Tang Ping (Lying Flat): A Reasonable Coping Mechanism or Negative Behavior?

Tang Ping (Lying Flat): A Reasonable Coping Mechanism or Negative Behavior?

In recent years, the concept of “Tang Ping” or “lying flat” has sparked considerable debate in China and beyond. As a reaction to mounting societal pressures and perceived injustices in the workplace, Tang Ping represents a passive resistance to the relentless pursuit of success. While mainstream media often criticizes Tang Ping as a detrimental behavior that undermines traditional values of hard work and perseverance, recent research suggests a more nuanced perspective.

A study published in the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) by Han-Yu Hsu delves into the Chinese public’s moral evaluations of Tang Ping (TP) and Effort-Making (EM) under different return expectations. The findings reveal that while Effort-Making is widely accepted and encouraged, its approval is conditional upon fair returns. Conversely, Tang Ping, although generally viewed negatively, gains acceptance as a reasonable response when the environment is perceived as unfair.

This dichotomy highlights a significant gap between media portrayals and the public’s understanding of Tang Ping. The study suggests that the disapproval of Tang Ping is not absolute but context-dependent, influenced by the fairness of the organizational environment. As such, the rigid condemnation of Tang Ping by mainstream media fails to capture the complexities of this social phenomenon, potentially leading to misunderstandings and unjust criticisms.

In this article, we will explore the findings of this study in greater detail, examining the cultural, social, and economic factors that shape attitudes towards Tang Ping and Effort-Making. By understanding these underlying dynamics, we can better appreciate the motivations behind Tang Ping and recognize it as a legitimate response to systemic inequities.

Tang Ping psychology study

Study Summary and Analysis

The study examines how the Chinese public morally evaluates two types of behaviors, “TP” (Tang Ping, or “lying flat”) and “EM” (Effort-making), under varying return expectations. TP generally received negative evaluations for violating traditional Chinese values of hard work, while EM was consistently positively evaluated. However, TP behaviors became more acceptable when associated with low return expectations.

The findings show that both media and public disapprove of TP, similar to Chinese state media’s criticisms, but this disapproval is moderated by perceptions of fairness and justice in the organizational environment. In unfair conditions where efforts do not yield proportional returns, TP behaviors are seen as a reasonable coping mechanism.

The study also extends previous literature on EM, showing that EM, encouraged by Confucian values, is not an unconditional duty but is influenced by contextual fairness. It highlights the importance of procedural and distributive justice in shaping moral evaluations.

Two motives drive moral evaluations of EM: the cultural value of self-exertion and fairness. The neutral evaluation of TP reflects conflicting motives between resistance to unfairness and the cultural norm of hard work. The study suggests further research on the conditions affecting moral evaluations of EM and TP, using larger sample sizes and diverse methodologies to validate findings.

Limitations include the hypothetical nature of scenarios, the focus on third-party evaluations rather than self-reported behaviors, and potential biases due to online sampling. Future research should explore EM and TP in broader social contexts and other cultural settings to enhance generalizability.


In essence, the study concludes that people generally support hard work (Effort-Making) as long as the return is fair. When the effort-to-gain ratio becomes increasingly unfair, TP (Tang Ping) is seen as a reasonable coping mechanism. However, this nuanced view is often missing in mainstream media, which tends to criticize TP outright, leading to discrepancies in public perception where TP is labeled as inherently negative behavior.

For more details, you can refer to the original study here.

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