From Platform (平台) to Lying Flat(躺平) – Youth, technology, hipsters, and the question of Chineseness

January 22, 2022, Frankfurt – In this lecture, part of the lecture series Sinophone Classicism, curated by Zhiyi Yang, Professor of Sinology, Goethe University Frankfurt am Mai, I reflect upon two different phenomena in contemporary China: its platformization, and the recent trend to lie flat.

The past two decades in China are somehow characterized by a simultaneous opening up and closing off of the country. Chinese youth cultures particularly reflect such paradoxical movement, on the one hand, the rise of a hipster culture – or the “cultured youth” scene – wenyi qingnian (文艺青年)– dressed in long cotton dresses or trousers, with a straw head, writing by hand, preferably with a fountain pen, letters or postcards, listening to folk music, and strolling through the country side, resonates with the global proliferation of likeminded cultural scenes. On the other hand, the popularity of the Han clothing style among youth, the hanfu (汉服) movement, or the popularity of calligraphy and traditional Chinese characters, attest to a move towards, say, Chineseness. Meanwhile, all these youth cultures are frantically busy taking pictures and selfies with their mobile phones, to subsequently post on social media platforms like Weibo and Tik Tok. In my talk, I like to engage with the role of such platforms in the articulation of youth identities in China, and show how both ‘global’ as well as ‘local’ cultural articulations are always already highly promiscuous. In the recent ‘lying flat’ movement I read a possible way out of the demand to be and become both global and Chinese as imposed today on Chinese youth identities.

The best introduction to this culture is the wonderful song by Zhang Busan: