Tom Hodgkinson on a new idler rebellion stirring in China
My favourite of the many great songs by the late Neil Innes must be “Lie Down and be Counted”.
Just to remind you, the chorus of this stirring idler’s anthem goes like this:
Lie down and be counted
Don’t take any more,
Lie down and be counted,
What are we standing for?
Noble and visionary sentiments indeed, and I was reminded of the song this week when reading a news story about a new wave of rebellious Chinese youth who are apparently obeying Innes’s injunction.
The new movement is called Lying Flat and its followers advocate various forms of idling as a protest against going in to the office and working for the man.
One such example is Zhiyuan Zhang, 27. He told US website Insider:
“8am means it’s time to lie down. I don’t have a job to go to though, so I can lie down anytime. It’s great.”
The Lying Flat movement is a conscious act of resistance to the so-called “9-9-6” work culture in China, where young people commonly toil from nine till nine, six days a week.
This overwork culture can be deadly: this year two employees at e-commerce company Pinduoduo died. One collapsed after staying at the office till 1.30am, and the other committed suicide.
Lying Flat in a nutshell
To me, the movement looks like a revival of the ancient Chinese Taoist philosophy, which is all about refraining from unnecessary action. “Lying down is my wise man’s movement,” wrote the anonymous author of Lying Flat’s manifesto. “Only by lying down can humans become the measure of all things.”
Lying Flat adherents are not exactly lazy. They’re just looking to be happy and well. Freelance designer Yubo Li, 31, does four or five hours a day on freelancer projects and for him, that’s enough.
“Of course, I know that if I were to join a corporate design firm, I would very likely make more money and be able to afford more tasty food and better accommodation,” says Yubo. “But I would only sleep three hours a day and have no time to enjoy life. Now my simple bowls of noodles taste good and my bed is soft enough. I see no reason to try harder,” he adds.
Well said, Yubo. Send us your address and we’ll mail you a copy of the Idler magazine.
These comments were mailed to us after an earlier version of the above piece was sent out as a newsletter. We like to publish a selection and reserve the right to edit them for clarity. Feel free to drop us a line with your thoughts.
Your email reminds me of a nice anecdote Paul Johnson tells of an encounter with Winston Churchill: “He gave me one of his giant matches he used for lighting cigars. I was emboldened by that into saying, ‘Mr Winston Churchill, sir, to what do you attribute your success in life?’ and he said without hesitating: ‘Economy of effort. Never stand up when you can sit down, and never sit down when you can lie down.’ And then he got into his limo.”
On that theme, you might like my theme for lockdown Britain, to be played on guitar or uke. The chorus goes:
I’m an everyday hero
Battered but unbowed
Doing nothing much through thick and thin
I’m an everyday hero
I feel so bloomin’ proud
To be sittin’ on me arse for England
Sitting on me arse, sitting on me arse
Sitting on me arse for England.