China’s ‘996’ Backlash Continues with 'Worker Lives Matter’ Campaign

    Chinese employees are protesting “996” culture again with a campaign that compiles the working hours of the country’s biggest firms.
    Chinese employees are protesting “996” culture again with a campaign that compiles the working hours of the country’s biggest firms, showing that overtime still prevails. Photo: Shutterstock
      Published   in Consumer

    What happened

    The “996” conversation is back on the table as a group of post-95 Chinese office workers launch a new attack on China’s grueling work culture. Called the “Worker Lives Matter” campaign, organizers are asking employees across various industries to share information on their base salary, position, and work schedule on an open access spreadsheet. As of October 15, the document has over 6,000 entries and the related hashtag, #1300CompaniesWorkSchedule, has garnered 30 million views on Weibo.

    The Jing Take

    In August, Chinese authorities ruled “996” — clocking in 9am to 9pm shifts, six days a week — as illegal and capped overtime at 36 hours per month. In response, tech giants like Kuaishou and Bytedance formally ended their “big week/small week” arrangement, whereby staff were forced to work an extra day every two weeks, making headlines at the time.

    However, change is clearly slow to come. As the spreadsheet details, employees at Tencent, Alibaba, ByteDance, and Meituan still generally work from 10am to 9pm, while their counterparts at and Huawei toil even longer, from 9am to 9pm (Huawei is even known for its “wolf culture,” where it is killed or be killed, as one employee described to TechCrunch). Bilibili, in contrast, saw some praise with its 10am to 7pm schedule, enforcing fewer hours than its internet rivals.

    Of course, given the collaborative nature of the project, ​​it is difficult to verify the information. Organizers have said they may limit the number of submissions per person or add a voting mechanism to improve the document’s reliability in the future. Regardless, the campaign’s popularity reflects the desire for greater transparency in the private sector and an end to burnout culture. As one Weibo user commented, “This is a good direction, capitalists need to be supervised.” Another pointed out that even with companies modifying their policies, reality was still bleak: “After 996 changed to normal working hours, work is forced to be done at home and with no pay.”

    Although Jack Ma and other tech titans have lauded “996” as a “huge blessing,” China’s younger generations have increasingly bucked against this idea. As such, their spending habits have shifted; while some millennials splurge on luxury purchases as a reward for their hard work (and this demographic is still on track to represent 40 percent of the personal luxury goods market by 2025), others are “lying flat” and seeking a slower lifestyle. In rejection of societal pressures and empty materialism, some youths have turned to zen hobbies, leading to the rise of gardening, fishing, RVing, and other outdoor activities.

    But rather than fuel China’s “Sang” culture of hopelessness, luxury brands that want to speak to these consumers would do well to take a softer approach: demonstrate empathy, promote wellness, and inspire them to achieve their personal goals, ultimately showing them that workers’ lives indeed matter.

    The Jing Take reports on a piece of the leading news and presents our editorial team’s analysis of the key implications for the luxury industry. In the recurring column, we analyze everything from product drops and mergers to heated debate sprouting on Chinese social media.

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