Why Chinese graduates are choosing to ‘Tang Ping’

I have spent close to 3 weeks travelling in China, starting from Dali, Yunnan and I am currently in Anshun, Guizhou. As a thrifty backpacker, my accommodation of choice swings between hostels with nice common spaces and hotels that are offering great discounts. Choosing to stay in hostels has allowed me to meet people from all walks of life and spark interesting conversations. For some of them, it’s their first time meeting a Singaporean and my bilingual superpower allows us to have long and meaningful discussions.

By now, it’s no secret that a growing number of Chinese graduates are turning their backs on the prospect of grueling work schedules and relentless career pursuit, instead choosing to embrace a lifestyle known as “tang ping,” or “lying flat.” This movement, while not universally adopted, signals a significant cultural shift and reflects deeper economic and social realities. In my recent conversations with a few people who were staying in the same hostel as me, I grew to understand why they are choosing to “tang ping”.

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Disproportionate Work-to-Wage Ratio

For many young Chinese entering the job market, the financial returns simply do not match the personal investment. Before they graduate, they are expected to join companies as an intern to learn basic communication skills and workplace ethics. Companies pay interns a meagre 1,000 to 3,000 RMB per month. If you are from a tier-3 or tier-4 city like these two graduating students I met in the hostel, this means living your hometown to work in a bigger city. Doing so requires paying rent which can cost as high as 20,000 to 30,000 (or even more in bigger cities). An internship salary isn’t exactly a livable wage by any standards.

In the case of the two graduating students, they chose to spend 2 months travelling instead of interning in companies. I’ve learnt that it is also possible to pay a small fee to people who run small businesses to falsify internship records. For these two students, their families run small businesses of their own so getting an internship record shouldn’t be too difficult for them. But for the common man on the street, they hope to intern in a large company, display great results and get converted into full-time employees.

But life isn’t easy for employees as well. Despite long hours and high levels of commitment, starting salaries often hover between 5,000 to 7,000 RMB per month, still barely meeting the cost of living in many cities. The infamous “9-9-6” work culture—9 AM to 9 PM, six days a week—promises progression and prosperity but often at the cost of personal health and happiness.

Shift in Life Priorities

Today’s youth prioritize mental health and life satisfaction over traditional success metrics such as job titles and wealth. Influenced by global conversations around work-life balance and mental well-being, Chinese graduates are increasingly questioning the worth of a rat race that offers minimal personal time and maximum stress. Instead, they seek fulfilment in travel, hobbies, and self-development, valuing experiences over possessions.

There is this lady who’s volunteering to work in the hostel for a month in exchange for free food and accommodation. 1 month has turned into 2 and when I was leaving, I learnt that she intends to stay for a third month. She isn’t a fresh graduate. She has worked as an accountant for last 4 years before quitting her job. While professional jobs like accountants earn a good salary, the life of an employee can be very exhausting due to the work environment (内卷). Eventually she gave up and left her job to take a career break.

The Lure of Freedom and Exploration

Rather than diving into immediate employment post-graduation, many young adults are choosing to explore the world and themselves. This period of exploration is seen not as a delay in starting real life but as an essential investment in a more rounded and informed self. Travel and leisure, once considered luxuries or even frivolous, are now viewed as vital for a well-lived life.

One of the graduating students I’ve mentioned earlier is a perfect example. He enjoys hiking and is an avid free climber. In the past 2 months of his travels, he has hiked the Tiger Leaping Gorge several times, amongst other places. While hiking isn’t exactly work experience, I’d like to think that he has built up a certain level of resilience and tenacity that is needed to survive in companies.

Distrust in the Corporate Ladder

Amid stories of burnout and disillusionment from those further along in their careers, skepticism about the corporate world is rising. The traditional climb up the corporate ladder appears less appealing, with visible evidence of its toll on the generation before them. Young professionals are increasingly doubtful about the promised rewards, questioning the worth of their youth and vitality spent in cubicles and meeting rooms.

I know of a guy in the hostel who is a university graduate but chose to “tang ping” in the hostel for a while because he knows that what awaits him back home in Shandong is a dying industrial trade that pays little money and no career prospects. He knows that he is just delaying the inevitable but at the same time, he is also searching for new work options while travelling.

Global Influences and Social Media

The digital age has exposed young Chinese to alternative lifestyles and career paths around the world. From digital nomads to entrepreneurs, the stories shared across platforms like Weibo, Douyin, and beyond inspire them to think outside the traditional employment box. This global perspective fosters a belief that there are many ways to define success, and many are not tethered to a desk or a single city.

I’ve witnessed how the exposure on social media and global influences have their pros and cons. I’ve noticed how the locals, especially working adults and business owners are a lot more vocal about the government, voicing their dislikes for certain policies that have been implemented. That’s a stark difference from what I’ve seen a few years back when I was in China. In a particular case, there was a man from Funan in his mid 30s who is adamant that the Chinese government is corrupted and bad, and that the US government is the best in the world simply because Americans are allowed to protest and carry firearms.

I believe that there’s no perfect government or country, but it was impossible to have a proper conversation with him because he was stuck with his belief because that’s what influencers on Douyin are saying. And because influencers aren’t paid to speak, he believes that they must be right. My parting thoughts to him was that he should travel and visit the US before making such convictions. But at the same time, I also met a student who’s studying in Nanning and is on a holiday. He seemed more informed about the world and social media and is willing to accept new ideas and make his own informed decision. He intends to work in the media industry after graduating, which is in line with what he is studying.

It’s really not about “tang ping”

I know many Singaporeans make snark comments about the younger generation, especially when they choose to deviate from the traditional norm and choose to live a different life, be it “tang ping” or something else.

The “tang ping” lifestyle is not merely about doing less. it’s a profound statement on personal values and a redefinition of success. It speaks to a desire for autonomy over one’s choices and a life that values well-being over wealth. What Chinese graduates need to navigate and find out for themselves, is to create their own definition of what it means to live a good life.

For many young Chinese today, while they may choose to “tang ping” today, but deep within, they know that they are still searching for the path forward to live a meaningful life.

To these friends whom I’ve met over the course of my travels, I hope you manage to find the path you seek.


  1. Thank you for sharing your insights. Its very interesting and it gives a true understanding of what the Chinese younger generation’s expectations and hopes. Do share more, enjoy reading your posts.

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