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China’s Latest Viral Sub-culture Dubbed “Buddhist Youth”

A student studying for the national college entrance exams in China. From
A student studying for the national college entrance exams in China. From

China’s latest viral sub-culture carries a Buddhist moniker. Amid increased encouragement from the country’s leadership to “dream big,” China’s so called “Buddhist Youth” are opting to simply be average.

The term foxi (佛系, pronounced “fuo-shee”), which translates as “Buddhist”, has been trending on Chinese social media, since last December. Despite the label, the youth subculture is, if anything, mainly Buddhist in spirit rather than practice. Loosely based on the Buddhist teachings of leaving behind attachments to greed in order to find contentment, this latest transmigration of Buddhist thought refers more to a laissez-faire attitude to life, with a focus on not worrying too much about social pressures, than devout Buddhist practices or a renewed interest in the sutras.

“Life is quite tiring,” commented 23-year-old Guo Jia, a self-identified Buddhist Youth. A year ago, Guo moved to Beijing to pursue a career in finance and meet the high expectations he and his family had set for him. Everything in China’s capital city, however, made him anxious. But things have improved now that Guo has learned how to let go. As a Buddhist Youth, he has learned to accept the things he cannot change and go with the flow: “I haven’t been able to stop caring about everything, but these days I am generally calm and unperturbed. It is enough to just be content with life.” (The Straits Times)

Behaviours associated with the Buddhist Youth are diverse, but are perhaps most characterized by not having any strong feelings or opinions about anything. A popular account on WeChat (China’s version of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and WhatsApp in one) examplifies this by explaining how a Buddhist Youth would act in specific situations or roles:  A “Buddhist Passenger,” for instance, would rather walk to a DiDi (China’s version of Uber) or a taxi, than going through the trouble of explaining their exact location to be picked up by the driver. A “Buddhist Employee” chooses to “arrive at work peacefully and leave work quietly,” rather than over exert herself chasing the next promotion. And a “Buddhist Student” does not let her/himself be burdened by the pressure and expectations of their parents. As The Straits Times put it: “A Buddhist Youth wants nothing because she or he expects nothing—win or lose, adversity or good fortune, they accept it all.” (The Straits Times)

The meme has led to some criticism from members of the older generation. For a generation who grew up having to fight for resources during times such as the Great Chinese Famine (1959–61) and the Cultural Revolution (1966–76), the passive attitude of the Buddhist Youth translates to laziness and irresponsibility.  

China’s government, however, is treating the Buddhist Youth with a fitting indifference. This is an interesting attitude as President Xi Jinping has on numerous occasions emphasized the role of the youth in the “Chinese Dream.” In a speech in 2013, Xi stated, “A nation will be prosperous if its young generation is ambitious and reliable.”

An article published by the Chinese Communist Party, addressing the Buddhist Youth phenomenon, reads, “This may just be a way for young people to explore their position in society,” acknowledging that the movement was probably a reaction to “life’s quick rhythms.” This is a rather positive response from the party, which ruled another subculture titled “Sang” (pronounced “sahng”) as “pessimistic and hopeless.” While the Buddhist Youths profess a neutral outlook on the future, the Sang sub-culture has a bleaker perspective on what is to come, advocating resignation rather than acceptance in the face of what they view as limited career and marriage prospects. (The Straits Times)

Although it is too early to predict whether the Buddhist Youth will have any measurable impact on the general attitudes of society at large, many online commentators sympathize with the movement, which they feel expresses the trials of their generation.

“After struggling to get a job, we are faced with overtime work pressure and are just chasing money and are frustrated by high home prices,” said 24-year-old Yu Chenhuan. As a Buddhist Youth, she rejects the competitive goals that society has pushed on her. (Caixin Global)

Rapid economic growth, growing materialism, and decades of the one-child policy have put immense pressure on Chinese youth to perform well, both academically and professionally. But now, many young people are fighting back in their own way . . . by happily accepting being ordinary.  

See more

Keep calm and be average: China’s unambitious ‘Buddhist Youth’ (The Straits Times)
How ‘Being Buddhist’ in China Morphed Into Ignoring Society’s Pressures (Caixin Global)

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