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Beijing faces a social crisis

Zhang Peng/LightRocket/Getty Images

China’s social contract is “fraying”, says James Kynge in The Financial Times. A new Chinese youth trend – “lying flat” – makes a virtue of rejecting stressful jobs and kicking back, the “antithesis” of the economic model that has driven the country’s extraordinary growth by “enlisting maximum effort from its people”. Beijing is more than a little perturbed. “In this turbulent era there is no such thing as lying flat,” said government spokesman Wu Qian this week. “There is only the splendour of struggle and endeavour. Young people, come on!”

President Xi Jinping is so worried that he’s banning the $100bn after-school tutoring industry, calling it a “chronic disease”. His fear is that for tens of millions of middle-class families in China’s big cities, life has become a hamster wheel of “increasing effort and diminishing reward”. Housing, education and healthcare costs are rising faster than salaries, giving many people the sensation of “running to stand still”. Seeing the stress this all causes, young couples are getting married later and the birth rate is falling precipitously, creating long-term worries over economic growth. Xi’s credibility relies on constantly rising living standards for Chinese people. If he can’t offer the middle class a better deal, “lying flat” will be only the start of his problems.