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Satirical song on youth unemployment, poverty goes viral in China

Official data from last year shows unemployment rate at 20.4 percent among people aged 16 to 24
Young people offer prayers at Yonghe Temple, popularly known as Lama Temple, in Beijing in 2022.

Young people offer prayers at Yonghe Temple, popularly known as Lama Temple, in Beijing in 2022. (Photo: Noel Celis/AFP)

Published: October 06, 2023 10:56 AM GMT
Updated: October 06, 2023 10:58 AM GMT

A satirical song mocking the passive attitude among Chinese youth despite widespread unemployment and poverty has become a hit on social media, says a report.

The song, Tang Ping (Lying Flat), takes a jibe at the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) for downplaying the high rate of youth unemployment and urges the youth to be less picky about their jobs, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported on Oct. 4.

The song by singer Li Ermeng has become a sensation on Chinese social media networks for its lyrics depicting the plight of thousands of unemployed and struggling youth in the country.

Some of the lyrics include, "They'd understand what I'm suffering in the temple,” and "I'd rather rely on Buddha than on hard work," highlighting the hopelessness among the youth.

“Lying Flat” represents a general rejection of society's expectations, giving up a great career and money to concentrate on a simple life and pleasures, observers say.

Chia-Paō Lee, a Chinese social media influencer who has relocated to Taiwan, said that the Chinese government’s promise of obtaining a job after studying hard and graduating was “an unachievable dream.”

"One very important reason for the prevalence of lying flat culture is that no matter how hard you work, you can't live a good life," Lee told RFA.

Chien-chung Wu, an associate professor at the Taipei University of Maritime Technology, said the CCP has yet to come up with an effective economic policy to stimulate growth and employment.

"Young people can't see a future, and they can't see any hope," Wu said.

"The so-called magic weapon has had no effect in boosting the economy, regardless of how many shots in the arm they give,” Wu added.

Earlier President Xi Jinping had urged the Chinese youth to "shoulder important responsibilities in the new era,” promoting the government’s "positive" propaganda.

The song has received a rave response from thousands of users on Douyin, China's version of TikTok, resulting in hundreds of copy-cat cover versions with users giving their unique twists and styles.

Many social media users linked the content of the song to China’s current economic climate and termed the situation a “political depression.”

Many of the Gen Z Chinese youth are rejecting traditional milestones like finding a job, marriage, and children, reports say.

A user on the Chinese social media site Zhihu pointed out that the situation in China is worsening year after year.

"Times are getting harder every year, it's harder and harder to make money, and prices just get higher and higher," the user said.

“People living at the bottom [of the economic ladder] are finding it harder every day," the user added.

China’s National Bureau of Statistics data released last April showed that the unemployment rate was at 20.4 percent among people aged 16 to 24, RFA reported.

Zhang Dandan, an associate professor at Peking University estimated that the true unemployment figures could be as high as 46.5 percent if “young people currently not looking for work” and living with their parents are considered.

Over the past four decades, China has managed to lift some 800 million people out of poverty, the World Bank reported last year. It is estimated that 13 percent of the nation’s more than 1.41 billion people still live in poverty.

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