only are you helping those who can’t get vaccinated get the vaccine, you are saving lives by not taking up valuable resources in the emergency room in the hospital. Both Wanderer’s dad and my mom are patients with life-threatening non-COVID-related conditions who could’ve died due to hospital staffing shortages from COVID.  Huge thanks to the doctors and nurses who helped them during this time.

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