“Neijuan” and “Lying Ping” are words that Chinese post-90s and even post-00s often talk about. One refers to “excessive competition” and the other stands for “exit competition.” These two diametrically opposed terms reflect the frustration of the younger generation against the fierce competition in Chinese society.
Sun Ke, 27, comes from a small city in eastern China and has a wealthy family. Like tens of millions of young people who have just entered society, he wants to use his own efforts to buy a house and a car in a big city to gain a firm foothold.
He thinks it will not be too difficult to achieve this goal. In the past two to three decades, for generations of Chinese who have enjoyed the “reform and opening up” dividends, owning a house, owning a car, and becoming a middle class has formed an established social upward path, and even inspirational stories of starting from scratch and becoming multi-millionaires abound. Yes.
With the support of his parents and the little money he saved, he believes that he can live the life he wants quickly, just like other entrepreneurial and fortune stories he often sees on social media. At the end of 2018, shortly after graduating from school, he and his friend opened a food store selling bunches near a university in Shanghai. The two invested a total of 650,000 yuan.
He soon realized that the saturation of the market and the fierce competition exceeded his expectations, and it was not as easy to make money as his parents’ generation. Big brands and food delivery platforms have almost mastered the rules of the industry, and his small store has entered the market too late.
In order to compete for ranking on the food delivery platform and increase exposure, they can only try to keep the prices of their products down. For an order priced at RMB 50, customers may only need to pay RMB 25 after discounts on various activities are deducted, while merchants have to pay the discounted price of activities, the delivery price of takeaways, and the platform service fee.
“All new businesses are surrendering money to do business in order to survive. It is really as difficult for a new store to succeed.” Even if he gets up at six or seven in the morning and goes home at three or four in the morning, his business still hasn’t improved. .
In 2020, facing the reality of a loss of more than 1 million, they finally chose to close this store. In his view, his own experience, like the dilemmas faced by many people of the same age in different fields, is a manifestation of “social involution.”
“What everyone considers is not how to really improve quality, but to consume each other, which is really like a nightmare,” he said. “The result is that everyone is a loser.”
As an anthropological term, involution was originally used to refer to the problem of long-term intensive farming and labor in Asian agricultural societies without achieving economic breakthroughs. Young Chinese who are in fierce competition in various industries believe that their powerlessness in the face of competition has something in common with this phenomenon.
On Weibo, the cumulative number of views of various topics related to internal scrolls has exceeded 1 billion. In a selection last year, internal scrolls became one of China’s annual “top ten buzzwords”.
In 2020, several photos of Tsinghua University students studying hard began to circulate on the Internet, and the discussion triggered by the “introduction” began. In the photo, someone is riding a bicycle holding a laptop and writing a paper, someone is reading a book while riding a bicycle, and someone is eating noodles while riding a bicycle. The story of “Tsinghua King of Juan” began to spread, and the fierce competition from China’s top universities resonated with many young people.
Some students gave an example to the Chinese media to illustrate the meaning of this word: The number of words required for an essay assignment is about 5,000 words. In order to get better grades, many people choose to write 8,000 to 10,000 words or more. In the end, the proportion of students who can get the highest grades has not changed, but almost everyone has turned in homework that has greatly exceeded the teacher’s requirements.
Today this term has been borrowed by various industries. Sophie, 29, works for a top Internet company in China. She said that in the past two years, due to the saturation of the Internet market, she has not only faced the “996” type of overtime that is common in the Internet industry, but also “passive competition” brought by other teams within the company.
“It turns out that everyone is responsible for a module for the same project. Now that there are fewer good projects, there will be a lot of people coming to grab your independently responsible module, and everyone wants to get a piece of the pie.”
She said her situation is not an isolated case. “I roll, the people below me are also rolling, my boss, even the boss’s boss also rolls.”
“The semantics of involute in China is highly connected with the fierce competition. Young people continue to feel the pressure of competition. If they don’t work hard and don’t compete, they will fall behind, be eliminated, and be eliminated… But they have always been at the same level, like one The top was beaten, but there was no breakthrough,” said Xiang Biao, a professor of social anthropology at Oxford University.
“The most intuitive feeling for them is that they are very tired. They feel that their repetitive investment has not formed a breakthrough and can’t see the meaning.”
After the “reform and opening up” in 1978, China adopted a market economy system and its GDP has maintained double-digit growth throughout the year. For decades, “getting rich” has become the goal of several generations of Chinese, and the Chinese middle class has grown rapidly.
According to McKinsey & Company’s “China Consumer Survey Report 2020”, 10 years ago, 92% of Chinese urban households had a disposable annual income of RMB 140,000 or less. Today, 50% of Chinese households are among the wealthier households. , The disposable annual income reaches RMB 140,000 to RMB 300,000.
Sun Ke’s father brought a few houses and a generous life to the whole family by relying on the medical equipment business and stock trading. In his view, the essence of involution is the reduction of opportunities for this generation.
“Although our parents had their limitations in that era, there were also unique opportunities in that era. Because everything has just begun and is new, you can try it out. If you dare to think and do, it is very likely to succeed. “
Observers believe that behind the “involution” discussion is the frustration of young people who have come from the middle class in the face of missing the window of opportunity. In the process of growing up, they saw their parents share the dividends of China’s rapid economic growth, and imagined that they would also face the same vast opportunities, but the reality is no longer the case.
“The reason people are worried now is because they find that there is too much competition. It is no longer like in the 90s or the first few years of the 21st century. As long as they have an idea, they have the opportunity to start a business and get rich quickly. That stage of development has passed. “Xu Fang, lecturer in interdisciplinary studies at the University of California, Berkeley, said.
She pointed out that after decades of development, China has achieved the “integration with the world” that several generations of leaders have hoped, and a typical post-capitalist social state has emerged. However, compared with the industrial revolution in the West, the process for China to achieve this stage is very short.
“It’s so short that it still stays in people’s living memories. The parents of these young people, even their neighbors who are only 10 years older than them, can get so much benefit at this age, but now this window is closed for them.”
“In a way, this is a historic moment,” she said.
“Capitalists shut up”
Young people who are dissatisfied with being “wrapped” find that their frustration cannot be understood by the successful previous generation. In this process, the opposition between them and their employers and capital has become increasingly apparent.
In the Internet industry, which is the most popular among Chinese young people, a group of programmers are dissatisfied with the high-intensity overtime “996” work pattern common in the industry (working from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., 6 days a week). They are online Start a protest movement. They proposed that everyone get home from get off work on time and established a “996” blacklist.
While the “involution” has aroused heated discussion, the sentiment of Chinese young people against capital is also rising day by day. On a workplace show, Su Mang, a well-known figure in the Chinese fashion industry and former editor-in-chief of Harper’s Bazaar China, interpreted “internal scrolling” as “the gap between desire and inertia.” Many young people believe that this represents the typical view of “capitalists.”
“All your distress comes from this one, that is, the desire is too high, and then the inertia is very strong…All the confusion and confusion are not so difficult to solve,” Su Mang said on the show.
“If the bosses can understand the social animals, there will be 996, and maybe there will be no internal scrolling at all,” an entertainment blogger wrote in response on Weibo.
“It is recommended that capitalists shut up,” more than one netizen commented on Weibo.
Su Mang finally apologized, saying that he did not accurately understand the meaning of “introduction” before commenting, and that he only wanted to “encourage everyone to be positive and do not want to create anxiety.”
A more typical example is Jack Ma, who once created a Chinese-style success myth. He once supported “996”, calling this mode of work a “blessing.” In the past two years, he has fallen from the altar. Not only did Alibaba receive a 18.2 billion yuan antitrust fine from the Chinese government, his own image has also changed from “Papa Ma” to “vampire” and “capitalist.”
While the gap between the rich and the poor in China continues to widen, it seems that the expansion of the existence of this “hatred of the rich” mentality does not come as a surprise.
According to the 2021 Global Rich List released by Forbes, there are 698 billionaires in China, including Hong Kong and Macau, the second largest number in the world. This year there are 210 billionaires, more than any other country in the world. At the same time, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang publicly stated last year that there are 600 million low- and middle-income people in China and their average monthly income is only about 1,000 yuan.
The Chinese political scholar Wu Qiang said that the tendency towards anti-capital is getting stronger in China. One of the reasons is that normal labor-management negotiations cannot be carried out in China.
He believes that the government has deprived labor and management of the possibility of negotiations with national coercive power, so facing pressure from employment, housing, marriage and other aspects, the opposition to capital is the contradiction that young people can most directly feel.
“They can’t feel the government’s use of forced violence against them, and they can’t feel the constraints of the firewall. For these people, they are caught in a kind of technological coolism, whether it is a manufacturing worker or an IT white-collar worker, the most Direct dissatisfaction is in the form of management, capital, and KPI assessments,” said Wu Qiang.
He went on to point out that amidst the changes in sentiment towards entrepreneurs, the Chinese authorities’ suppression of private enterprises has exacerbated this shift.
Since 2018, the so-called “private enterprise retreat theory” and the government’s hope to support state-owned enterprises and reduce private enterprises’ “national advancement and private retreat” have been persistent in China. Wu Qiang said that when the government took the initiative to fight the weak capital halo, ordinary people could clearly feel the change in the government’s attitude towards entrepreneurs, so they quickly turned “this kind of populist investment into dissatisfaction with entrepreneurs.”
After more than half a year of being popular, a new word that is diametrically opposed to “inward scrolling”-“laying flat” turned out to bring this discussion into the second half.
In April of this year, in a “Baidu” post on a similar online forum, a post on “Lying Flat Is Justice” attracted a lot of attention.
“I haven’t had a job for more than two years and I’ve been playing. I don’t think anything is wrong. The pressure mainly comes from the positioning that people around me look for after comparing with each other and the traditional ideas of the elders… People’s Congress doesn’t have to be like that,” the article wrote.
“I can basking in the water of Diogenes in my barrel, or thinking about’Logos’ to Heraclitus in the cave, since there has never really been a trend of thought that exalts human subjectivity in this land. , Then I can make it for myself.”
“Lying flat is my wise men’s movement, only lying flat, talent is the measure of all things.”
The statement signed by the “good-hearted traveler” received a lot of reposts on the Internet, and he himself was awarded the title of “Master of Lying Pingxue”. “As long as I lie down fast enough, capital will not be able to exploit me”, “Society is sinister, lie down for respect”, many people agree with this.
Oxford University professor Xiang Biao believes that lying flat is a kind of resistance of young people to “involution”, which is to withdraw from the competition by giving up what they think is meaningless. Although this concept does not provide a different course of action, overall “this is a good thing, showing that everyone is beginning to reflect on past development models,” he said.
The Chinese state media expressed concern and even condemned the discussion of “lying flat”. The Guangming Daily pointed out that the “lying flats” have “many disadvantages” to economic and social development. In the context of China’s economic development facing challenges such as population aging, society needs young people to bring “creative contributions”, but “not rich” The tendency to lie down requires vigilance.
“Nanfang Daily” directly criticized it as “it is shameful to lie flat.” “Struggle itself is a kind of happiness, and only a struggling life can be called a happy life… Choosing to’lay flat’ in the face of pressure is not only unjust, but also shameful. Such’poisonous chicken soup’ has no value,” the article Weighed.
An article published on the WeChat public account of the “China Science News” stated that “Lying flat is an extremely irresponsible attitude. I am sorry not only for my parents, but also for the hundreds of millions of taxpayers who have worked hard.”
Xu Fang of the University of California, Berkeley believes that official media reporting on these topics is a way of “maintaining stability,” which is intended to enable young people to release their emotions through the Internet and the media, rather than social movements. Under Chinese social values, “lying flat” will undoubtedly be regarded as a problem by many people.
“In mainland China, everyone is a’flower of the motherland’. You can only follow this absolute route allowed by the country. If you go in a different direction, you will be considered as having a problem, and the society will correct you. Advocate in the country After living under the ideology of China for decades, there is only one way to go in the ideals of Chinese society.”
Internal scrolling will continue
Sophie, who has been working in the Internet industry for many years, believes that “as long as I am still working, the internal volume will always exist in my life,” she said.
Xu Fang said that before a major technological revolution occurred in the industrialized society, the “involved” state of the Chinese people will continue in the next five to ten years.
But she also pointed out that under China’s top-down management and control system, the key to resolving young people’s dissatisfaction with involution depends on whether the Chinese government will take action to resolve the issues that arise in the discussion.
“Why does a government that can be so strict on the issue of clearing hawkers on the streets not take a serious look at the labor regulations of private companies?” Xu Fang said. “This is a question of social structure, and some measures need to be introduced to deal with it.”
Xiang Biao emphasized that the “involution” phenomenon is essentially a middle-class anxiety. For the Chinese government, it is not a “very urgent problem” and there is no quick solution.
“The most important thing is not what went wrong, but how to form a social synergy. Now (China) can’t find a place to break through, because there are a lot of benefits that depend on unreasonable food,” he said.
Sophie, who has been working on the Internet for many years, seems to have accepted the reality that she will continue to “roll in”. “I also want to lie down, but I still have to earn money to eat,” she said.
“I think as long as I’m still working, the internal scroll will always exist in my life.”