The death last week of a Pinduoduo employee surnamed Zhang has reignited criticism of work culture in China, and in particular “996 culture” which derives its name from the idea employees have to work from 9:00 am to 9:00 pm, 6 days a week. A hashtag about the incident has drawn more than 150 million views on Sina Weibo.
What’s the story?
The booming e-commerce company confirmed on Monday that an employee of its Urumqi grocery division fell and died hours after working past midnight on Dec. 29.
The 22 year old employee who had worked for Pinduoduo since July 2019 complained about working conditions in October 2020, writing on WeChat “we employees are at the mercy of capitalism.”
A source at Pinduoduo explained (link in Chinese) that in the far west of China, work starts and ends later due to China’s one official time zone, so finishing work after midnight is common.
Having received compensation from the company for the woman’s death, her family asked that the deceased not be used in any debate about working conditions.
Pinduoduo’s founder Colin Huang became China’s second-richest man in June last year. Pinduoduo’s grocery sales service, trialled in Nanchang and Wuhan in August, was later rolled out across the country, as the company’s stock rose 130% from a low point in July.
What are people saying online?
While questions swirl about the veracity of screenshots pointing the finger at Pinduoduo, many commenters see the incident as a broader symptom of work-life balance issues in China tech. “What is sadder than a society in which your work unit squeezes you for your value and then brainwashes you, saying, ‘If you don’t work overtime, you won’t be motivated,’” read one popular comment.
Contact editor Marcus Ryder (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Trending in China: All Work and No Play – China Complains of Long Working Hours Culture