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China’s “Bai Lan” (摆烂) Phenomenon is Here in Singapore Too

I just watched this Youtube video about the “bai lan” (摆烂)phenomenon among youths in China. It reminded me of friends, colleagues, maybe even myself.

I think this phenomenon is not only restricted to China. I know for a fact that it is very much alive in Singapore as well. I didn’t have the right word to describe it but I think “bai lan” might be an appropriate term.

I have a colleague who constantly expresses her wish to retire early so she can stay in a retirement home. She will get fed and bathed everyday, without having to worry about anything anymore. Isn’t that the “bai lan” attitude?

I myself have also exhibited symptoms of the “bai lan” phenomenon at many points in life. I find work tiresome and repetitive, I only do whatever is expected of me and have no motivation to excel. To me at the moment, work is just my means of earning enough salary to live a comfortable life. Work-life balance is very important to me.

Bai Lan

Factors that contribute to the “bai lan” phenomenon:

  • Higher standard of living: The average standard of living has drastically improved in many countries such as China and Singapore. Gone are the days where you either strive or starve. Many young adults realise they don’t have to work very hard in order to sustain a reasonable standard of living.
  • Work-life balance: The influence of Western culture has brought attention to the concept of work-life balance. More and more people are realising that work is not the most important thing in their life, enjoying life is.
  • Cookie-cutter factory-style work: The evolution of work in general contributes to the “bai lan” phenomenon. Work should be an expression of who we are, and not doing repetitive cookie-cutter factory-style work.
  • High property prices in China: The property prices in China has risen ten-fold in many large cities in China. Many young adults realise that they many not be able to afford a house even if they work themselves to death, so they just give up.

What Can We Do

I believe there will always be a group of people in any society who will have the “bai lan” mentality and we should not over-generalise. Everyone have a right to live life the way they see fit. You can’t expect everyone to be a high-achiever.

These strategies might help some of those who want to get out of the “bai lan” state:

  • Give recognition and praise: The old Chinese culture believes that giving praise will only weaken one’s spirit and make them lazy. But I believe that most people work hard because they want to be recognised for their hard work and it validates their effort. Bosses and managers should give due recognition and praise in the form of awards and monetary incentive to stimulate workers’ will to succeed.
  • Work based on strengths: Albert Einstein has a famous quote which I like very much: “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” I feel that many people are working in jobs which are not in line with their nature so they feel like fish out of water. It might be a good idea to take a personality test like Myers-Briggs Type Indicator which will help you to discover your personality and what type of job you are most suitable for.
  • Personal goals: There is a saying “life without goals is like a race with no finish line; you’re just running to nowhere”. It is crucial to set goals within both your work and life.

These are my thoughts on the “bai lan” phenomenon that has the Chinese government so anxious. What do you think about the “bai lan” phenomenon? Tell me in the comments below!

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