Chinese Tech Employee, 22, Collapses and Dies From Possible Toxic Work Culture

Pinduoduo

The death of a 22-year-old employee from Shanghai-based e-commerce giant Pinduoduo has reignited a long-drawn discussion of China’s overwork culture known as “996.”

What happened: The employee, only identified by her surname Zhang, worked for Pinduoduo’s group-buying unit, Duoduo Maicai, in Xinjiang. While walking home with her colleague at around 1:30 a.m. on Dec. 29, 2020, Zhang suddenly grabbed her stomach and collapsed, according to South China Morning Post.

  • Her colleague immediately brought her to the hospital, where doctors tried to revive her. Zhang died six hours later.
  • Discussions of Zhang’s death went viral on Weibo and garnered over 190 million total views. The hashtag #996 became a trending topic before it was taken down.
  • Pinduoduo confirmed Zhang’s death in a statement last Monday but did not release any details regarding the cause of death.
  • Pinduoduo claimed they did not release any other statement to honor Zhang’s family’s request to save her from becoming the subject of “gossip.”
  • Zhang worked for the company for six months before her death. Her remains were cremated on Jan. 3.

What is “996”: The term was coined to describe the overwork culture in China where employees work from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. for six days a week.

  • In 2019, Chinese billionaire and Alibaba co-founder Jack Ma said he had no interest in working with people who can’t clock in 12 hours a day for six days a week.
  • The grueling 996 shift was also praised by JD.com founder Richard Liu Qiangdon, according to Business Insider.
  • Shine recently reported that Pinduoduo was at the receiving end of backlash over the weekend after its official account commented on Zhang’s death, saying, “All of us grassroots people are sacrificing our health in exchange for a paycheck.”
  • Pinduoduo explained that this comment was left by a staff member identified as Li, who works for their outsourced marketing service provider. The company cut its ties with this provider following the controversial comment.
  • The Chinese e-commerce giant eventually removed the post and offered an apology in a recent statement: “We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience to the public and we strongly object to the views expressed in the post. This does not reflect our official stance on this heartbreaking matter.”

Feature Image via CBS This Morning

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