At 1:30 am on December 29, 2020, a 22 years old girl suddenly fainted on her way home from work. She worked in Pinduoduo, one of the biggest Internet enterprises in China. Unfortunately, after nearly 6 hours of emergency treatment, she still passed away. According to her colleagues, she had worked in Pinduoduo since July 2020. And during this time, she couldn’t finish her work until midnight, and sometimes even worked up to 30 hours in a row.
She worked in a department called Duoduo Grocery Shopping. This department was born during the epidemic. The Internet companies would provide service that allows people to purchase groceries in groups at a lower price without going outside. And recently, it has become a battleground where Chinese Internet giants, such as Pinduoduo, Alibaba, and JD, are fighting for the market share. Therefore, the pressure to work in this front-line department is beyond imagination. According to a Pinduoduo employee, most people in this department have to work for a total of 300 hours per month, and some employees would even work up to 30 hours at a time. In this case, although Pinduoduo’s culture of working overtime may not be the whole reason behind this tragedy, it is certainly a main contributing factor.
Shortly after the tragedy happened, their official Zhihu (China’s version of Quora) account answered the question about the death of this female employee, “If you take a look at those people at the bottom of our society, you would notice that everyone is literally trading his health and life for money. I always disagree that it is the problem of capital, but the society. This is an era of hard work, you can choose to live comfortably, but you also have to choose the consequences of ease. And everyone can control how hard they work.” In a sense, I can’t deny that it is plausible, however, it is definitely not an appropriate thing to say minutes after the tragedy.
As soon as this news came out, it immediately aroused a heated discussion about the “9-9-6 work schedule”. So, what is the 9-9-6 work schedule?
It refers to the system of working from 9 am to 9 pm, with 1 hour (or less) of rest at noon and evening, with more than 10 hours in total, and 6 days a week. This schedule is clearly against China’s Labor Law but still becomes the prevailing culture in the country’s tech giants and Internet enterprises.
Jack Ma, the former CEO of Alibaba (the biggest company in the Chinese Internet industry), even once said that the“9-9-6 working system is a blessing for the younger generation”.
What’s more, Guangming Daily (one of the biggest Newspaper in China) claimed that “But in exceptional circumstances, ‘ when a company has consulted with the unions and employees’, and if the maximum working hours do not exceed 11 hours a day and 80 hours a month, then it is hard to be declared as illegal.”
As the biggest developing country with the largest population, the pressure of surviving is beyond imagination in China. The temptation of quality lives, which represents by housing, well-education, medical-treatment, providing lives for the elders, and vehicles, is the biggest problem for everyone in China (even all over the world).
This system is clearly the way that capitalists use to exploit workers, however, there are still so many people who are willing to become a part of this heartless machine. Now, the question is – why?
To answer that question, let’s first take a look at the salary level in the Chinese Internet industry versus the per capita disposable income. According to the National Bureau of Statistics 2019 average annual salary of employees in non-private enterprises and urban private enterprises, the average annual salary of the Internet industry is the highest, that is 161,352 CNY (about 24967 USD). And the per capita disposable income of Chinese residents was only 30,733 CNY (about 4757 USD) in 2019.
Many people may think that we are now in an age when people can use their knowledge in exchange for wealth. But how much do they invest in education? Actually, the younger generation is also spending a staggering amount on education. According to the Ministry of Education report in 2019: from primary school to university, the educational expenditure of Chinese students per capita is about 300,000 CNY (about 46432 USD), ranking fifth in the world, and Chinese families’ educational expenditure accounts for nearly 40% of their annual expenditure, four times that of American families.
Therefore, if young people enter other lower-income industries, their salary couldn’t even match their educational expenditure on themselves, let alone providing better educational resources for their children. What’s more, here, we only talk about the personal education expenses, but there are more. We may conclude that if young Chinese want to make money and earn back their investment, they’d better work in the giants of Internet industry and have no choice but to follow this work schedule.
So, if it was you, what would you choose? Treading your health in exchange for money, and providing families and yourself quality lives, or a life of mere idleness, or even, for some people, poverty?