32 “Let it Rot” – 摆烂 (Bǎi làn)

Robert A. Castano

simplified Chinese: 摆烂 ; pinyin: Bǎi làn

“Let it Rot”

Bǎi làn (摆烂) is a phrase with the literal meaning of “let it rot”, which refers to an attitude of letting a bad situation stay so without trying to improve it. This is a phenomenon that has especially taken grasp of Chinese youth who have decided not to make the effort to overcome life’s challenges. As a result of mounting social pressures, then, bǎi làn has gained popularity as an attitude of Chinese youth who feel paralyzed in their lives.

The term originated as a result of letting goals go because of their difficulty. And so, for example, a young Chinese person may defer or abandon altogether a college education to avoid the stress and uncertainty of a competitive job market. As a consequence, they may accept a lower standard of living that would lead to a lower quality of life. And while the related term tǎng píng (躺平) or “laying flat” implies doing nothing, bǎi làn implies embracing deterioration of the situation and abandoning the prospect of improving it. This leads to a vicious cycle of undesirable outcomes for stressed Chinese youth.

It’s worth noting that “bǎi làn” and similar attitudes have gained popularity since about 2022. Life is more demanding than ever, or at least it feels so. Competition is heavy in the job market and in the academic world. Chinese parents are often hard on their kids and demand outcomes that are no less than perfect. This leads to a sense of shame if a young Chinese person is not adhering to the high standards that modern society places on them. Thus a spirit of inverse rebellion is created, in which the act of rebellion is the act of doing nothing.

I think bǎi làn speaks to the weight of the pressure that Chinese culture places on its youth to excel in life. Young people feel burnt out at younger and younger ages, and by the time they reach an age at which they are beginning to solve real problems on their own, they are already throwing in the towel. This phenomenon can also arguably be a response to the chaos of contemporary society, with pressures to perform in all aspects of one’s personal and professional lives. Comparison to peers, whether it stems from oneself or from one’s parents, bosses, or partners, also adds fuel to the fire. Consequently, many young people may just go the route of saying “screw it” and letting things rot.


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"Let it Rot" - 摆烂 (Bǎi làn) Copyright © 2024 by Robert A. Castano is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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