China has long been known for its culture of hard work. Young Chinese seem increasingly impervious to this rhetoric, at a time when many of them have a cruel lack of confidence in the future. They prefer a less productivist approach, placed under the sign of “gap days”.
This English expression derives from the well-known concept of the caesura (“gap year”, in English). This system allows young people to take a break from their academic career to go abroad, carry out a humanitarian mission or even devote themselves to personal projects. Its duration generally varies between a quarter and a year, depending on the desires – but also the finances – of each.
Gap days: what is it?
But in a China in the midst of an economic slump, where youth unemployment figures are so worrying that authorities have stopped publishing them, those under 30 cannot afford to take such a long break. This is why many of them favor “gap days”, or sabbatical days.
Breaks of a few hours that allow them to take a step back from a daily life that they consider oppressive. “When my work gets heavy, I book a hotel room near my house to spend time alone, watch series, have fast food delivered to me, drink bubble tea, then fall asleep quickly once I When I wake up on Monday and put on make-up for work, I feel like a human being again.”said a follower of these express caesuras to the South Morning China Post.
Many young Chinese rent a hotel room by the day to make the most of their “gap day”. Especially since a large number of them have returned to live with their parents, for lack of access to residential autonomy. Taking a day off from home seems to be a real decompression chamber in the face of the frenetic pace of life that they now endure and reject.
An ode to idleness
Economic precariousness, the surge in precarious jobs, soaring real estate prices, repeated pressure to marry and start a family have given rise to real weariness among young Chinese. If they are better educated and richer than their elders, they feel much worse off than the previous generation, which was able to enjoy double-digit growth. They yearn for a slower, more relaxed way of life, away from the culture of exertion associated with “996” weeks (working 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., six days a week).
The “gap days” are part of this profound questioning of the Chinese model, in the same way as the “chillax” movement. The latter encompasses a variety of activities and behaviors placed under the sign of hedonism and slowness. Take a walk in a park, cook a home-cooked meal, go fishing, enjoy tea… Fans of “chillax” want to take the time to enjoy life’s little pleasures, even if it means displeasing Beijing.
For good reason, the Chinese authorities take a very dim view of these calls for idleness. They try to restrict publications on social networks related to the “tang ping”, which could be translated as “staying lying down”. This movement consists in voluntarily avoiding any form of physical and moral effort to participate as little as possible in the capitalist system. Beyond a trend on the Internet, many young Chinese see it as a true philosophy of life.
Despite Beijing’s censorship, those under 30 seem determined to make their demands heard. Whether it’s lying down, adopting a more “chill” lifestyle or taking occasional sabbaticals. One watchword: don’t drool for nothing (“chiku”, in Chinese) like their parents and grandparents did.