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At 1AM on December 29, a young employee at ecommerce firm Pinduoduo collapsed on her way home from work. She was immediately sent to hospital but passed away six hours later, reportedly due to exhaustion.
As a result, online discourse around “996 culture” — the practice of working from 9AM to 9PM 6 days a week — has once again taken off as internet users have condemned the company and the apparently unethical labor practices that seem to be rampant in China’s tech sector. The incident’s related hashtag on social media site Weibo has received over 460 million views.
The tragic story has been compounded by a response on Zhihu — the Chinese equivalent of Quora — allegedly from the official Pinduoduo account, which has sparked more online fury. Part of the response read: “This is an era where you have to fight with your life. You are free to choose a simple and comfortable lifestyle, but you must live with the consequences of comfort. We can all better regulate our hard work.”
A screenshot of the response was widely shared, before Pinduoduo denounced it as Photoshopped and as a groundless allegation. However, when an official response from Zhihu contradicted that claim and stated that the post did indeed come from the verified Pinduoduo account, PDD pointed the finger at an external vendor.
In a statement provided to RADII, the company said, “Pinduoduo is aware of an unauthorized post from its official Zhihu account. The comment was posted on the morning of Jan. 4 by an external vendor employee who had access to the account for work related to Pinduoduo’s New Year gala event.
“Pinduoduo strongly condemns the views expressed in the post, which do not represent those of the company in any way. We apologize sincerely to the public for our lax oversight of the account. We have taken steps to rectify and strengthen our internal controls.”
The news and the apparent response has attracted significant attention online. “Is it more comfortable if I simply do not want to work overtime? This logic seems problematic,” reads a highly upvoted comment on Weibo.
“996 is capitalists’ blessing, but workers’ death knell,” was another popular comment, modifying Alibaba founder Jack Ma’s controversial statement endorsing 996 culture by calling it a blessing.
Pinduoduo is known for its exponential growth against fierce competition in the Chinese ecommerce sphere, launching its Initial Public Offering on Nasdaq within three years of the company’s founding. However as its profile has risen, so has scrutiny of its labor practices — along with those of its corporate tech peers.
While the Chinese tech startup sphere is notorious for its intense overtime culture, dissenting voices continue to grow louder. As millions of internet users demand justice, this particular incident has provided an opportunity for many to publicly vent their frustrations with overwork culture. Yet whether such anger will lead to substantive change remains to be seen.
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