Pinduoduo Worker Deaths Ignites China Debate Over Work

Lyu Xiaolin, an employee of a large Chinese tech company, said she had discussed the Pinduoduo deaths at length with colleagues who agreed that the idea of ​​unbearable work pressure was all too familiar.

“The conclusion was that this is too terrible and we need to cherish our own lives,” she said. “We should make sure we leave work earlier in the future.”

She herself had changed roles in her company, which she did not want to identify for fear of retaliation because her previous work often meant that she had to work until 11 or 12 a.m., sometimes even until 3 a.m. She was looking for therapy to alleviate the psychological stress.

China’s hypercompetitive work culture, especially in the tech world, has been a frequent cause of concern and criticism in recent years. While many once celebrated growth at all costs as the engine of China’s development, young workers have increasingly complained about the cost to their health and personal relationships.

This dissatisfaction clearly exploded in 2019 when simple technicians organized a rare online protest against the so-called “996” culture – working days that last six days a week from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. – and increased awareness of China’s labor law, the working days of more than eight hours without overtime pay is generally prohibited. However, companies insist that the long hours are voluntary and the authorities, aware of unofficial mobilization, censored much of the discussion about the movement. The internet went on.

The debate has broken out again.

On January 3rd, an anonymous user of Maimai, a professional networking platform, wrote that a friend of Pinduoduo died unexpectedly and blamed the company. The post gained traction, and Pinduoduo confirmed that a worker surnamed Zhang died on December 29th on her way home.

There was no public explanation for the cause of death, but many online have linked it to overwork. Users found that Ms. Zhang had been working on a new online grocery product that Pinduoduo had been promoting, and that the company’s executive director, Colin Huang, had just been named China’s second richest person.

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