Working long hours at a company, devoid of any work-life balance, is rife in China’s tech industry. Earlier this week on Tuesday, a Github user with the name “996icu” created a webpage that he shared on GitHub, to protest against the “996” work culture in Chinese tech companies.
The “996” work culture is an unofficial work schedule that requires employees to work from 9 am to 9 pm, 6 days a week, totaling up to 60 hours of work per week.
The 99icu webpage mentions the Labor Law of the People’s Republic of China, according to which, an employer can ask its employees to work long hours due to needs of production or businesses. But, the work time to be prolonged should not exceed 36 hours a month. Also, as per the Labor Law, employees following the “996” work schedule should be paid 2.275 times of their base salary. However, this is not the case in reality and Chinese employees following the 996 work rule rarely get paid that much.
GitHub users also called out to companies like Youzan and Jingdong, who both follow the 996 work rule. The webpage cites example of a Jingdong PR who posted on their maimai ( Chinese business social network) account that “(Our culture is to devote ourselves with all our hearts (to achieve the business objectives)”.
996 work schedule started to gain popularity in recent years but has been a “secret practice” for quite a while. The 996icu webpage went viral online and ranked first on GitHub’s trending page on Thursday. It currently has amassed more than 90,000 stars (a post bookmarking tool). The post is also being widely shared on Chinese social media platforms such as Weibo and WeChat, where many users are talking about their experiences as tech workers who followed the 996 schedule.
This gladiatorial work environment in Chinese firms has long been a bone of contention. South China Morning Post writer Zheping Huang published a post sharing stories of different Chinese tech employees who shed light on the grotesque reality of China’s Silicon Valley.
One such example is of a 33-year-old Beijing native, Yang, who works as a product manager in a Chinese internet company. Yang wakes up at 6 am every day to get through a two-and-a-half-hour commute to reach work. Another example is of Bu, a 20-something marketing specialist who relocated to an old complex near her workplace. She pays high rent, shares room with two other women, and no longer has access to coffee shops or good restaurants.
A user named “discordance” on Hacker News commented regarding the GitHub protest, asking developers in China to move to better companies. “Leave your company, take your colleagues and start one with better conditions. You are some of the best engineers I’ve worked with and deserve better”.
Another user “ceohockey60” commented: “The Chinese colloquial term for a developer is “码农”. Its literal English translation is “code peasants” — not the most flattering or respectful way to call software engineers. I’ve recently heard horror stories, where 9-9-6 is no longer enough inside one of the Chinese tech giants, and 10-10-7 is expected (10am-10pm, 7 days/week)”.
The 996icu webpage states that people who “consistently follow the “996” work schedule.. run the risk of getting..into the Intensive Care Unit. Developers’ lives matter”.