Lying Flat Isn’t FIRE

lying flat FIRE

Recently, Mrs. RB40 read an article about an interesting movement in China and passed it along. She said, “Hey Joe, this is like your FIRE movement.” That’s how I discovered the Lying Flat movement in China. Luo Huazhoung coined the term lying flat when he shared his story on Baidu. He quit his factory job in 2016 and biked from Sichuan to Tibet. Now, he lives on side gigs and savings. Okay, from that bit, it sounds somewhat similar to FIRE. However, China isn’t the United States and Lying Flat might not be FIRE. Let’s dig a little deeper.

(Chinese: ??; pinyin: t?ng píng; lit. ‘lying flat’)

Lying Flat in China

After some research, I found that lying flat means a spartan lifestyle. Their motto is – “Don’t buy property; don’t buy a car; don’t get married; don’t have children; and don’t consume.” Wow, that’s pretty extreme. By quitting his job, Luo Huazhoung is giving up long-term employment, marriage, children, and luxury consumer goods. More power to him. Unfortunately, being a slacker in China has serious consequences.

Lou doesn’t want to get married or have kids because he doesn’t want the responsibilities. Well, he’ll get his wish. I’m sure 99.999999% of Chinese women don’t want to marry a slacker either. The family wouldn’t support the decision to marry someone who’s poor and doesn’t have a stable job. Financial stability is a huge deal. In China, the man has to pay a dowry to the bride’s family. The bride price can be anywhere from $10,000 to $160,000 depending on the location. That’s a lot of money in China where the average annual income is around $15,000. Getting married is damn expensive in China. This is partly due to the old one-child policy. There are more men than women so men have to compete to get married. From what I read, Luo probably can’t afford the bride price. No Chinese woman in their right mind would marry the dude.

The Chinese culture is very success-driven. I think it’s a lot more stressful than in the US. Here you can study and work in any area you want. As long as you can support your family, you’re doing well. There, the pressure to become wealthier is immense. Marrying a slacker isn’t going to help with that. That’s a big difference from the US. Here you can be a slacker and still get married and live a comfortable life. Love conquers all, right? In China, you’ll be a bachelor for life if you’re a slacker.

In addition, the Totalitarian Chinese government hates any hint of rebellion. Lou posted his story on Baidu and gained a lot of notoriety. Lying flat resonated with young millennials who work way too much and can’t get ahead. Soon after, the post was taken down. Then, the topic “tang ping” is banned and censored. Big brother is watching. The government wants young people to work hard and maximize their economic output. They want to squash the lying flat movement before it grows. I wouldn’t be surprised if Luo Huazhong got sent to a reeducation camp somewhere. In China, dissenters tend to disappear.

Lying Flat isn’t FIRE

At first glance, lying flat sounds a bit like Barista FIRE. This is where you work easy jobs/gigs after you saved up a modest retirement fund. So the odd jobs are to support yourself in the present. The savings will grow over the years to support your retirement.

However, I think lying flat is missing the FI part of FIRE. It sounds like Luo is just getting by. What will he do when he’s 60? From what I understand, the state doesn’t offer any kind of elderly support. Old people usually rely on families, personal savings, and pensions to retire. Luo probably won’t have any of those resources. He’s signing up for a life of poverty in old age. That’s a big difference from FIRE. We plan for a comfortable retirement.

FIRE is easier in the US

There are always contrarians who think differently in any society. The FIRE movement arose from the desire to enjoy life and minimize stress. We worked hard in the beginning so we can escape the rat race and retire early to find our own happiness. The key component is to ensure a comfortable retirement later by saving up early. This is contrary to society’s expectations. If you make a good income, you’re expected to increase your earnings and spend more. Fortunately, I was able to reject this social value without a lot of terrible consequences. I’m still married and enjoy a comfortable lifestyle. The government didn’t send me to a reeducation camp or put me on a no-fly list. It’s way easier to FIRE in the US. If you have a well-paying career, you probably could FIRE in 10-15 years if you save and invest 50%.

It’s a lot more difficult in China. It’s harder to get a job that pays well, the competition is fiercer, the pressure to spend is relentless, and everyone expects you to work as hard as you can to become wealthier. In addition, the government doesn’t like slackers. They’ll put the kibosh on you if you reject the party’s value.

In conclusion, I’m extremely glad I live in the US where I have the freedom to do what I want. I imagine it’s much more difficult to FIRE in China.

Readers, do you know more about the lying flat movement? It doesn’t sound good to me. What will Luo do when he’s old? How long can he enjoy this slacker lifestyle? Hopefully, he wasn’t sent to a reeducation camp. China is a bad place to be a dissenter.

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Image credit: Jacalyn Beales

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Joe started Retire by 40 in 2010 to figure out how to retire early. After 16 years of investing and saving, he achieved financial independence and retired at 38.

Passive income is the key to early retirement. This year, Joe is investing in commercial real estate with CrowdStreet. They have many projects across the USA so check them out!

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20 thoughts on “Lying Flat Isn’t FIRE”

  1. There is a lot of really reductive, stereotypical thinking about China (and Chinese women in particular, and their motivations for marriage in particular) in this article.

    • Sorry for the stereotype. But there is a grain of truth there. I have Chinese roots. Chinese is very money-driven. That’s why they are pretty successful wherever they went. I think most Chinese women would agree with me.

  2. In my grandparents’ generation, there was always one or two people who just did what they needed to get by as adults and I often wondered how they managed in their elderly years. Generally your kids are your retirement so if you don’t marry and don’t have kids, I guess you’re relying on your extended family to help you out when you’re too old to fish for your daily meal anymore. We supported plenty of old aunties and uncles who were alone for whatever reason, kids died of illness or in war. I suppose there’s a chance the filial responsibility for a sole uncle might be how he gets on when he’s too old to work.

    • That’s another problem in China. Many young people don’t have extended families due to the one child policy. I guess they’ll inherit from mom, dad, and both sets of grandparents. That will have to do. However, if they are all poor, then it’ll be tough.

  3. Hmm, this is differently interesting. It kind of sounds like he became a hobo. No judgment here though – to each his own and if it makes him happy, so be it.

    But yeah, I’d say it would be a stretch to compare it to the general FIRE movement, though I think your comparison to Barista FIRE might be the closest you can get.

    However, like the FIRE movement, it’s not going to be for everyone. Everyone’s got to find what works for them, I guess. I’ll stick with marriage, a daughter, and early retirement with money to cover our expenses any day though! ?

    • That’s what I thought at first. There are plenty of young people here who became a hobo. It’s hard to get out of that lifestyle though. I’ll stick with what I have as well. It’s way easier to achieve that in the US, IMO.

  4. Indeed, China has an extremely brutal and cutthroat environment when it comes to finding money. I can’t even imagine how I would being to even approach FIRE in China.

    And I agree — I feel like achieving FIRE is the *beginning* of a lifelong journey to pursuing the work that you want to tackle, as opposed to doing something just because you need the money for it. After all, if we’re not going to pursue, learn, grow, and do the things we want to do in life with some kind of enthusiasm, what kind of life is that at all?

    Laying flat seems synonymous with death itself since it feels like literally giving up on life.

    • FIRE gives you more choices. If you have financial security, you can do what you want. Even working part-time is okay then. You can pick and choose since you can survive for a long while without the extra income.

  5. It seems the main difference is mostly China’s culture. I don’t know if people can freely leave China and emigrate to other countries, but it sounds like something he could do as long as they don’t freeze his bank accounts.

    • I think the government can really limit your travel options if they don’t like you. Xu Xiaodong is an MMA fighter and he’s debunking China’s kung fu myth. Mainly by beating up various masters. The government put him on a no-travel list. So he can’t take a train, bus, or fly. I’m glad we have more freedom in the US. I guess Luo could still bike anywhere…

  6. I don’t know anything about Lying Flat other than what I’ve read in your post, but assuming this guy is a slacker seems a little harsh.
    We FIRE people are outcasts to the majority, not following the norms, which is just what Lying Flat people are doing too, just in a different way. In my view, it doesn’t make one decision/route better or worse than the other, just different.
    Also, things don’t have to be for ever, just as it’s perfectly fine for an early retired person to decide to return to the workplace, a Lying Flat advocate can also make a change later, even if it isn’t super easy to do.
    The thing I do agree with is that it’s important that any decision is sustainable, so if it doesn’t provide for life in old age, then that is a problem.
    In general, I find it interesting to hear about people doing things in different ways. Sometimes they won’t turn out to be the quite as hoped, but it’s the experiment that let’s us find out what might be possible.
    Just my opinion of course?

  7. I agree, completely different movements. Lying flat seems to be “giving up” because the capitalist system sucks. FIRE is about conquering the capitalist system so you can do whatever you want.

    • I think Mr Tako has a more accurate conceptualization of Lying Flat versus FIRE. Life in communist China sounds harsh and brutal. Even the extremely wealthy innovators get punished such as Jack Ma and his Ant Group IPO.

      Can ordinary citizens freely leave China rather than just give up and lie flat?


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