NOTE: This is the UNEDITED version of the article submitted to the Shenzhen Daily. It was heavily edited and published in a shortened version as a Letter to the Editor on 12th July, 2021.
In responding to Wu Guangqiang’s opinion piece on July 5th (Tangping not a solution to rat race), I must address some issues that were not raised.
He argues that “Escape from challenges or submission to pressure will not only lead to individual failure, but the decline of a nation as well.” I would counter that those challenges that I raised on June 7th (Chinese employers need to rethink efficiency) cause the decline of a nation.
He acknowledges the need to make housing, education, and medical services more affordable while also protecting legal rights. I would argue that the nation is already declining if the government is not adequately providing these services. The function of government is to, among other things, provide public services, economic security, and economic assistance.
When millions of people cannot purchase a home while also having children, the government is left in a position where their policy measures counter each other. The hyper-competitive culture of China is strongly embedded that tangping is the most rational outcome.
In Shenzhen, many young people have given up on the opportunity to buy a property. They believe that they will be unable to purchase real estate due to the rampant abuse of the property laws for speculation. It is well-known that plenty of people own more than two properties.
Of course, Wu Guangqiang opposes tangping. It is a cultural shift that stands anathema to everything that he has worked towards for years. The younger generation is now caught behind the older generation that are resisting older work styles. They do not see the benefits of that work ethic. Young people are not paid or respected in the same way, resulting in a passionless and directionless life. The older generation is left confused. Many of this older generation have enjoyed iron bowl jobs or jobs with lifelong security, but not for the youth.
The hyper-competitive culture of China does not push this young generation towards a life of reclusiveness. It instead moves them away from the highly competitive environment to a more relaxed and enjoyable lifestyle, where they no longer seek to consume for the sake of consumption.
Why does China, as a nation, require its citizens to purchase expensive things? Economists worldwide will tell you that the lower and middle classes consume far more than the upper classes. Consumption-focused policies should be targeted at those that have the least, not the most.
If the government was serious about expanding consumption, then policies that expand consumption opportunities in alternative methods should be considered. That could include the legalization of same-sex marriage or the consumption of marijuana. Both approaches have flow-on effects that could see significant boosts in discretionary consumption.
Serious questions must be asked about why young people are giving up on climbing the social ladder. If they believe that there is no point in trying, then there is a significant cultural problem to consider.
NB: The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) recently wrote an article on the topic and how the government views it. It was titled “‘Lying flat’: The millennials quitting China’s ‘996’ work culture to live ‘free of anxiety’“