The Tang Ping Movement: Asia’s First Steps Towards Financial Independence

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Photo credit:  By David Bartus in People

“Work has become Intolerable. Rest is resistance.” – New York Times on the “Lying Flat” movement

I first heard about the “Tang Ping” (躺平) or “Lying Flat” movement from my Dad during a visit with my parents.

For those of who’ve never heard of “Tang Ping” ( 躺平), it started with a 31-year-old factory worker in China named Luo Huazhong (social media nickname: “Kind-Hearted Traveler”), who posted a picture of himself this April, lying in bed, curtains drawn, to the popular Chinese site “Baidu”.

In the caption, he put:

“Lying Flat is Justice.”

When asked why, he said he was protesting China’s hypercompetitive middle-class culture of working “996”—working 9am to 9pm, 6 days a week—a lifestyle praised by Ali BaBa founder and workaholic Jack Ma.

Huazhong is giving up on the Chinese Dream of killing yourself at work to afford a car, a house, nice clothes, and fancy things—all the trappings of a middle-class lifestyle. He is fighting back by not fighting at all. By choosing a “slow lifestyle of reading, exercising, and doing odd jobs to get by,” he is simply letting go and refusing to play.

To paraphrase the sage words of noted award-winning economist, Ali Wong:

“He doesn’t want to lean in. He wants to LIE DOWN.”

Immediately, his post went viral. Chinese Millennials now see him as a spiritual leader and want to follow in his footsteps (bike steps?) of cycling from 1300 miles from his home province of Sichuan (where I’m also from) to Tibet, eating only 2 meals a day, and getting by on just $60 a month.

Given that the “Tang Ping” movement is all about resisting hard work, I was shocked that my own Dad was talking about it.

If you’ve read my book, you know that the concept of “chi ku” or “eat bitterness” is something that Dad instilled in me since childhood. It’s the concept that you must persevere no matter how bad the situation is by pushing through obstacles without complaint. Turning a negative into a positive is seen as a strength and overcoming hardship is seen as character building rather than something to avoid.

That’s why I was so surprised to hear him talk about the exact opposite: refusing to work hard, throwing up your hands and just saying “fuck it!”.

Especially given that work is basically my dad’s religion. This is a man who chose an office meeting over his only daughter’s wedding, and at one point, ran back into said office to finish his work during a freaking earthquake (while everyone else was evacuated)!

And he yet he still thinks this movement makes sense? Interesting.

During a discussion over similarities in the beliefs of the “Lying Flat” movement and the FIRE movement, I realized that “Tang Ping” is Asia’s first step towards Financial Independence.

Here’s why:

Disillusionment from Working Ourselves to Death for the American/Canadian /Chinese Dream

When I saw my co-worker collapse and nearly die at his desk from overwork, it was my wakeup call to change my life. That’s how we got onto this FIRE path and as a result, I’ve been living the best years of my life travelling the world for the past 6 years. Even though we had to come back to Toronto due to the pandemic and family health emergencies, this past year has still been extremely rewarding, as FIRE has bought back our time so we could reconnect with family and friends and help them heal.

And this phenomenon of overwork can be seen throughout the world, especially in China, where working 12 hours a day, 6 days a week is common.

It wasn’t until recently that Chinese citizens (Millennials especially) started asking themselves “what is all this for?”

A house? A car? Status at work?

They started to realize that all this is an illusion. Houses in China are unaffordable, a car can only be used to drive to work since you have no time to go anywhere else, and status at work doesn’t matter when companies start to lay off anyone over the age of 35 to replace them with younger workers for a fraction of the pay.

The Chinese Dream is broken, just like the American and Canadian dreams. There’s no sense in work so hard for so little reward.

Rebelling Against the Status Quo

FIRE is a way to rebel against the status quo–killing yourself working crazy hours, hoping to retire at 65, if you make it.

The Tang Ping/Lay Flat movement is also a rebellion. Workers realized they can’t get ahead no matter how hard they work, so they simply give up and choose not to work. Since they don’t have the privilege of voting, protesting, or striking, their version of rebellion is to lay down and refuse to work. Why work hard for something you will never get? Put in the bare minimum effort to survive.

Choosing Minimalism over Consumerism

FIRE enthusiasts know that to be truly free, you need to optimize your spending. Because no matter how much money you have, if you spend into oblivion, you will always have to work harder to pay for it.

This is why the FIRE community tends to choose minimalism over consumerism. The more stuff you have, the more money and time you need to maintain them.

Minimalism frees you from having to work longer hours to pay for things you don’t need and gives you the mental clarity and bandwidth to spend your time doing things you enjoy with the people you love.  

The Lay Flat movement also advocates for minimalism over consumerism. Instead of dressing up in fancy clothes, going out for expensive dinners to impress colleagues, and filling up your house with designer furniture, spend your time doing simple things like reading books, going for walks, having picnics with your friends. All of which can be done for free, or next to nothing.

By choosing a minimalist lifestyle, the founder of the Tang Ping, is able to travel and live on a measly $60 USD a month.

The Stoicism and Buddhism Philosophies

Stoicism and Buddhism life philosophies both advocate for letting go of things you have no control over and living in the moment.

This is attractive for FIRE enthusiasts and the Lay Flat movement because instead of swimming against the tide and putting in futile effort, we are choosing to live in the moment, and not continuously striving to climb the corporate ladder and compete in the rat race.

Location Independence

The founder of the Lay Flat movement chose his social media name as “Kind Hearted Traveller”. This is on brand since after he decided to give up his job, he biked around China, living a simple, monastic life. This location independence has helped him get his time back because he no longer needs to pay exorbitant rent and be tied to an expensive city due to his job.

When we became financially independent, we also decided to decouple ourselves from Toronto since we no longer needed to work. As a result, we discovered that travelling the world was far less expensive than living in a major metropolitan city.

The Lay Flat movement and FIRE movement both know that when you no longer are tied to a job in an expensive city, this significantly decrease your expenses and lets you buy your time back to do things that you enjoy.

One of the best things about the Lay Flat movement is that it’s popular enough to worry the communist government. After all, they have experience quashing unrest and protests in the streets, but what do you do when the form of rebellion is passive resistance? Just like their failure to compel people to procreative once the one child policy became a problem, it’s kind of hard to fight people who refuse to fight.

Chinese citizens are waking up to the fact that working themselves to death for the Chinese dream no longer makes sense. Will they pick up the FIRE movement as their solution to the insane 996 work conditions? Only time will tell.

What I do know is that given how well our book is doing in Japan and South Korea, the FIRE movement is definitely spreading in Asia.

What do you think? Have you heard of the Tang Ping movement? Do you think it’s the first step towards the FIRE in China?

***

Life update: To our readers, my apologies for my slowness in answering your comments and replying to your e-mails lately. My mother was recently taken into emergency and hospitalized so I’ve been busy dealing with this family health crisis. She’s stable now but someone her age with the same condition in British Columbia literarily died after waiting for a doctor for 4 hours due to hospitals being overwhelmed by COVID. So, in that sense, my mother is extremely lucky.

I really hope you consider getting vaccinated if you’re not, because not only are you helping those who can’t get vaccinated get the vaccine, you are saving lives by not taking up valuable resources in the emergency room in the hospital. Both Wanderer’s dad and my mom are patients with life-threatening non-COVID-related conditions who could’ve died due to hospital staffing shortages from COVID.  Huge thanks to the doctors and nurses who helped them during this time.


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57 thoughts on “The Tang Ping Movement: Asia’s First Steps Towards Financial Independence”

  1. Wow. Thank you so much for sharing this new and unique perspective. I have to be careful these days where I get information from and not get twisted. Ive read what I could about China’s energy and resource “crisis” and with recent aggressive postures this article seems counter to the old guard philosophy. Id love to know just how deep this sentiment goes with the populace because if left to current leadership they will continue building artificial islands in the south china sea and developing staging areas in canada and mexico etc that is putting everyone else on alert. Their economy is being reported as under duress but it has a ripple effect in all others whether necessary or not. I haven’t figured out yet why a chinese real estate company should have such an impact on global economy. This information is very interesting and sheds new light on what the people are feeling and thinking.

    1. Never trust the communist government. And now that Tang Ping has turned into a movement, they’re definitely going to be clamping down on everything Huazhong posts. But since it’s already out there and resonating with the populace, it will just keep growing, even if they censor him.

  2. My family and I are praying for your mom’s speedy recovery… Wishing all is well with you, Wanderer and both of your families!

    Stay safe and God Bless as always,

    ImmigrantOnFIRE

  3. First time I hear about Tang Ping. It’s an interesting idea. Although, I don’t know how it’s feasible to live with $60 USD per month. That’s only $2 USD per day…

    I am not surprised movements like this happen. Humans are motivated by self-interest, ie. they want to improve their life. When you remove that from them, motivation go away.

    I think overworking is fine if you do it for yourself, like starting a new internet company, a new blog, or just overworking at a job to make your future better. But when you work for others and lose all possibilities to improve your future, then overworking makes no sense.

    And the Chinese government has only taken step backward in the last couple of years, including the crackdown on Hong Kong freedoms and interventions in chinese companies. So I think this might more be a sign that prosperity in China is deteriorating rather than improving.

    Retiring early – or living on investment returns – is fine if you have a million dollar portfolio. But it is not the same if you only have $18 000 USD ($60 X 12 X 25).

    1. ” So I think this might more be a sign that prosperity in China is deteriorating rather than improving.”

      BINGO. There’s so much happening in China that we don’t know about because it’s all censored.

      As for not being able to live on $60 a month, you’re thinking in terms of living in North America. In other parts of the world, people can make it on far less than you can imagine.

  4. Will they pick up the FIRE movement as their solution to the insane 996 work conditions? Only time will tell.

    What do you think? Have you heard of the Tang Ping movement? Do you think it’s the first step towards the FIRE in China?

    ———

    One word: NO!

    Everything in today’s article talks to people running away from something. Not towards something. Relating what this guy is doing in China to FIRE is nonsense. This guy has given up. FIRE (the real FIRE folk – not the wannabe FIRE Coasters) is about cold hard discipline and fortitude while pill-driving through adversity. This guy in China doesn’t display those qualities whatsoever.

    Let’s be honest and face cold hard reality. The dude is a drifter. It’s cute. It’s appealing. It’s trendy. The reality is…he’s a hobo.

    Where’s his emergency fund? Where’s his 4% SWR? He has no plan. No backup. Does he even have a spreadsheet? Ok, I added that last one in just for a bit of shits and giggles.

    And yeah, if you’re wondering, no, Coast FIRE is not FIRE. they’re the ones we laugh at (and who have been laughed about on this blog) who we find out were swimming naked when the tide goes out. The dude from China is the equivalent.

    1. Not sure Coast FIRE means what you think it means. I’ve always understood it to mean that you don’t need to invest anymore for your current investments to grow to a sufficient amount by the time you’d retire. i.e., you set it to coast and you’re good in X years.

      Guess this fella could claim Drifter FI, but we’ve already kind of split the label hair to death in this scene…

    2. Well, you don’t know what you don’t know. If he doesn’t know about FIRE, he can’t exact run towards something he’s never heard of. My hope is that over time, as the movement grows in Asia, more and more people will know about this as a potential solution. That being said, investing in the US stock market in China is another hurdle.

  5. First, I’m glad that your mother is stable! Health is so important.

    Second, this post was excellent. It reminded me why I pursue FIRE. I’ve been getting feeling the “why am I saving all this much money? Why not just live in the moment and spend? I’m gonna die anyway, I’m miserable saving so much”.

    Then I remembered the alternative is to literally work myself to the ground. I would much rather be rich and miserable rather than poor and miserable. It rekindled the… fire in pursuing FIRE.

    1. Thanks, David! As our parents age, it more and more evident that Health is most important thing. Time being healthy is what we should be maximizing.

      Glad the article was helpful to you in some way!

  6. First of all, glad to hear your mom is okay. <3

    I had not heard of the Lay Flat movement! It sounds like a wonderful idea & movement, because, like you said, they can't vote, protest, strike, etc. Good for them. This is a great way to stand up to a communist government without fighting them. Minimalism is absolutely the way to go! Once you realize the only things that truly matter are your health & relationships with loved ones, it's very freeing & makes it a lot easier to let go of everything else.

    Most people that are Millennials & younger do not want to work until they are 65 & pretty much everyone I know is intrigued by the idea of FIRE, still, a lot of them can't see it for themselves unfortunately. People are starting to realize working all of the time to have a newer car, nice furniture, big house, etc. just doesn't make any sense, those things don't add much value to your life. That's why I love seeing van/RV/tiny house life popping up everywhere, it shows their values are different from the generations before us. People don't want to work 40 hours a week for 45 years of their life anymore. The older generations mock us for this, but I think it's because they're bitter they didn't think of it and are mad that they have to or had to work until age 65+. -Just a theory.

    1. Every generation that has come before you has thought the exact same thing that you wrote about. It’s not new. And yet, the cycle continues to play out over and over again. The older generations aren’t mocking you. They’re simply rolling their eyes about how you think you discovered something new and that you naively think they’re stupid and ignorant when the reality is that they just have more experience than you.

    2. “That’s why I love seeing van/RV/tiny house life popping up everywhere”

      I think you’re right about this. Probably the reason why “tiny homes” is so popular on Netflix.

      I think you’re on to something with the bittnerness of older generations regarding our changing values. I experienced that issue when trying to decide on a literary agent for our book. One of the most popular ones, who is a boomer, told me “so what you’re saying is I’ve been working decades for nothing? Well that just makes me feel great.” It’s not about feelings, it’s about logic. I get it. When you’re older you’re supposed to be wiser, so having younger people figure it out faster than them is bad for their ego.

      1. Oh that’s interesting that you’ve experienced it too. Totally, again, it’s just a theory! I know I have to be selective who I talk to about the FIRE community. If they come to my blog, that’s cool & their choice, but I have certain family members that don’t have Instagram and know nothing about my blog, or they know I have a blog, but don’t know what it is about or what it is called.
        I have to do this because I think they would react negatively to it, and/or it would damage their ego.

  7. I hope your mom is better. This is a bad time to go to the hospital.
    I just wrote about the Tang Ping movement a couple of weeks ago. It sounds a bit like FIRE at first, but we don’t have enough information. The government censors a lot of stuff about this movement and they’re trying to hammer it away.
    Anyway, it sounds like the guy didn’t emphasize the FI part of it. He’s a factory worker. How much money could he have saved? I doubt he’ll have enough money to retire comfortably when he’s older. Also, he’s resigning himself to a life of no partner and no kids. How will he live when he’s 65? This isn’t Barista FIRE, it’s more like Hobo FIRE.

    1. Well, if he continued working for the factory, he’d likely get laid off at 35 anyway due to ageism in China. At least this way, he’s enjoying his travels and living on 60 USD a day.

  8. Few would believe but yeah this culture of work until you die happens in Brazil too (I know, the last place you’d think about that) but this new generation is indeed working their *** off to afford a car and a small-box apartment in a tumultuous and unhealthy city like Sao Paulo and Rio.
    The FIRE movement came to open our eyes on that thanks to blogs like yours FC.
    Thanks a lot

    1. Thanks for sharing your perspective about Brazil! Looks like it’s happening all over the world.

      What’s the cultural attitude towards work in Brazil, Renato? Is prioritizing rest over work looked down upon, like in Asia and North America?

  9. I don’t see it as rebellion.

    I am just making different choices and have a different hierarchy of values, which allowed me to accumulate and invest capital.

    It doesn’t bother me that others prefer giant houses and designer clothes, etc. To each our own!!!

  10. Yup. No point killing yourself with work when some corporation will reap the benefits. I’ve been following Tang Ping with interest.

    This is FIRE: low expenses, low obligations. Congrats to Luo Huazhong for inspiring millions!

    Sorry to hear about your parents, FC & W. Best wishes to them. This is the reason we can’t all Lie Flat.

    Still, everyone in health care is beyond burnt. Take care of yourselves, my friends.

    1. Thanks, ACL! I’m very grateful to doctors like you. Thanks for the amazing work that you do. It’s been a rough year.

  11. Hi Wonderer! Excellent post as always. I am being offered a position in MI and thus I will be moving from TO to a lower cost city. Can you write an article about this scenario?

    1. Congrats on the job offer, Ricorico! You’ll be able to take advantage of geo-arbitrage and bank more of your salary. We’ll definitely put that on our list of future articles. Thanks for the suggestion.

  12. “996”—working 9am to 9pm, 6 days a week

    ——–

    So why not try working 9 am – 5 pm, 4 days a week , instead of giving up all together ???

    1. Part time jobs are great. But it’s hard to get one when the system is set up to expect everyone to do 996 even though it’s quite shortsighted to have that expectation.

    2. Because they don’t have a choice. If the company wants to you to put in those hours, stepping back means you’re not committed, so you’ll just get replaced with someone who is willing to put in those hours.

      That’s why he does part time odd jobs now.

  13. Hope your mother recovers! I’m waiting the 6 weeks until my second dose here in NZ (and then not long after that, returning to Canada, at least for Winter semester). It’s certainly been tough especially for my spouse to not have been able to see family for almost 2 years now.

    I think there’s two parts here; the part that you focus on in this post is the consumption side, and there’s also the earning side. Kind of need both to be stable long-term. I don’t know how you could do the passive income thing in China. That part is a lot more clear in Western countries. The consumption side is a key part and can be done anywhere.

    1. Thanks, plam. She’s is on the path to recovery.

      The earning side is definitely harder for non-Western countries. That being said, there are still enough jobs with higher earning power in China, that people would be able pursue FIRE. I think the bigger hurdle is investing in the US index while living in China. I’ve met travellers who can do it in Taiwan (and in the past, Hong Kong), but very difficult in China.

  14. Thanks for the insights and glad your mom is doing better now.

    Like you said, the FIRE movement is doing well in Japan and I’ve just started a FIRE blog on my own journey in Tokyo. I plan to retire here as an expat Canadian
    with my husband. As a loyal follower of your blog, of course, I promote your book to the expat community in Japan. I am a beginner blogger and investor so check it out: https://expatcanadianintokyo.com

    Please spread the word and let me know what you think. Thanks.

    1. Thanks for spreading the word and promoting our book, L! Really appreciate it. I think because of “Karoshi”, Japan needs FIRE more than any of the Asian countries.

      I can’t wait to go back to visit Japan! One of our favourite places in the world.

  15. I know a few van life folk -people who could be said to live Drifter FIRE or Hobo FIRE – they seem happy, I wish I was like them but I’m just not wired that way, I’m far too much of a control freak. That’s fine for me, it’s led to me being able to save enough to be only a few years away from real FIRE (assuming that international travel returns to normal… but that’s another story), but if I didn’t earn enough to make real FIRE a reasonable possibility I’d probably end up going down the Hobo FIRE path, I think it’s the best of the options available to those who weren’t lucky enough to be born 1st world middle class

    1. Yes, I’ve also noticed that the van life people seem happy. They live on very little and they still seem a lot happier than people I know in Toronto making 6 figures.

  16. Asia’s? You mean Chinas right? Never heard of this before and I do stay in Asia though many do not consider that India is in Asia!!.
    Hope your mom is doing well and wish her a speedy recovery.

    1. It started in China, yes that’s correct. And it’s resonating across Asia since the same issues also happen in South Korea, Japan, etc.

  17. So sorry about your Mom, our whole family hopes she makes a full recovery. Sending lots of ❤️❤️❤️ your way.

    Your post is very interesting. I hadn’t heard of the Tang Ping mouvement, which seems like the perfect antidote to the crazy (and toxic) work culture in Asia. Need to read more about it.

    You also mention Stoicism and Buddhism; after the events of the last two years, many aspects of those philosophies are more relevant than ever and can help us retain control of our lives. It can’t be stressed enough (no pun intended).

  18. Love that some folks in China are taking a different approach rather than the “follow the Western successful life” view. However there are a few steps between big house, five cars, rap super star and USD$60/day on a bicycle right?

    Personally I follow many Stoic beliefs and lead a simple life as best I can as a single father of two. Downsized hard with selling big house and most of my possessions that were either ignored or didn’t bring joy into my life last year. The items that surround me now do bring happiness as I move towards a more Nomadic life. I still work but have turned down several promotions that would have reduced my time freedom in exchange for a paltry rise in pay. I plan to wrap things up in the next few years completely.

    On a national level, I believe those who were fortunate enough to be raised in a G7/G15 nation of stability and good fortune can serve as a benchmark of FIRE/Stoicism/Simple Life as the new successful goal. No longer the fluffy life of excess but one of true freedom and expression and this can also serve to reset what success looks like in the minds of folks in emerging countries.

  19. It is interesting that the Tang Ping movement is associated with FIRE by FIRE practitioners. Based on what I have read, Mr. Luo chose to live a minimalistic life but he is not financially independent. To me, FIRE is more about being financially independent than living a minimalistic lifestyle. It just happens that living a minimalistic lifestyle can lead to earlier financial independence. In my humble opinion, Mr. Luo is not a FIRE practitioner and hopefully not be considered the “leader” of the FIRE movement in China.

    I feel that such distinction is important. Otherwise, all the “hobos” and “beggars” in the world are all on their way to FIRE heaven. Nothing against them, but I don’t think that is the case with many FIRE folks. Based on what I had read, most worked hard before they retire. FIRE folks just choose to exit the rat race a bit earlier than others but they do not live on the charity of others. We should not discount that.

    On that note, I am rather disappointed to see some FIRE bloggers emphasizing how they retire early by leveraging on governmental handouts like social benefits and child care benefits. These are benefits to help the lower income earners in our society and not for early retirees. Those folks are just abusing the generosity of others and it gives the entire FIRE movement a bad reputation. This point is not targeted at this blog because I do not see it being emphasized here.

    Just my 2 cents worth.

    1. I think it’s the first step towards FIRE. Though, you’re right that not everyone in China will have a stable enough salary to reach FI. It highlights a problem that FIRE enthusiasts face–the fact that jobs aren’t something we can rely on anymore and the toxicity of working yourself to death to pay for things that don’t bring you happiness. Tang Ping brings the issue to light. FIRE is one solution to fix it.

      1. I agree that living a minimalistic lifestyle is one component of FIRE. To be more specific, I think it helps one achieve retirement earlier.

        But I would argue that building that retirement fund is a more critical component of FIRE. And building that retirement fund requires working hard and saving the extra. I guess what I am saying is the working 996 is not necessarily bad as long as you save some of that extra income (and not spend it). In other words, 996 would lead to FIRE earlier.

        Maybe that is why your dad talks about it. For many workaholics like him (myself included), we always feel that only by working hard, one will be able to retire comfortably. However, many did NOT focus on spending less. Something like the Tang Ping movement is attractive when we see that by spending less, we can now retire comfortably faster.

        However, that is again possible only if that workaholic already has a decent retirement fund. If there is no decent retirement fund already in place, then keep working hard for a few more years to build up that fund, before adopting the Tang Ping movement.
        Again nothing wrong with the Tang Ping movement, but I am concern that folks might be led to believe that they do not have to work hard to achieve FIRE nirvana.

  20. I’m so fascinated by this subject. This is another dimension from an in-depth article about the movement, showing the added pressure from a changing authoritarian society https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-09-23/tang-ping-lying-flat-generation-rejecting-chinas-work-culture/100477716

    “It’s the great paradox many young Chinese now contend with.

    Like their parents, they’re expected to show loyalty to the state, but without the state benefits that their parents once enjoyed.

    They face both the pressure to compete in a market economy and the pressure to conform in an authoritarian society.

    According to Li, in today’s China, happiness is no longer handed out by the government but is meant to be found in material success.

    “Everyone is given their quota of ‘happiness’,” he says.

    “If you get your quota, you have ‘happiness’. But is this happiness the real happiness for you?””

    1. “If you get your quota, you have ‘happiness’. But is this happiness the real happiness for you?”

      This basically explains it all. Their definition of happiness is not everyone’s definitely of happiness.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  21. Hi all,

    I believe that this is a different perspective which are subject to different interpretation by others. To be honest, it does not matter. As long as it reasonates with one’s life approach, it is sufficient. There is no right or wrong perception.

    WTK

  22. For years, We exported McDonald (fast processed foods) and Starbucks (medications for staying awake) to China.

    Finally we have successfully exported THE TANG PING MOVEMENT. This is nothing more than the Chinese translation of “EARN MORE & WORK LESS” phenomenon that started here in America for the last 15 to 20 years.

    Good luck China, the great mighty dragon future is being defined by the “Lying Flat” generation!

    1. Though for them, it’s EARN LESS and WORK LESS. Tang Ping followers are ok with earning very little, doing odd jobs, in order to gain back their time and spend it being happy and free.

      China has a ton of problems, but all we see in the news is propaganda about the “mighty dragon”. I agree they’ll need all the luck they can get.

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