Apathy slang for the despondent Chinese youth

“Why does youth have to be spent running and sweating?” asks a character in the hit Japanese movie Setoutsumi. “Why can’t it be wasted by idling on the riverside?” The question resonated with many of the film’s young fans, struggling to find their place in a society where the avenues for advancement are limited and the pressures to succeed are overwhelming.

The previous generation maintained a “no pain, no gain” attitude and spent their lives struggling for a better future, “eating bitterness” all the while. But increasingly, the post-1980s and 90s generations are embracing a completely different approach toward life: They hate to be “motivated,” have little interest in material success, and happily define themselves as nobodies, even losers. Indeed, there’s now a term for this phenomenon—丧 (sàng), a Chinese character associated with funerals, meaning disheartened, dispirited, or depressed.

The origin of sang can be traced back to 2016, with a viral screenshot from 1993 sitcom I Love My Family featuring actor Ge You lying on a couch, staring blankly into space. The picture soon became a meme, “Ge You Reclining,” and is now regarded as the iconic sang posture.

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author Sun Jiahui (孙佳慧)

Sun Jiahui is a freelance writer and former editor at The World of Chinese. She writes about Chinese language, society and culture, and is especially passionate about sharing stories of China's ancient past with a wider audience. She has been writing for TWOC for over six years, and pens the Choice Chengyu column.

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