The Chinese grind-it-out work culture that workers joke could land you in the ICU.

“I personally think that 996 is a huge blessing,” said Jack Ma, Chinese billionaire and co-founder of online shopping giant Alibaba, earlier this year. “How do you achieve the success you want without paying extra effort and time?” Ma was referring to the work culture that has taken root in China’s technology and start-up sectors: many employees work from nine in the morning to nine in the evening, six days a week.

But his words haven’t gone down well; some workers are fed up with gruelling days, crippling fatigue and having no free time. Tech sector growth is slowing, hiring is being slashed, perks are disappearing and workers are being pushed harder. On code-sharing platform GitHub, a campaign called ’996/ICU’ – in other words, working 996 may land you in intensive care – has amassed almost 250,000 ‘stars’, or likes. What’s more, contributors are blacklisting companies enforcing excessive overtime.

As the row over Ma’s comments rumbled on, the leading state-run outlet, China Daily, weighed in with a comment piece emphasising labour laws should be observed. But some supported Ma: Richard Liu, the boss of ecommerce giant, hit out at “slackers”, saying brutal hours had driven his success.

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Image credit: Piero Zagami and Michela Nicchiotti.


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