Chinese young people living under communism suffer from a cruel spiritual affliction far worse than the Covid virus. The anguish strikes at the core of the anti-natural Marxist system.
It is called neijuan (内卷) in Chinese. The word means an uneasy inward rolling action. Many of China’s millennials and Gen Z feel the word expresses their growing frustration about not advancing in life. This stagnation leads them to “lay flat,” rolling uneasily on the sidelines.
In English, neijuan is translated as “involution,” an economic term expressing a bottleneck of resources that leads to this stagnation. Young Chinese feel it describes their frantic wheel-spinning toward advancement without destination, purpose or meaning.
In whatever language, the term applies to tens of millions of burned-out Chinese youth that are opting to “lay flat” by adopting a resigned, indifferent attitude toward their world and work. The trend is causing concern among Communist Party cadres.
The Failure of Communism to Satisfy
Neijuan is not supposed to happen under communism. The materialistic philosophy holds that the progress of the Revolution should make all workers happy. Communists believe that the only thing that exists is matter in constant evolution and motion. Thus, industrial society facilitates this motion by turning everyone into cogs in the immense machine of industrial progress. In a booming China, living on Western capital and trade, things could not be better.
Indeed, the pampered “involuted” youth, fruit of the one-child policy, have everything they need. Many hold good jobs and work at prestigious high-tech firms. They represent the height of success by Chinese standards and even some Western models.
And yet, they are miserable.
Students Feeling Like Trash
Unlike past generations, their sadness goes beyond that endured under classic communism. These new malcontents are the victims of the frenetic intemperance of a much more intensive tyranny. The present system absorbs ever more energy and time from students and workers. The Communist Party establishment promotes cutthroat competition and relentless work schedules to thrust the nation into a future of hegemony and wealth. It is almost a patriotic duty to be stressed out.
The frenzy begins among students who must study their way to success with inhumane hours and the ruthless race to secure entrance into prestigious institutions. It involves enormous efforts for limited results. The rat race raises existential questions in the minds of countless young Chinese about the meaning of this frantic path to success.
In an article in The New Yorker, Yi-Ling-Liu reports on a discussion thread called “985 trash” that appeared on the popular social media site, Douban. The number “985” refers to a group of elite Chinese universities like America’s ivy league. The author said that “many students at these institutions feel like ‘trash’: anxious, stressed, overworked, trapped in a status race.”
In light of this frustration, they are “lying flat.” Chinese social media is abuzz with talk of “involution.” Throughout the country, memes and posts ridicule the crazy lifestyles of hyper-competitive students. Neijuan rocketed to be one of the most commonly used Chinese words of 2020.
“996” Slave Labor Schedules
The struggle for positions only intensifies after graduation. The booming high-tech sector absorbs the individual with exhausting demands. Workers are often expected to work what is known as a “996” schedule (from nine to nine, six days a week) with common overtime requests. Indeed, this slave labor workload is still considered reasonable in Red China. Some overworked techies say their schedules are more like “007,” which means online 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Young Chinese enter into the fast-paced world of fast food, shiny gadgets and algorithm-driven work routines. It is a vicious cycle since advancement comes at the cost of ever-more work and stress. Thus, many young employees are opting to do the minimum and “lay flat.” Ms. Liu writes that “many tech workers, having scaled and optimized their lives, sense that they have become just like their devices: interchangeable and emblazoned with a sheen of productivity, for no real higher purpose.”
The practice appears to be widespread. A Weibo poll involving 241,000 people found that over 75% of the respondents say they are at least somewhat accustomed to “laying flat.” One office worker ironically observed that the more proletarian a department is, the more “involuted” it will be.
Neijuan Found Outside the Workplace
Neijuan in the workplace spills out into other areas of life. Young Chinese are “involuting” in consumerism, social activities and marriage. Frustration compels many young people to be indifferent to marriage and the begetting of children. They forego large purchases or investments. They see no sense in pursuing any long-term goals and activities inside this intense atmosphere.
Indeed, China’s recent announcement of its new “three-child policy” was met with indifference and even sarcasm. It is absurd, but China is such a controlled nation that unfortunate couples must ask for permission to have more children. In an “involuted” world, many say: why bother?
A Resistance of Despair
The Communist establishment is perplexed by the phenomenon not seen in past generations. It has reacted by both coaxing and threatening slackers. Officials maintain the party line by insisting that they will find realization in life if youth practice more diligence. However, China’s millennials and Gen Z members are broken by an anti-natural system they can no longer fight head-on.
The youth are standing up by “laying flat.” It is a strange protest that leaves the communists helpless. However, such tactics also lack dynamism, and therefore effectiveness. Many workers drift into anarchic and nihilistic alternatives that are far from healthy. They adopt coping mechanisms, Buddhist practices and slow-down tactics to survive. By slumping deeper into the office chair, the workers only perpetuate the inefficient communist system by failing to fight back actively.
How to You Say “Acedia” in Chinese”
Neijuan is the politics of despair that is born of a profound yearning inside the soul. A spiritual crisis of massive proportions afflicts China and also the West.
China suffers from what Saint Thomas Aquinas calls acedia. He defines it as a mental state that triggers a weariness for spiritual things and a subsequent sadness of living. When people deny their spiritual appetites, they become dragged down by the stress of feverish living and seek what is fleeting and limited. It leads to acedia’s effects of listlessness, low spirits and lack of joy.
The Communist regime ruthlessly suppresses all spiritual appetites, and thus, Chinese youth are sensing the emptiness of life. The limited material pleasures inside the system’s slave labor schedules cannot compensate for this loss. The present generation feels the emptiness of the older communist establishment. To them, the whole world looks broken.
As Saint Thomas notes, a person becomes unbalanced when limited to a materialist perspective. It creates a crisis inside the person who cannot fill the spiritual appetites. This crisis leads to frustration, nervous problems…and neijuan.
Inside this broken world, the young person cannot see a higher reality or dare to dream of greater perfection. There is no appreciation of the past or prospect for a marvelous future. There can be no appeal to Almighty God. A world that cannot ascend to great ideals is doomed to “lay flat” in misery.
This is why China and the world need to turn to the Christian roots of a civilization that corresponds to human nature and completely explains reality. Only then will youth embrace life with fortitude, finding meaning and purpose. They will then satisfy their spiritual appetites turned upward to God and not by “laying flat” to escape communist tyranny.
Photo Credit: © ryanking999 – stock.adobe.com
Updated December 1, 2021.