I Was Tired of Living Like That

A young corporate go-getter in Shenzen, China, on the fast track in her design career, suddenly quit to become a pet groomer. She swapped her fancy wardrobe for a uniform, and took an eighty-percent pay cut. When she told her story to a couple of New York Times reporters recently, Loretta Liu could barely contain her delight.

“I was tired of living like that,” she said.

By like that, she meant squeezed by the deal of the capitalist ticket-to-ride: insane work hours, demanding bosses and stress levels that crushed her physical and mental health.

Voluntary downward mobility may seem like a strange choice in a country nakedly aspiring to become the pre-eminent global superpower. But the reporters found plenty of examples that it’s really happening among Gen Y and Z Chinese: a tech worker becoming grocery store cashier; a content manager delivering takeout; an accountant selling sausages on the street. Young Chinese opting for honest, humble blue-collar work over white-collar abstraction. Even if it means forgoing the promised lifestyle of the materialist dream.

Everyone said some variation of: This was someone's plan for my life, but it wasn't my plan. And it doesn't make me happy. So fuck it. I opt out.

Call it the next phase of the “great unraveling.” During the pandemic, when the world shut down, many furloughed employees found they ... quite liked having a life. Turns out, regular sleep and time to think and meals with your family are pleasant things. When Covid was reined in and businesses opened back up, a lot of workers just ... stayed home. In the US it was dubbed “the great resignation.” In China: tang-ping: literally, “lying flat.”

This great pushback, a reframing of what work actually means to individual humans, appears to be truly global impulse. And it can no longer just be chalked up to the existential scare of a lethal virus. The pivot that many young people in both the world’s superpowers are making rises above ideology. It seems the capitalist paradigm is no match for a kind of mass apprehension of a kind of basic calculus: my life vs a bullshit job. Yeah, I’ll take the life.

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