Study Buddy (Challenger): No more ‘lying flat’ as frustrated Chinese youth ‘let it rot’ in new stage of disillusionment

  • ‘Bailan’, a new buzz phrase meaning ‘let it rot’, is becoming increasingly popular among young Chinese people
  • This page is for students who want to take their understanding to the next level with difficult vocabulary and questions that will test their inference skills
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“Bailan” involves giving up on striving for achievement in Chinese society. Photo: Shutterstock

Content provided by British Council

Read the following text, and answer questions 1-9 below:

[1] “I am bailan-ing. Leave me alone,” read a note posted on the door of 28-year-old Yan Jie’s bedroom. Yan, who shares a flat with a colleague in suburban Shanghai, was mocking himself, saying he was lazy, by using a new buzz phrase “bailan” which literally means “let it rot”. The phrase is becoming increasingly popular among young Chinese people.

[2] “When I am given an assignment at work, I try to avoid it. If I am forced to do the work, I will do it but inadequately,” said Yan, who works for a medium-sized IT company. “When my parents ask me about when I will get married, I tell them I will leave it to happenstance.”

[3] Bailan refers to an attitude of giving up on a deteriorating situation. It comes from a sentiment among many young people in China that they are powerless to combat forces that are making social expectations unattainable. So, rather than spend energy trying to fix an impossible situation, many people are deciding to “let it rot”, essentially giving up on striving for achievement in Chinese society.

[4] The term is an evolution of “lying flat”, tang ping, which has entered the global lexicon and means “just doing enough to get by”. Bailan’s origins come from basketball, one of China’s most popular sports. The term describes situations when players or teams stop trying if they are getting badly beaten to speed up the inevitable defeat. On Xiaohongshu, China’s Instagram-like service, a search of the term bailan returned about 2.3 million results. On Bilibili, a YouTube-like company, videos with “let it rot” in the title are among the most popular on the service.

[5] Professor Yu Hai, from the Department of Sociology at Fudan University in Shanghai, explained that having already embraced “lying flat”, Chinese youths had now taken this mindset to new heights by “allowing things to rot”. He added it was a “coping mechanism” for young people to protect themselves amid fierce competition and growing social pressures. “Nobody likes to be described by others as being ‘rotting’, but when people put themselves in a very low position and call themselves that, they save themselves from criticism,” he said. This mentality arose because society had become too competitive in recent years. “Everyone seemed to be ambitious, wanting to make big money or be a top leader,” he added.

[6] The “let it rot” mindset is not necessarily universal among Chinese youth. But experts said it was widespread enough to indicate a real sense of disillusionment among China’s young generation. They pointed out that it was a noteworthy phenomenon which could hurt an already slowing economy. The youth unemployment rate in China was 19.9 per cent in July, which – when combined with unaffordable homes – makes the thought of kick-starting an active professional life seem unattainable. For people in their mid-20s and 30s, the expectation of caring for their senior parents while raising young children is now an immense burden amid rising living costs.

[7] Yan said his decision to “let it rot” allowed him to live a more comfortable lifestyle and dedicate more time to his hobbies. “I have been taught since childhood to be diligent and never give up. But I discovered in adulthood that this is extremely exhausting. Why can’t we slow down? Why do we always have to fight to get ahead?” he said.
Source: South China Morning Post, October 4


1. In paragraph 1, the note means that Yan is ...
A. not feeling well.
B. doing nothing.
C. annoyed with his flatmate.
D. feeling depressed.

2. Which of the following best describes Yan’s attitude in paragraph 2?
A. hypercritical
B. candid
C. disheartened
D. apathetic

3. According to paragraphs 3 and 4, what is the main difference between “lying flat” and bailan?

4. Bailan got its name from ...
A. a company’s work culture.
B. a social media app.
C. a certain lifestyle.
D. a sport.

5. Match the main points (A-D) with one of the corresponding paragraphs on the left. Write the correct letter on the line below the paragraph number. ONE main point is not used. (4 marks)

6. According to paragraph 5, how does bailan allow young people to give up on striving for achievement without being judged?

7. Find a word in paragraph 6 with a similar meaning to “disappointment after learning something is not as good as it had seemed”.

8. List THREE factors mentioned in paragraph 6 that gave rise to bailan. (3 marks)

9. In paragraph 7, by asking “Why can’t we slow down?” Yan is ...
A. criticising the expectations of Chinese society.
B. appreciating how relaxing life has been since embracing bailan.
C. lamenting his childhood.
D. all of the above

The “let it rot” mindset shows a pervasive sense of disillusionment among China’s young generation. Photo: Shutterstock


1. B
2. D
3. “Lying flat” refers to just doing enough to get by while bailan means to give up on striving for achievement in society.
4. D
5. (i) C; (ii) A; (iii) D; (iv) E
6. When people put themselves in a very low position and refer to themselves as bailan-ing, they save themselves from criticism.
7. disillusionment
8. high youth unemployment rate / unaffordable homes / expectation of caring for senior parents while raising young children / rising living costs (any three)
9. A

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