Young adults in China are taking a break from their dismal and exhausting jobs to become “full-time children.” Burnt out or needing a break from the corporate system that undervalues them, young graduates are choosing to stay at home and run errands for their families, who pay them a salary in return.
According to recent figures, the youth unemployment rate in China has gone up to a record high of 21.30% in June 2023. More than one in five young adults between the ages of 16 and 24 years are unemployed. It is speculated that the actual rate of unemployment is even higher.
Young Chinese students are feeling defeated and stuck in a system that undervalues them, with working conditions that are more than overtaxing. The grueling “996 work culture” has become the norm in China, with employees working 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., six days a week. Workers feel that they are underpaid and exploited. Many young Chinese graduates are increasingly dissatisfied with the system that tells them that their hard work will pay off. Some of these graduates and other young people have chosen to become full-time children in China.
This system is often referred to as the “rat race.” In China, the race starts the minute you are born, with pressures to get into a good school and a prestigious university and then secure a job. The traditional ideals of success are being put under scrutiny as people question the little to no reward they are getting for their hard work and effort.
Talks of labor protection are common with the recent “tang ping” movement taking place on Chinese social media. “Tang ping” translates to lying flat. Photos on social media apps show graduates in their ceremonial gowns ready to throw away their newly awarded degrees or hiding their faces behind mortarboards.
Young people feel the need for a change in their toxic work lifestyle. The movement aims to highlight and expose the high pressures of finding a job in the competitive market. The movement has been censored by Chinese authorities to prevent the increasing scale of the trend.
The economy has also grown a lot slower than expected as compared to the previous year. The lack of job opportunities is another reason for the emergence of full-time children in China. The situation is likely to get worse with 11.5 million students graduating in the summer of 2023. Students are being encouraged to go to rural farmlands to work instead of being given opportunities to use their degrees and education to get jobs with a proper work–life balance.
Not only that, people in their 30s are also worried about the so-called “curse of 35.” Employers do not want to hire people older than the age of 35 because they believe they can exploit the younger population by paying them less and making them work overtime. Job insecurity is a problem not only for younger graduates who are looking for a job but also for those reaching their 30s.
The growing discontent among the younger generation has reached a tipping point. They are calling themselves “the last generation.” People are unwilling to have children only to see them grow up in similar conditions and become another rat for the seemingly endless race.
If the situation is not improved and working conditions remain the same, the movement of full-time children in China will have long-term consequences on the economy and increase the poverty rate. Young people will soon become unemployable because they have been out of work for a long time, which will put them at risk of poverty. The government must boost the faltering economy by implementing reforms to provide better opportunities for its younger citizens.
– Sharvi Rana