By Edmund Zhen
Published: May 15th, 2019
One of China’s richest billionaire stirred up a controversy over his vision of what good work ethics are. Jack Ma, the founder of e-commerce giant Alibaba, took it to social media to endorse the taxing workload of a 12 hours shift every day, six days a week under the name “996” (9 AM- 9 PM 6 days a week). A strong believer that hard work equates to high levels of happiness, he claims, “I personally think that 996 is a huge blessing,” he said to CNN. “How do you achieve the success you want without paying extra effort and time?” Though his concept of it is nothing more than a cliché and undoubtedly hard to challenge, the benefits of leisure time seem to escape from his rhetoric.
By endorsing this “996” work schedule, it perpetuates the bureaucracy’s willful neglect towards the toxic working conditions in China. Let’s take Chinese Apple workers at the famous “iPhone City” in Henan as an example. A daily work schedule recorded by Business Insider goes like this:
- Wake up at 6:30 a.m.
- Head to the factory at 7 a.m.
- Eat breakfast and start working at 8 a.m.
- Take an hour for lunch. Most people eat at the canteen inside the campus, but some head to vendors outside because the food is better.
- The shift ends at 5 p.m., but most will work until 8 or 10 p.m.
- After work, eat dinner with friends or play video games until 10 or 11 p.m. Then go to sleep.
In this duration, a worker can work over 1,700 iPhones every day, doing the same thing for 12 hours in an assembly line that stretches over hundreds of people. Doing so in long periods of time is in no ways healthy, especially social and creative animals like us. There is a plethora of scientific research that backs it up, also proving that constant work and stress levels will lead to mental issues and physical deficiencies.
It is too often large companies and governments exploit their workers/people for the benefit of their own and leave them powerless against anything. With technological advances and artificial projected to be more sophisticated in the coming years, more and more of those injustices will be severe and consistent until low-level jobs such as assembling or restocking, etc., are completely replaced with machinery.
With that in mind, it is even more pressing that companies and governments should pay more attention to allowing workers to have more time to pursue whatever it is they want to do. Like what Jack Ma said, “If we find things we like, 996 is not a problem. If you don’t like [your work], every minute is torture.” If we have in mind that the current trajectory shows machinery will take over in the next few decades, it would be wise for the workers now to have the chance to elevate their skill sets in order to better serve the society in the future. Whether this is something the Chinese government sees or not, long-term-gain is always better than short-term.