The High Price of China's Work Culture

    China’s online home for fans of anime, comics and games, or ACG, is trending. For all the wrong reasons.
    China’s online home for fans of anime, comics and games, or ACG, is trending. For all the wrong reasons. Photo: Shutterstock
      Published   in Technology

    What happened

    News of the death of Bilibili’s Wuhan AI audit team leader has been trending on Weibo, reaching 580,000 likes and 24,000 comments. The passing of the employee nicknamed Twilight Muxin is linked to an excessive work schedule during the Chinese New Year holiday. According to statements from Bilibili employees shown in the post, some audit team members worked 12-hour shifts during the festive period as the platform stepped up its efforts to review questionable content.

    Bilibili markets itself as the online home for fans of anime, comics and games, or ACG, and is one of China’s biggest video-sharing companies. By the end of 2020, the platform affectionately known to loyal users as the “B station” had over 200 million monthly active users (MAUs) and 54 million daily active users.

    The Jing Take

    China’s short video segment is severely crowded. The Gen Z favorite faces stiff competition from rivals Douyin and Kuaishou, which have 600 million and 481 million MAUs, respectively. But according to Bilibili’s CEO Chen Rui, the ambitious company wants to double its monthly active users over the next three years. If it reaches its goal of 400 million by the end of 2023, this would put it on par with the country’s leading apps such as Tencent Video and iQiyi — both of which already surpassed this landmark in 2017.

    However, this aggressive goal comes with a price tag for China’s workforce; even more so given Beijing’s ongoing remit to clean up the internet. In 2019, when Jack Ma endorsed the county’s grueling 966 work culture, he faced severe criticism. Since then, many are standing up or, should that be, “lying flat” (or 躺平), to protest demanding work hours. On August 27, Chinese workers won a victory when the Supreme People’s Court declared “996” illegal, limiting overtime to 36 hours a month. Whether directly linked or not, Twilight Muxin’s death once again shines a light on the proclivity of the unspoken practice (which still exists at the Bilibili workplace, for one).

    Most of Bilibili’s fans belong to the Gen Z+ demographic (or what the company defines as people born between 1985 and 2009). Their disillusionment with these working practices is palpable, but to outwardly or obviously engage in "lying flat,” is deemed shameful. Therefore, as always in China it’s complicated. Luxury would do well to understand the nuance of being supportive of its workforce, especially in a market where employment loyalty is notoriously hard won.

    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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