A constant reduction in the scale of operations, the term was originally used of small peasant production in Indonesia, where ever more labour was expended on ever smaller parcels of land. Later applied to China, it has expanded as a meme in the media and social sciences, in education and elsewhere. Recently invoked to explain ‘lying flat’, a symptom of youth alienation, and taken up, particularly by Philip Huang, in ‘bureaucratic involution’, such that in much-needed rural revitalisation, imagined as a state/society partnership, neither grassroots cadres nor village communities have genuine standing but ‘just execute orders issued from on high, just wait and see, or in fact resist’.