A growing number of China’s Generation Z, born between 1995 and 2010, are embracing a “laying flat” attitude about work and life as they throw in the towel in the face of tough competition and opt for a simple, frugal and lonely life. It is hard to quantify the scope of the new social psychology, but the attitude is certainly gaining popularity in an increasingly rigid social structure with a yawning gap between the rich and the poor. Let us imagine a dormitory at a top university in Shanghai where Li and Wang live together. Li comes from a small town in northern Jiangsu province and Wang is a Shanghai native. After graduation, they both find jobs at the same technology company with a monthly starting salary of 10,000 yuan (US$1,553). A country cannot advance high if many young people choose to lay low For Li, he has to spend a third of his salary to rent a room and will need to work extremely hard to save enough money to buy a flat in the city where the average price is around 6,000 yuan (US$931) per square foot. Shanghai native Wang, on the other hand, will inherit at least two flats from his parents worth 20 million yuan (US$3.1 million) combined. It will be very hard for Li to catch up, and with all other conditions equal, he will be in a disadvantaged position in the marriage market. He can take a risk to start his own venture, or he could choose to leave Shanghai, but he could also choose to stay in Shanghai and lay flat. There, the laying flat attitude represents a silent protest to unfairness, often the result of structural and institutional factors that can no longer be altered by personal efforts. It is also out of a perception that competition is no longer fair and there is no point to seek academic or career advancements. What is the point of joining a big tech company only to suffer from the notorious so-called 996 work style when there are few prospects of breaking social glass ceilings? China’s wealth gap threatens Xi’s post-pandemic economic plan It is way too early to say China’s age of ambition is ending since the country still hosts a vibrant economy and endless chances for young people. But it is also true that Chinese society, like other mature economies, is becoming less accommodative to the ambitions of the younger generation. For now, the lay flat mentality remains a personal choice for those disillusioned by the reality, but it could translate into negative implications for China’s social and economic future. After all, a country cannot rise high if many young people choose to lay low.