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12-Hour Days, Six Days a Week

12-Hour Days, Six Days a Week
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12-Hour Days, Six Days a Week

12-Hour Days, Six Days a Week

To understand the work culture in China, start with a number: 996.

It’s a shortcut to the grueling schedule that has become the norm in many Chinese companies: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., six days a week.

The term originated in the tech industry about five years ago, when fledgling internet companies across the country were racing to compete with Silicon Valley. At first, workers were willing to trade their free time for overtime and the promise of helping China compete with the West.

The Chinese economy has become the second in the world. Tech giants like Alibaba, Huawei and ByteDance, owner of TikTok, are household names. But recently, more and more tech workers are resisting the all-cost culture.

Some in the Chinese working class dismiss the complaints as accusations against the elite; after all, tech workers are very well paid and educated. But the debate also offers a window on the economy of the country in the broad sense, and on the expectations of its youth.

The first major pullback to 996 came in 2019, as China’s economic growth slowed and tech workers began to question their working conditions. Online protests followed, but the movement faded under government censorship.

This year, 996 returned to the news after two workers died at Pinduoduo, an e-commerce giant. Officials have vowed to investigate the working conditions, although it is not clear what has come of it – if any.

Since then, some companies have taken steps to improve work-life balance. Kuaishou, a short video app, in July ended a policy requiring its staff to work weekends twice a month. A division of Tencent has started encouraging workers to return home at 6 p.m., but only on Wednesdays.

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The pullback to 996 also reflects the hopes and anxieties of young Chinese people.

Many are willing to endure working conditions because of the competitive labor market. The number of university graduates in China has increased by 73 percent over the past decade, a stunning achievement for a country that had less than 3.5 million university students in 1997. As a result, more and more people compete for a limited pool of white-collar jobs. , as I wrote earlier this year.

But it’s also clear that many are fed up with the mad rush. Some Gen Zers have turned to reading Mao Zedong’s writings on communism to rage against capitalist exploitation. An online craze this year called on young people to “rock” or “lay flat” – in essence, pull back, as my colleague Elsie Chen wrote.

The Chinese Communist Party sees burnout and the threat it poses to economic growth. On the one hand, it is committed to better supporting college graduates in their job search. But he also censored talks about tanging.

What started out as a conversation about the treatment of elite workers by tech companies has expanded to include lower-skilled workers, especially on-demand workers.

Chinese middle class people have increasingly shown solidarity with these workers. Last year, when parcel couriers went on strike ahead of a big shopping spree, they were cheered on by numerous social media.

In some ways, the new awareness reflects the backlash against tech companies in the United States, but it has also run into uniquely Chinese censorship issues. As with college graduates, the government has promised more protections for concert workers. But earlier this year, officials arrested a well-known delivery boy who had tried to organize his colleagues.

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Vivian Wang is a China correspondent for the Times.

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Last May, the French government launched an app that gave 300 euros – about $ 350 – to every 18-year-old in the country. The goal was to guide teens toward more sophisticated art, using the money for cultural items – things like books, theater tickets, museum passes, records, and music supplies. art.

So far, many French teenagers have flocked to manga, a type of Japanese comic book, reports Aurélien Breeden in The Times. Books made up over 75% of all purchases made through the app, called Culture Pass, and about two-thirds of books were manga.

Jean-Michel Tobelem, a professor specializing in the economics of culture, said the trend towards mass media was not necessarily a bad thing. “You can get into Korean culture through K-Pop and then find out that there is a whole lot of cinema, literature, painters and composers to go with it.”

Yet, said Tobelem, the app has little incentive for young people to engage in “more artistically demanding works.”

Gabriel Tiné, a Parisian student who spent more than 200 euros of his pass in a local record store, is a fan of the initiative. “I wouldn’t say no to going to a jazz concert or anything like that,” he said. “What’s interesting is that anyone can do whatever they want with it. – Sanam Yar, a morning writer

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