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Here's what you need to know about 996

Get the 411 on what Shanghai's tech workers are talking about

Illustration: Tana
On March 28, a forum by the name of 996.ICU was created on Github, a platform where developers around the world collaborate by sharing open-source code. The repo quickly became the second most trending post with anonymous programmers revealing their crazy working hours and companies on a blacklist that included big names like Alibaba, Huawei and Tencent.

In response, Alibaba CEO Jack Ma called 996 – working from 9am to 9pm six days a week – a ‘huge blessing’, drawing a parallel between working overtime with a commitment to succeed. Since Ma’s statement, Chinese media have been overwhelmingly supportive towards tech workers, including China Daily, the largest State-owned English newspaper.

So what do tech workers want? ‘The whole motive behind 996.ICU is about money. Either [tech employees] don't receive compensation, or the compensation is way below their expectation,’ Xiao Huihui, a Shanghai-based programmer who doesn’t have to work overtime unless he really wants, told us.

Man at a computer, Arif Riyanto (cropped)
Photograph: Arif Riyanto via Unsplash

Wang Xing, a 26-year-old programmer whose job requires him to pick up client calls 24/7 told us that anyone who’s serious about their career wouldn’t mind spending extra time as long as they’re growing and becoming more competitive for future jobs.

According to China Daily, over half a million Chinese die from overworking each year. In 2016, China surpassed Japan to become the largest population that dies from various diseases related to overworking. Statistics also show that people who work in media, advertisement, medical care and IT are under the most threat.

The solution, if any, should come from a structural level helping to build healthier work ecosystems that value creators’ time and effort and compensate properly according to the law. For many young programmers, they’d very much like to be left alone at times when they’re not in the office. ‘Like hanging out with my girlfriend,’ as Wang Xing said.

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