Are You Living in a “内卷化 (nèi juǎn huà)” World?
As more and more countries model themselves after capitilistic models, they find themselves increasingly unhappy compared to generations prior. In the world of Chinese netizens, there is a word that coincides and expressesthis sentiment quite accurately.
“内 (nèi)” means “inward,” “卷 (juǎn)” means “to curl,” and “化 (huà)” means “process” and all together “内卷化 (nèi juǎn huà)” means “involution”. In literal terms, it means “shrinking.”
内卷化 (nèi juǎn huà)
is defined as the phenomenon found in some agriculture societies when population growth is coupled with a decrease in per capita wealth and is the phenomenon where human society has been stagnant or unable to transfer to an advanced pattern after developing to a stable form.
Chinese netizens have used the term in a more general sense, however, where over competition has forced all people involved to suffer from excessive and uneccesary stress.
The reason the concept of involution become popular is because of some photos from several ‘super scholars’. A well-known school counselor said, ”The involution reflects an inexhaustible cycle of energy consumption. In fact, as a counselor, I can understand this kind of competition and the psychology of comparison to a certain extent. However, in the process of communication with students, we hope that students should think consciously and do not let themselves enter this gyroscopic cycle.”
A well-known professor also expresses his concept saying, “Whether relative to the individual, or to the whole society, facing “Involution” is a challenge. Students themselves need to figure out ‘what kind of person I want to be’; while policymakers and implementers of education policies, as well as parents of students, need to think about ‘what kind of people are our educational goals’, what kind of people do we want to see our children become.”
The simplistic explanation is that China is a highly competitive society. If you don’t work hard, others will work harder than you or work longer hours every day to take your place. In a previous article outlining the formation of overtime culture, known as 996, is a typical “involution” process.
Although it’s a concept lacking in the English language it’s a useful one to describe a real phenomenon nonetheless. The closest English has to this word is “rat race”. It’s also one flaw in the notion that hard work and sacrifices are for the good of the nation as a whole.
But if everyone in the nation is too busy making sacrifices to enjoy their life, are their sacrifices really for the greater good, or actually for the benefit of a small number of idle elites?