China’s ‘full-time children’: job market pushes young professionals to stay at home

20 déc. 2023


China’s ‘full-time children’: job market pushes young professionals to stay at home
Yena Lee

Journaliste internationale


Living off an allowance in your mid-twenties or even your thirties can be a blessing or a curse. In China, the phenomenon has gone viral on social media. Young people are either unhappy with their jobs or struggling to find one – leading some to stay at home as ‘full-time children.’ The trend is just the latest example of how young professionals in China are trying to regain some control over their lives.

At a time when others her age are studying or working, 24-year-old Chen* is a full-time daughter. Her only job is to be her parents’ child. They don’t give her a fixed salary per se, but they have opened a shared bank account that she can access. “Occasionally, they also transfer money to me,” she adds.

Chen graduated in 2021 but failed the notoriously competitive civil service exams. Gone were her dreams of locking in a comfortable and stable salary right out of college. “I tried to find other jobs, but that didn’t go very well either.”

So she moved onto Plan B: get a postgraduate degree. But in China, students have to take an entrance exam in order to apply to a master’s program. Chen failed this exam too. This meant she had no other option but to move back in with her parents. They live in Liaoning province, in the northeast, thousands of kilometers from where she studied.

Going home

When she first moved back home, Chen was frustrated as she’d wanted to find a job in the same area as her classmates. “But now even if I were given a chance to work in the south, I might not have the same enthusiasm as back then. I am a bit scared to return,” Chen admits. “When my friends tell me all the interesting things they’ve already achieved at work, it makes me feel uncomfortable.”

After a year without a job, Chen gave herself the title of ‘full-time daughter.’ Her parents have the means to help her out while she studies at home. “My dad has always been supportive. My mom might want me to go out and have another go at finding a job, but right now both agree that I should study for the exams at home,” Chen says.

Burnt out at work

For 23-year-old Liu,* the decision to become a ‘full-time kid’ was a necessity for her mental health. When she was working as a trainee at an electric car company, her professional life took over her personal life. “You work for a living right, but sometimes you feel like you’ve been kidnapped by life, and you have to work,” she says.

The Sichuan native reached breaking point in September 2022. After Liu returned home from a training session at the car company’s Beijing headquarters, her city went into lockdown. The Chinese government was using draconian measures to try to curb the spread of coronavirus. So she wasn’t allowed to leave her flat for a month.

On top of the physical isolation, Liu had to deal with added pressure at work. Lockdown meant that her customers were grouchy and short-tempered, her supervisor was “inconsiderate” of the exceptional situation, and the overall workload was too heavy. “My body was exhausted; I was very depressed and anxious,” she says. Not long after that, she quit her job.

“At first, my parents couldn’t understand why. But then they saw how I was and became worried. So they offered to let me move into their old empty flat,” she explains. Not only does Liu have a roof over her head, she also gets an allowance. “My parents give me pocket money. It’s not much – only when I need it.”

As a full-time child, Liu has time to recover. Sometimes, she sleeps all day, or she goes out with her friends. Any plans to get a job have been put on hold. “I’ll have many decades of work ahead of me and right now I don’t need to be a breadwinner. So I’m not in a hurry to find a job,” she says.

Chen and Liu are not alone. On Chinese social media platforms, the hashtags #fulltimedaughter and #fulltimeson have gone viral. Some parents ask their full-time child to do housework or take care of a sick relative in return for, for example, 6000 yuans (€780). Others, like Chen’s and Liu’s families, are willing to provide a safe space for their children until they find their feet again.

Chasing the dream jobs …

The pandemic is a major factor behind this phenomenon, according to Dr Xiujian Peng of Victoria University in Australia. The researcher in Chinese public policy adds that “young people with little experience were the first to be let go … Then the post-Covid rebound was a lot weaker than the government would’ve liked, and this also had consequences on the job market.”

About one in five young Chinese people in urban areas are unemployed. This year, the world’s second-largest economy beat its own youth unemployment record for seven months running. Then, the authorities stopped publishing the numbers.

On top of the economic situation, Peng has noticed a change in work culture that also sped up during the pandemic. Chinese Gen Z’s relationship with work is different from that of their elders, she says, as these ‘full-time children’ are staying home until they find a better opportunity. “Now the new generation wants to find the job that they like. If they don’t like a manager – they quit! Before, loyalty to the company was more important,” Peng explains.

According to Maimai, the Chinese version of LinkedIn, 28% of one survey’s respondents resigned last year. About the same number had “seriously considered” quitting. Polling shows that job-hopping has become more and more common with each generation – despite the lack of job opportunities. Nowadays, changing employers can even become a reason to party.

Resignation parties

In China, fresh graduates can feel undervalued in the workplace. The super-hierarchical work culture means it’s frowned upon to leave the office before the boss. Overtime is common and rarely compensated. Worse, there are cases of discrimination and harassment across industries. So when a brave soul decides to take care of themselves and quit a toxic environment, it’s cause for celebration. On Chinese social media videos of ‘job-quitting parties’ have gone viral.

Among those posting online about this is 29-year-old Zhang,* who used to work for an internet company in Shenzhen, a city in the south near Hong Kong. On her last day, her colleagues organized a resignation party at Haidilao, a popular hotpot chain.


She shows us photos with colorful balloons in the background and huge smiles all around. It looks like a typical birthday party. But if you look a little closer, the banners read: “This fucking job is over.” For Zhang, these parties give a “sense of freedom” to everyone who takes part.

Being born again

Haidilao is famous for the musical performances put on by waiters for special occasions. With resignation parties gaining traction, some staff have even come up with a new song congratulating the “job-quitter,” complete with their usual dance moves and flashing lights.

That’s not the case at all restaurants. The day after 26-year-old Tang* quit her job, the waitstaff at her local branch only knew the lyrics to one song. “They just sang happy birthday to me, which actually made me feel like I was reborn.” The party made her feel excited for the first time in a long while. “I felt relaxed, active and energetic. It was like I finally got my authentic self back.”


Tang, who lives in Shanghai, worked in the advertising industry for just over a year. “We got a new vice president this year. He was my supervisor, but his management style wasn’t very good,” she says discreetly. “So I quit.”

In recent years, newcomers to China’s job market have been seeking a better work-life balance. Some refuse the ‘9:9:6’ culture that’s most common in the tech industry: working from 9am to 9pm, six days a week. But when employees can’t extract themselves from a difficult environment, they try to regain control of their lives in creative ways. New buzzwords coined by a disillusioned youth say it all.

Lying flat or letting it rot

First there was “Tang ping_” (lie flat) which is basically procrastination as a lifestyle, or a proclamation to do only the bare minimum. Young people post photos of themselves taking extra long lunch breaks, going to the bathroom for a whole hour or sleeping in front of their laptops. The boss wants you to be at the office from 9 am to 9 pm? Fine, he didn’t specify that you also had to be productive. This is the _tang ping spirit.

Then, the term “Bai lan_” (let it rot) went viral. It’s not dissimilar to _tang ping, but takes things a step further. The bai lan attitude refers to a certain acceptance of an unfair situation and – crucially – giving up caring about it.

Sometimes it’s not even about company culture. It can also be a response to feeling over-qualified. Two-thirds of Chinese youth pursue higher education. This year more than 11.5 million people graduated and are now fighting for the limited number of available jobs. Some will have to work in jobs that have little or no link to their studies, such as food delivery or street stalls.

The Chinese government has been trying to find solutions such as offering to increase the local government jobs by 16%. The advice you hear, though, isn’t always so practical. President Xi Jinping advised young people to “Eat bitterness” (endure hardships), while the Communist Youth League suggested they “roll up their sleeves and go to the farmland.” Some might choose these options, but they are not necessarily convincing for everyone.

In this context, the possibility of becoming a full-time child can seem ideal. But the grass is always greener on the other side. After a full year of unemployment, Chen has a nagging feeling of shame: “At my age, I don’t really want to have to spend my parents’ money.”

Surnames only have been used so as to maintain anonymity

Additional reporting by Cindy Huijgen and Katherina Tse

Photo: Welcome to the Jungle

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