China’s Burned Out Tech Workers are Fighting Back Against Long Hours

Ms Tech | Getty

The draining 996 work schedule—named for the expectation that employees work 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., six days a week—has persisted in Chinese companies for years despite ongoing public outcry. Even Alibaba co-founder Jack Ma once called it a “huge blessing.”

In early October this year, it seemed the tide might have been turning. After hopeful signs of increased government scrutiny in August, four aspiring tech workers initiated a social media project designed to expose the problem with the nation’s working culture. A publicly editable database of company practices, it soon went viral, revealing working conditions at many companies in the tech sector and helping bring 996 to the center of the public’s attention. It managed to garner 1 million views within its first week.

But the project—first dubbed Worker Lives Matter and then Working Time—was gone almost as quickly as it appeared. The database and the GitHub repository page have been deleted, and online discussions about the work have been censored by Chinese social networking platforms.

The short life of Working Time highlights how difficult it is to make progress against overtime practices that, while technically illegal in China, are still thriving. But some suspect it won’t be the last anonymous project to take on 996. “I believe there will be more and more attempts and initiatives like this,” says programmer Suji Yan, who has worked on another anti-996 project. With better approaches to avoiding censorship, he says, they could bring even more attention to the problem.

Tracking hours

Working Time started with a spreadsheet shared on Tencent Docs, China’s version of Google Docs. Shortly after it was posted, it was populated with entries attributed to companies such as Alibaba, the Chinese-language internet search provider Baidu, and e-commerce company

“9 a.m., 10:30 p.m.–11:00 p.m., six days a week, managers usually go home after midnight,” read one entry linked with tech giant Huawei.

“10 a.m., 9 p.m. (off-work time 9 p.m., but our group stays until 9:30 p.m. or 10 p.m. because of involution,” noted another entry (“involution” is Chinese internet slang for irrational competition).  Within three days, more than 1,000 entries had been added. A few days later, it became the top trending topic on China’s Quora-like online forum Zhihu.

As the spreadsheet grew and got more public attention, one organizer, with the user name 秃头才能变强 (“Only Being Bald Can Make You Strong”), came out on Zhihu to share the story behind the burgeoning project.

“Four of us are fresh college and master’s degree graduates who were born between 1996 and 2001,” the organizer said. Initially, the spreadsheet was just for information sharing, to help job hunters like themselves, they said. But as it got popular, the organizers decided to push from information gathering to activism. “It is not simply about sharing anymore, as we bear some social responsibility,” 秃头才能变强 wrote.

The spreadsheet filled a gap in China, where there is a lack of company rating sites such as Glassdoor and limited ways for people to learn about benefits, office culture, and salary information. Some job seekers depend on word of mouth, while others reach out to workers randomly on the professional networking app Maimai or piece together information from job listings.“I have heard about 996, but I was not aware it is that common. Now I see the tables made by others, I feel quite shocked,” Lane Sun, a university student from Nanjing, said when the project was still public.

Against 996

According to China’s labor laws, a typical work schedule is eight hours a day, with a maximum of 44 hours a week. Extra hours beyond that require overtime pay, and monthly overtime totals are capped at 36 hours.

But for a long time, China’s tech companies and startups have skirted overtime caps and become notorious for endorsing, glamorizing, and in some cases mandating long hours in the name of hard work and competitive advantage.

In a joint survey by China’s online job site Boss Zhipin and the microblogging platform Weibo in 2019, only 10.6% of workers surveyed said they rarely worked overtime, while 24.7% worked overtime every day.

Long work hours can benefit workers, Jack Ma explained in 2019. “Since you are here, instead of making yourself miserable, you should do 996,” Ma said in a speech at an internal Alibaba meeting that was later shared online. “Your 10-year working experience will be the same as others’ 20 years.”

But the tech community had already started to fight back. Earlier that year, a user created the domain A repository of the same name was launched on GitHub a few days later. The name means that “by following the 996 work schedule, you are risking yourself getting into the ICU (intensive care unit),” explains the GitHub page, which includes regulations on working hours under China’s labor law and a list of more than 200 companies that practice 996.

Within three days, the repository got over 100,000 stars, or bookmarks, becoming the top trending project on GitHub at that time. It was blocked not long after by Chinese browsers including QQ and 360, ultimately disappearing entirely from the Chinese internet (it is still available through VPNs).

The project was quickly followed by the Anti-996 License. Devised by Yan and Katt Gu, who has a legal background, the software license allows developers to restrict the use of their code to those entities that comply with labor laws. In total, the Anti-996 License has been adopted by more than 2,000 projects, Yan says.

State involvement

Today, 996 is facing increasing public scrutiny from both Chinese authorities and the general public. After a former employee at the agriculture-focused tech firm Pinduoduo died in December 2020, allegedly because of overwork, China’s state-run press agency Xinhua called out overtime culture and advocated for shorter hours.

And on August 26, China’s Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security and the Supreme People’s Court jointly published guidelines and examples of court cases on overtime, sending reminders to companies and individuals to be aware of labor laws. But even though authorities and state media seem to be taking a tougher stand, it is unclear when or if the rules that make 996 illegal will be fully enforced.

Some companies are making changes. Anthony Cai, a current employee of Baidu, says working six days a week is quite rare in big companies nowadays. This year, several tech companies including and ByteDance, the developer of TikTok, canceled “big/small weeks,” an emerging term in China that refers to working a six-day schedule every other week. “Working on Saturday is not that popular anymore,” Cai says. “However, staying late at the office is still very common, which is not usually counted as overtime hours.”

In the future, companies may have to scale further back on overtime to attract young applicants. Faper Fu, a university student in Nanjing, says he has little interest in accepting 996 when he enters the job market. “If I am getting paid a lot, I may consider it,” he says. “But it is not my long-term plan 100%. Having work and life balance is very important to me.”

Cary Cooper, a professor of organizational psychology and health at Alliance Manchester Business School in the UK, thinks Chinese companies will pull away from overtime culture when they see evidence of the impact that long hours have on the health and productivity of workers. “There is no evidence that if people consistently work long hours, their productivity level will increase—it’s the opposite,” he says.

In the meantime, Cooper says, younger generations “won’t stop fighting for a good quality of working life.”

“996 will only make human machines,” wrote  秃头才能变强. “And the only result of a dry human battery is being thrown into the trash can after the battery goes dry.”

Source: China’s burned-out tech workers are fighting back against long hours | MIT Technology Review


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China COVID Outbreak: Lockdown In Economic Hub Shenzhen Rattles Investors

Shenzhen, China’s technology manufacturing hub, will be shut down for the next week in effort to curb the rising Covid cases. Only essential businesses are allowed to open, which is expected to cause a ripple effect on the global supply chain.

Home to Chinese tech giants including Huawei and Tencent, Shenzhen ranks third among Chinese cities in manufacturing output meaning any prolonged closure will be felt sharply.

Its factories tool the world with mobile phones, while some of China’s best tech brains go there to churn out apps and games — but Shenzhen is now in lockdown as the coronavirus inflicts economic pain on the country and rattles markets.

Residents in the city of 17.5 million — sometimes dubbed China’s answer to Silicon Valley — have been ordered not to leave unless necessary and public transport has been halted as the country battles its worst virus outbreak in two years.

Most firms have been told to switch to working from home, which is impossible for many factories whose disruption is fuelling unease over supply chains and services. But how significant is Shenzhen to China’s economy?

Home to Chinese tech giants including Huawei and Tencent, Shenzhen ranks third among Chinese cities in economic output meaning any prolonged closure will be felt sharply.

“It is a manufacturing hub and also a tech centre for China,” Hong Hao, of financial services firm Bocom International, told AFP.

Already, major Apple supplier Foxconn has suspended operations in Shenzhen while other tech manufacturers such as Netac Technology also halted some production. Mechanical and electronic products make up 80 percent of exports from the southern powerhouse, which neighbours Hong Kong.

“This is a very significant lockdown and I think the full impact is yet to be revealed,” Hong added. Zhiwei Zhang, chief economist of Pinpoint Asset Management, said consumption would be “hurt quickly and severely” in a lockdown, followed by production and investment.

“It’s a ripple effect,” Hong of Bocom said, noting that other parts of China which depend on Shenzhen’s output could be hit. “They would be working less efficiently than before.” At least six companies on Apple’s supplier list are based in Shenzhen, where other producers such as electric-vehicle firm BYD are also based. But some businesses deemed essential remain open.

Restrictions across the country hitting key hubs could pile pressure on China’s growth target of around 5.5 percent — already the lowest annual GDP target in decades — while Shenzhen’s proximity to Hong Kong is stoking fears of challenges in stopping transmission.

The Yantian port, among the world’s busiest, is also in Shenzhen. It is the largest single port in China, with economists noting it accounts for 10.5 percent of China’s foreign trade container throughput.

In previous outbreaks, the port has been forced to suspend the processing of containers, leading to backlogs, and the current outbreak adds to worries over already-high shipping prices. The port appears to be operating for now, although virus cases could trigger disruptions.

Economists say the impact depends on how long restrictions persist. Zhaopeng Xing of ANZ Research told AFP he believed authorities “can manage Omicron” as well as before within a month or so. “The shock is short-lived,” he said, adding that it would be unlikely to hit the long-term outlook.

Source: China COVID outbreak: Lockdown in economic hub Shenzhen rattles investors


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Huawei Sells Honor Unit ‘To Ensure Its Own Survival,’ But Loses Smartphone Synergy

Huawei, the Chinese telecom giant once ranked as the world’s largest smartphone maker and increasingly squeezed by Washington, announced Tuesday that it would sell its budget handset brand Honor to a government-backed consortium in a bid for the unit’s survival.

Huawei has been struggling to overcome restrictions on crucial chip technologies by the U.S., which calls the company a national security threat. By breaking off, Honor can get smartphone supplies without Washington’s blockade, but will lose access to Huawei’s resources and may even face new U.S. restrictions in the longer term, analysts warn.

“This move has been made by Honor’s industry chain to ensure its own survival,” Huawei said in a statement. “Huawei’s consumer business has been under tremendous pressure as of late. This has been due to a persistent unavailability of technical elements needed for our mobile phone business.”

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Shenzhen Zhixin New Information Technology is set to buy all Honor assets to “help Honor’s channel sellers and suppliers make it through this difficult time,” according to the statement. The buyer comprises more than 30 “agents and dealers” of the Honor brand.

Government-run Shenzhen Smart City Technology Development Group founded the consortium. It counts local government-linked energy, healthcare and investment firms as members. Chinese sports, retail and entertainment conglomerate Group, one of China’s largest private companies, is also on the list. MORE FOR YOUVietnamese Mega-Conglomerate Vingroup Launches South China Sea Tourism With New SubmarineTop iPhone Assembler Foxconn Expects To Move Further Away From ChinaVietnam’s Richest Man Sees Interim Earnings Drop 60% As His Conglomerate Retreats From Retail

Shenzhen Smart City Technology Development said in its own statement the investment is “market-driven” one aimed at saving Honor’s “industry chain,” including suppliers, sellers and consumers.

The sale will let Honor “get the ball rolling” on getting supplies, says Kiranjeet Kaur, a Singapore-based senior research manager at IDC’s Asia Pacific client devices group. But it will miss the “synergy” it had established behind the scenes with Huawei, she notes. The two had shared R&D and original design manufacturing. “I’m not sure how easy it’s going to be for Honor to detach from that,” Kaur says. “I’m not sure how Honor is going to differentiate in the market from Huawei.”

The consortium’s state influence could land Honor in trouble if it wants approval from the U.S., Kaur adds.

“The fact that there is no strategic investor behind the deal, but rather a consortium of players, many of which are related to the government, sheds light on some of the deal rationale,” says Alexander Sirakov, an independent Chinese financial technology analyst.

Huawei has hoped that a sale will give it an infusion of cash while protecting Honor itself from more U.S. sanctions, experts said last week when news first broke about a possible sale. Huawei’s billionaire founder and CEO, Ren Zhengfei, had said last year that U.S. sanctions would cause company revenue to drop by billions of dollars.

Last year, the U.S. Department of Commerce added Huawei to an entity list of companies that are barred from doing business with organization in the U.S. An order that took effect two months ago placed 38 Huawei affiliates to the list and restricts transactions where U.S. software or technology would help develop the Chinese company’s hardware.

U.S. President-elect Joe Biden is not expected to cancel action against Huawei at the start of his term next year as he focuses on domestic issues, analysts said last week, but he might not add sanctions.

Huawei’s statement does not disclose a selling price or mention the U.S. sanctions.

Honor was launched in 2013 as a budget brand to compete with Chinese rivals and sold throughout developing markets in Asia at an average price of $156. Honor has kept costs low and saved money by selling most of its phones online. Huawei would ship more than 70 million Honor phones annually. “We hope this new Honor company will embark on a new road of honor with its shareholders, partners, and employees,” the Huawei statement says.

Huawei was ranked No. 2 in the world and No. 1 in China in the third quarter by IDC. It had reached the top spot in the previous quarter for its first time.Follow me on Twitter

Ralph Jennings

Ralph Jennings

As a news reporter I have covered some of everything since 1988, from my alma mater U.C. Berkeley to the Great Hall of the People in Beijing where I followed Communist officials for the Japanese news agency Kyodo. Stationed in Taipei since 2006, I track Taiwanese companies and local economic trends that resonate offshore. At Reuters through 2010, I looked intensely at the island’s awkward relations with China. More recently, I’ve studied high-tech trends in greater China and expanded my overall news coverage to surrounding Asia.




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Forget Google—Huawei Plans A Killer New Update To Make Millions Switch Phones

This has been a great week for Huawei. It started with the news that it had pulled a masterstroke, securing Here mapping technologies for its phones, a genuine Google Maps alternative. Then came the news that its main Chinese rival in key overseas markets, Xiaomi, was allegedly spying on its users. And finally the smartphone shipment stats for the first quarter confirmed that with its market share in China, it had outpaced Apple to hold the number-two slot, with only Samsung still to catch.

Unfortunately for Huawei, though, none of this will be enough to convince tens of millions of non-Chinese smartphone users to opt for its open-source Android phones, turning away from the familiar world of Google’s software and services. But Huawei has a plan to try to change that. And it has both Google and Apple in mind. And it’s much needed—the company needs to do something to push those millions of users to switch or upgrade to its latest smartphones, despite the loss of Google.

Huawei quickly recognized that the biggest impediment to its international position in a post-blacklist world is competing with Google’s Play Store. Its own AppGallery alternative is now the third largest app distribution platform in the world, but it is still finding its way outside China. The store is no new kid on the block—launched in China back in 2011. But its international version is just two-years old.

So, stepping back, why does Huawei think it can tip the balance in its  favour? The answer is clever, albeit highly ironic. And it is an interesting punt with no guarantee of success. In short—security, privacy and, basically, not being Google.

There’s an irony here that is impossible to overlook. Huawei was blacklisted by the U.S. government back in May 2019 over alleged national security concerns. As a consequence, the tech giant lost access to Google for its new phones, causing a major plunge in international sales. Now, its plan is to focus on Google’s security and privacy shortcomings and offer a safer, more secure alternative. You couldn’t make this up—but it’s not as odd as it sounds. Here’s why.

Huawei may be many things, but a data business it is not. Google built Android as a front-end to its globally dominant data machine. Devices, apps and browsers collect and process data, it’s a cash-generating titan. Businesses buy access to map listings, search engine prominence, store windows, raw data for processing ads and outreach. One of the primary issues for Google in losing access to new Huawei devices has been the loss of access to all those consumers. And we know that Apple, which takes a much more restrictive view on the data-monetizing of its users, has seen the value of ads within its ecosystem drop dramatically as a result.

Huawei, by contrast, sells technology: Smartphones and accessories, 5G networking equipment, enterprise infrastructure, surveillance. It can sit back and take a view on the state of the Play Store, the world’s leading app platform, and determine what could and should be done better. Security and privacy quickly come to mind.

From a security standpoint, Google’s challenge is the open nature of Android and the sheer scale of apps available to billions of users around the world. In recent months, the U.S. giant has taken step after step to improve the security screening of apps that find their way into the store, but has been famously unable to match the locked down nature of Apple’s alternative. Just this week, we have seen two reports surface into Android malware, the problem shows no signs of abating.

Google is always keen to emphasize its ongoing security programs. Again this week the company responded to one of those reports, assuring “we’re always working to improve our detection capabilities. We appreciate the work of the researchers in sharing their findings with us. We’ve since taken action against all the apps they identified.” As for the other report, the malware has not been seen in the wild and so Google takes the view that the threat remains speculative.

But security is an issue that isn’t going away. From nuisance adware to genuinely malicious risks such as the infamous Joker malware, threats continue to escape the net. As to the question is it possible to do better—Apple polices its store with much more rigour. It is not issue free by any extent, but it has proven that by taking a more locked down approach to security you can reduce the issue significantly.

And in this regard, Apple is more a Huawei role model than Google. The Chinese giant will be learning lessons from its American rival, a company the Chinese firm’s founder Ren Zhengfei has said inspired his own business and whose smart devices he and his family use themselves.

Beyond security, we have privacy. And that’s a whole different factor. We all know how much of our data is captured, collected and processed through our phones. they know who and what we know, where we go and why. They are the genuine spies in each of our pockets. This was never more evident than when the U.S. government turned to the marketing industry instead of the mobile networks for data thrown off by our phones for coronavirus population tracking.

Underpinning this privacy issue is the murky world of permissions. Whenever you install an Android app, that app requests and is almost certainly given permissions to access data and functions on your phone. There is staggering abuse of this system by app developers worldwide, some for straight revenue purposes and others for more malicious processing of our data. And while the latter will find themselves kicked from the Play Store if caught, data-based marketing is frowned on but not outlawed. Google uses AI to advise developers if their apps ask for more permissions than their peers, but there’s no enforcement behind this.

At its heart, Google developed and continues to prosper as a data and marketing machine. Its vast ecosystem has grown up around this core tenet. Cue Huawei and the question: can a Chinese company criticized for its data and software security, blacklisted by the U.S., heavily tied into the government in Beijing, do any better?

Well, maybe. Huawei wants its AppGallery to be “open and innovative,” but it also wants to “strictly” protect the security and privacy of users installing apps. How strictly the company deals with developers to resolve issues that plague the Play Store remains to be seen. But Huawei is right in saying it is not “a data company.”

So, what will Huawei do differently?

First, the company plans to verify that developers are who they say they are, with real names disclosed and checked. The company also plans a beefed up security process to do better than Google, rooting out malicious software and vulnerabilities and risks that user data might leak. This includes addressing how apps will run on a Huawei device, taking Apple’s strict approach to sandboxing. Huawei has looked at how it supplements the Android environment to develop and enforce this security layer. Again, you can assume that the company has taken its lead from Apple.

Huawei benefits from control over the hardware and software—again, just like Apple. It can determine where and how credentials are held, it can adopt its own approach to permissions and privacy, it can monitor and control what data is sent to and from a device. The company will also store data regionally, adhering to local regulations, but more importantly telling users that it won’t send data to servers in China—apt given the Xiaomi news broken on Forbes by Thomas Brewster this week.

Can this possibly work? Maybe—but it will be tough, Overcoming resistance to change in key markets as those markets battle COVID-19, and dealing with the brand damage from the blacklist and the building China backlash will be hard. That said, it’s a clever punt, pushing data privacy and security. Huawei will never criticize Google in public, but the backdrop here is to be more like Apple, to take the lack of Google within its own OS as a benefit not a setback. You can expect its marketing to tune to this message as it continues to promote its alternatives.

For Huawei, the clear message here is that if it can’t have Google, it needs to be more like Apple. Making that work will be a mountain to climb, but then Huawei has just heralded its achievements in installing a 5G base station “6,500 meters up Mount Everest.” So, mountain climbing might not be the feat we imagine.

Follow me on Twitter or LinkedIn.

I am the Founder/CEO of Digital Barriers—developing advanced surveillance solutions for defence, national security and counter-terrorism. I write about the intersection of geopolitics and cybersecurity, as well as breaking security and surveillance stories. Contact me at

Source: Forget Google—Huawei Plans A Killer New Update To Make Millions Switch Phones

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Huawei Beats Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max, Samsung Galaxy S10+ In New Rating

Huawei is the company you can’t write off. Sure, it has problems with the U.S. government and its latest phone, the Huawei Mate 30 Pro, is still awaiting a wide release outside China, but it still manages to achieve surprising things.

DXOMark is best known for its camera reviews, giving authoritative scores for, among other things, the photographic capabilities of smartphones.

Currently its top-ranking camera on a phone is the Huawei Mate 30 Pro which has a score of 121, never beaten and only equalled by the Xiaomi Mi CC9 Pro Premium (which, incidentally should surely have won the award for snappiest name, no?). It won this award because the overall camera score beat the nearest contender, the Samsung Galaxy Note 10+ 5G, handsomely.

But that’s not the only surprise win Huawei has had in recent weeks.

DXOMark also conducts audio reviews, and Huawei has gained the very top score here, too.

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Forbes David Phelan The Huawei Mate 20 X, a huge phone with a whopping 7.2in display, most recently updated to a 5G version, has beaten every other phone tested in this way by DXOMark.

The company said that the Huawei phone was released as a multimedia powerhouse, and it praised the phone extensively, comparing it favorably to phones including the latest Apple flagship, the iPhone 11 Pro Max.

DXOMark said:

The Huawei Mate 20 X is the top scorer in our Audio tests of all the devices we’ve tested thus far, with its Overall score of 75 besting Samsung’s S10+ by ten points and the Note 10+ by 9. It is also the only Android phone we’ve tested that scored above Apple’s large-screen iPhone XS Max—although only by one point. The Mate 20 X did particularly well when playing back movies and music, achieving a substantially higher score for those use cases than any of the other phones we have tested. While still the top scorer among the Android devices we tested, its performance while gaming was less stellar, and behind both the iPhone XS Max and the iPhone 11 Pro Max.

Okay, so it’s only just better than the latest iPhone, just one point, but it pretty conclusively beats the Samsung Galaxy S10+.

So, what does this mean?

Well, for a start, it confirms that Huawei phones are increasingly well-crafted and offer genuine standouts.

But perhaps it also shows Huawei to be ahead of the curve. Audio quality is only just becoming a thing, though several phone manufacturers, such as Nokia, for instance, have been boasting of their handsets’ sound capabilities for some time.

But with bigger screens, designed to let you watch video and play games, better audio becomes increasingly important.

Huawei’s skill is that as it improves the camera, screen, battery life and innovation levels on its phones, it’s not neglecting any part of the package, recognizing audio as an aspect that needs careful attention, too.

Follow me on Instagram by clicking here: davidphelantech and Twitter: @davidphelan2009

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Apple December New York Event: Exactly What Will Be Revealed

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I’ve been writing about technology for two decades and am regularly struck by how the sector swings from startling innovation to regular repetitiveness. My areas of specialty are wearable tech, cameras, home entertainment and mobile technology. Over the years I’ve written about gadgets for the Daily Telegraph, the Sunday Times, the Daily Mail, the Sun, Metro, Stuff, T3, Pocket-lint, and Wired. Right now most of my work away from Forbes appears in the Independent, the Evening Standard and Monocle Magazine. Parenthetically, I also work as an actor, enjoying equally the first Mission Impossible movie, a season at Shakespeare’s Globe and a stint on Hollyoaks. Follow me on Instagram: davidphelantech, or Twitter: @davidphelan2009.

Source: Huawei Beats Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max, Samsung Galaxy S10+ In New Rating

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