996, a natural number, has special significance in China in 2019.

On December 2, 2019, the number “996” became one of the “Top Ten Internet Buzzwords in China” in the National Language Resources Monitoring and Research Center of the Ministry of Education of China.

Behind this number, it represents an illegal working system: working from 9 am to 9 pm every day, 6 days a week.

This working system has caused a great uproar in the public opinion field in China, but the movement against it is failing.

An illegal and controversial work system

In many voices, 996 is a cruel work system, but in fact it is illegal.

According to Article 36 of Chapter IV of the Labor Law of the People’s Republic of China:

The State shall practise a working hour system wherein labourers shall work for no more than eight hours a day and no more than 44 hours a week on the average.

Although there are special provisions in other provisions of the law, even considering these special provisions, the 996 working system is beyond the scope allowed by law.

But to others, Chinese workers are not forced 996, or even to some extent an “opportunity”.

According to the “2018 National Time Utilization Survey Bulletin” announced by the National Bureau of Statistics in January 2019, the average paid working time of Chinese citizens is only 4 hours and 24 minutes per day. Even in groups with full-time fixed work only, the average working time is 7 hours and 41 minutes / day.

The time schedule of a day for Chinese residents, working without income basically means housework.

In the same report, we can see that the participation rate of paid labor activities among Chinese citizens is 59%, while the participation rate of employment work activities is 38.4%. Among them, paid labor activities include employment work activities, and employment work activities do not include individual and family business activities.

Expressed in clearer language, less than 38.4% of Chinese workers are protected by overtime provisions in the Labor Law. Self-employed (single-person companies), farmers, and workers on the industrial assembly line are not in these category.

These types of workers account for a large part of China’s overall labor market, but their working hours are far more than 996 or even 7 days a week. But for such workers, “limiting working hours” does not mean labor benefits, and they are often not willing to limit their working hours.

To give a simple example, China’s agriculture is often organized in families, and each family in a village contracts for different lands for farming.

The relationship between family members is different from the employment relationship in an enterprise. There is no “entrepreneur” responsible for the labor benefits of other “workers”. In such a unit, the interests of all people are directly related to the output of the crop, so no one wants to reduce working hours in this case.

In China’s economic system, there are also a large number of Privately or Individually-Owned Business (个体户,gè tǐ hù). This concept includes Self-employed person and Small family business.

PIOB can enjoy the tax allowance (5,000 yuan) given by the government, and the excess will also enjoy a preferential tax of 6% (industrial production) or 4% (commercial services). Typical PIOBs are street food stalls that make China’s streets vibrant. They are often run by a couple and open almost all day to meet the needs of fulling the belly.

In this economic unit, the relationship between members is similar to family farming. The interests of all people are directly tied to the working hours of all people. The limitation of working hours will only disappoint everyone.

According to data released by the State Administration of Market Regulation in December 2018, the number of PIOBs in China exceeded 72.37 million, more than double the number of private companies, and about 100 million Chinese laborers worked in PIOBs.

But it is worth noting that the preferred career plan for most Chinese workers is still to become an employee of a company rather than a member of the PIOB or a farmer. As a result, when corporate employees in first-tier cities launch a campaign against 996, they are often ridiculed by farmers and PIOB workers:

Company employees already have better income and labor benefits than us, but they want more. If they can’t work that long, ask the company to hire me instead of them.

In addition to farmers and PIOB, China’s huge manufacturing workers are also the “beneficiaries” of long working hours. Although they do not work in a “community of interests” like farmers and PIOB. However, because the payment method is often “paid by the piece”, they prefer to work harder when they are young in exchange for more pay.

This makes it natural for Chinese manufacturers to squeeze their employees-because if there is no objection, it is as if nothing has happened.

The Rise and Failure of the Anti-996 Movement

For these reasons, although there is a crueler working system in other areas than 996, the word “996” was born in China’s Internet industry.

It is true that the anti-996 movement has reverberated on Chinese social media, but if you comb it carefully, you will find that it has only played a role in the public opinion field of first-tier cities.

The anti-996 movement started in 2019, but the 996 work system was born in 2016.

A Craigslist-like website in China (58.com) invented this model. In the following years, with the flow of human resources, the decrease in the demographic dividend of the Chinese Internet industry, and the intensified competition among enterprises, most Chinese Internet companies “learned” this model.

Youzan, China’s social e-commerce leader, began to implement the 996 system on January 19, 2019, and its CEO BaiYa refuted it on his social network: “it would be a good thing to look back at a few years later.”

BaiYa did not invent the 996 system, nor was Youzan the first company to adopt this system. But he became the first to try to “rectify” the 996 system, which opened a Pandora’s box-although this system should not be rectified.

Wang Xiaochuan responded to the query

On April 4, 2019, Wang Xiaochuan, CEO of Sogou, a Chinese search engine company, responded to employee questions about overtime on social networks: “People who don’t agree with the company’s management system can either adapt or give feedback and suggestions to help the company improve. What is it when you come out to chew your tongue? Get out of here if you dare. “

On April 11, 2019, Jack Ma, chairman of Alibaba’s board of directors, stated in a live broadcast that “working under 996 is a kind of blessing.”

But on the afternoon of the same day, Jack Ma responded that “any company should not and can not force employees to 996.”

In the full text of the speech, Jack Ma said:

I don’t want to say 996. As of today, I have executed more than 12 × 12 by myself. There are many 996 people in the world, and there are many people who work 12 or 13 hours a day, and there are many people who work harder, harder and smarter than us. Not everyone has the opportunity to really do something valuable, meaningful and fulfilling.

So today, China BAT these companies can apply 996, I think it is the blessing of the rest of us. You think of people who don’t have a job, think of people whose companies may be closed tomorrow, think of people who don’t know where the company’s Revenue is in the next quarter, and think of people whose programs you’ve worked so hard to use. Compared with them, I still feel that I am very lucky, I do not regret 12×12, I have never changed this point.

On April 12, 2019, Liu Qiangdong, the founder of Jingdong, another e-commerce giant in China, said in WeChat Moments that “The dawdler is not my brother.” (He previously said that all employees are their brothers)

These remarks from entrepreneurs have stirred the anger of some Chinese netizens, especially those employees of Chinese Internet companies who are being involved in the 996 system.

These comments from entrepreneurs have aroused the anger of some Chinese netizens, especially those employees of Chinese Internet companies who are involved in the 996 system. This broke the long-standing silence of Chinese public opinion about long working hours.

On March 26th, 2019, a website called “996.ICU” means that if you adopt the 996 system, your health will be damaged and your life may even be in danger of entering ICU.

The website cited several Chinese laws to prove that the 996 working system is illegal, and then set up a list of companies that “use the 996 system” on Github.

Soon, the Chinese media began to criticize the 996 work system, with more than 50 media outlets publishing 120 reports. Unlike the debate on social media, all reports in state media, including People’s Daily, Xinhuanet and Banyuetan(One of the most formal media of the CPC), sided with workers to criticize the 996 work system.

But the anti-996 movement seems to have been confined to the Internet industry, especially those involved in Internet technology research and development. People even block their bosses in advance when sharing articles criticizing the 996 working system with Wechat on Weibo. Although everyone was outraged, few took the initiative to mention it to their boss, even if they were in a company that implemented 996.

This is because they are well aware that China has been in a labour buyer’s market for a long time, and once they disagree with their bosses, they may lose their jobs.

On the other hand, the main groups participating in the anti-996 movement have a decent working environment and good pay in the mainstream perception of the Chinese public. As a result, some workers, as mentioned earlier, even joined the “capitalist” camp in public opinion and criticized the anti-996 movement. Think they are squeezing social capital and asking for more privileges.

In the later period, the generalization of the anti-996 movement appeared. The list of the implementation of the 996 system collected by the project covered 176 companies including Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent, Didi, Meituan, and ByteDance. This is almost China’s Internet industry in its entirety.

On the other hand, in the 995 white list (list of companies that strictly abide by the “China Labor Law”), there are only 34 companies and 27 of them are branches of foreign companies in China.

But in fact, this does not accurately describe the actual situation of the 996 working system in China. Especially for companies with more than dozens of departments and more than 50,000 employees, such as Alibaba and Tencent, it is invalid because only some departments have adopted the 996 system in some time periods.

Inaccurate allegations have led to perfunctory responses, with most big companies denying that they have committed illegal acts or failing to respond to accusations at all.

For many small businesses, the voice of justification for 996 is often related to “stress to survive.”

Some entrepreneurs believe that if they do not implement the 996 working system, their company will lose out on the competition, so they will choose to adopt the 996 working system even if they are punished by law.

Some small business owners said that they consider 996 to be an unreasonable and inefficient work system. Without so much work to do, they would never let employees work overtime for 9 hours for free, but they have So much work.

As Li Li, an entrepreneur in the education industry, said in an interview: “The problem is simple, 996 or entrepreneurial failure.”

With the anti-996 movement being generalized and politicized to a certain extent, the related websites of the 996.ICU project were blocked in mainland China. This may be due to official mistrust of the project hosting the server overseas.

In the end, although 996 caused a storm of public opinion in China in 2019, the working system of 996 continues in the Chinese workplace.

Chinese officials have not banned discussions on the topic of 996, you can still post articles or other content on Chinese social media debating the 996 working system.

996 is still selected into China’s official Internet popular thesaurus at the end of 2019.

Although it is no longer popular.

Why can’t the law end 996 now?

Although the vast majority of “996” are irrefutable violations in China, and the government has also provided labor arbitration agencies to find justice for employees, the most common labor disputes handled by China’s labor arbitration institutions are mainly dismissal and arrears of wages payment. Few people apply for arbitration because of overtime work.

[sociallocker id=”5614″]

When legal professionals and science popularization workers repeatedly moved out of legal provisions stating that 996 was illegal, most Chinese thought they were “joking.” In their stereotypes, they believe that the provisions on overtime in the Labor Law have already existed in name because of illegality. There is an idiom in China called “the law does not blame the public”, and 996 has become a part of public in China.

There is evidence that even without the help of trade unions, individual Chinese workers can defeat the 996 system through labor arbitration and labor dispute litigation. But most workers choose to swallow it.

The reasons why workers do not take legal measures are complicated:

On the one hand, in the case of civil disputes, 996 is both forced and voluntary, which has been fully explained above. Those who really hate 996 usually choose to pursue another career rather than sue the company.

Suing a company consumes too much time and energy, and may be regarded by other companies (potential future employers) as a trouble maker or “trouble head” in plain English (in Chinese culture, a person behaves differently from most people. Although it is possible that most people are wrong), it is too unworthy for individuals to affect future employment prospects.

On the other hand, they have another simpler way to resist 996: idling.

They reduced the work density without reducing their working hours. Do more of your own things during office hours, such as browsing social networks, watching videos, and reading books that have nothing to do with work.

This leads to a fun and vicious circle between enterprises and employees, and enterprises extend working hours at will in order to complete more work progress. Employees have reduced their workload in order to cope with the extended working hours.

But to make matters worse, with this kind of confrontation, more and more people think that the law is not an effective solution.

Although China is a country ruled by law in form, it still lacks the concept of rule of law from top to bottom.

Ren Zhengfei, the boss of the famous Huawei company, recorded in his autobiography that the government took the lead in breaking the law, and this discussion is not banned in China, because in fact the Chinese government does not find this an unacceptable accusation.

But in fact, it is the Chinese people who have a worse awareness of the rule of law than the Chinese government.

A considerable number of Chinese people think that the law is a joke or just a tool of the ruling class, often because of their personal experience or stereotype. In some past disputes, legal means have failed to protect the legitimate rights and interests of the people, which makes them reluctant to try again.

It is shameless for a Chinese to obtain economic benefits by illegal means, but it will definitely be envied by most Chinese people. Many Chinese or Chinese companies know the law and violate the law in some fields (such as 996), because most of the time, the offenders will not be punished, and the victims know that trying to counter the high probability through the law is futile.

In Chinese history, “rule by man” and “rule by virtue (another form of rule by man)” have lasted for too long, and ordinary Chinese people expect a good judge far more than a good law.

Today, the Chinese government often calls for “ruling the country according to law.” But “if something is advocated, it must be lacking.”


996 is becoming a “reasonable thing” outside the legal framework in China. If “rule the country by law” just stays on the slogan, then this problem will never be solved.



2 responses to “Why nobody is stopping Chinese companies from working 996?”

  1. […] have explained in this article why the 996 working system will not disappear from China in the short term. This is not an […]

  2. […] may have heard of the infamous 996 working system in some Chinese companies, which works six days a week from 9 am to 9 pm. But for Li Jiaqi, he […]