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Death of Pinduoduo Employee Sparks Discussions on Overtime Work

Pinduoduo’s ‘996’ culture is the talk of the day after the sudden death of a 22-year-old female employee.

Manya Koetse

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The death of a 22-year-old woman working at Chinese e-commerce company Pinduoduo is dominating discussions on Weibo today.

The female employee named Zhang died in the early morning of December 29. Zhang collapsed while she was on her way home from work with some colleagues at 1:30. She was soon taken to a local Urumqi hospital, where she passed away six hours later. Zhang was cremated on January 3rd.

Zhang started working at Pinduoduo in July 2019. She worked for the community group buying unit Duoduo Maicai (多多买菜) in Xinjiang.

On social media, her sudden death is linked to working overtime hours. Unverified screenshots reveal statements from acquaintances of Zhang and other people allegedly working for Pinduoduo, claiming the company’s overwork culture is putting an enormous strain on its employees.

 

Controversial Post on Zhihu

 

One of the reasons why the news of Zhang’s death has become so big on Chinese social media is a post published on Q&A social platform Zhihu.com on the morning of January 4th.

After news of Zhang’s death made its rounds on social media since January 3rd, one Zhihu user asked netizens about the case and whether or not the Pinduoduo company should be held responsible. The official Pinduoduo account on Zhihu then responded to the original poster:

Look at the people at the bottom [of society]. Who’s not exchanging their life for money? I never thought of it as a problem of capitalism but as a social problem. This is the era of hard work. You can choose to spend your days easy and comfortably. But you have to accept the consequences of ease and comfort. People can control their own efforts – we all can. ”

The comment triggered anger among social media users for being insensitive and suggesting that working around the clock, and the consequences that come with it, is also someone’s own choice. Many people argue that working overtime has become the norm in an employment market where leaving one’s job or turning down long hours is simply not an option for many.

Although the comment was deleted within minutes after it was posted, and Pinduoduo allegedly denied posting such a comment, Zhihu later confirmed that the account writing this comment was a verified account belonging to Pinduoduo.

Zhihu confirms the post was published by the verified Pinduoduo account.

Pinduoduo then apologized for the post, stating it was posted by a person who had worked for Pinduoduo’s marketing department during New Year’s Eve, after which they had not logged out from the official channel on their private smartphone.

The person had replied to the thread on Zhang’s death with their own personal point of view, and had deleted their comment the moment they realized it was sent from the official Pinduoduo account instead of their personal Zhihu account.

 

Young Professionals Working Themselves to Death

 

Despite Pinduoduo’s apologies, discussions about Zhang’s death have not cooled down. In many posts, China’s ‘996’ working culture – a common work schedule where employees work from 9:00 am-9:00 pm, 6 days per week – is blamed for harming the health of young workers.

China’s post-90s, younger (urban and well-educated) workers are at the heart of this discussion since they face stress and pressure when entering the highly competitive employment market to find the top job so many graduates are aiming for.

When they do land that in-demand job, they are often also stressed and pressured to keep it. These jobs might come with relatively high salaries and future possibilities to higher positions, but often also require working long hours and doing unpaid overwork.

Although (illegal) overtime may endanger workers’ health due to the excessive long working hours, it is still commonplace. Over recent years, some stories of young professionals literally working themselves to death – also known by the Japanese term ‘karoshi’ – have made headlines.

In 2011, the story of the 25-year-old PwC auditor Pan Jie went viral on Sina Weibo when doctors concluded that her overwork at the company might have played a crucial role in her death. Likewise, the behind-the-desk death of a 24-year-old Ogilvy employee in Beijing and the 2016 death of Jin Bo, deputy editor-in-chief of one of China’s leading online forums, all prompted calls for increased public awareness on the risks of overwork – especially among young professionals.

In 2019, Alibaba’s Jack Ma came under fire for praising the 996 work practice as a “blessing” (“福报”).

As 996 work schedules have become a big topic on Weibo again today, some are calling it a “tumor” of China’s work culture.

Zhang’s case is currently being investigated by the Shanghai Labor Supervision Department.

We will update on this story if more news comes out, please follow us on Twitter for the latest news.

By Manya Koetse, with contributions from Miranda Barnes

Featured image: photo by 偉宗 勞

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2021 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Manya Koetse is the founder and editor-in-chief of whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer, public speaker, and researcher (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends, digital developments, and new media in an ever-changing China, with a focus on Chinese society, pop culture, and gender issues. She shares her love for hotpot on hotpotambassador.com. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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China Digital

Discussions on Didi After $1.2 Billion Fine for User-Data Violations

“Don’t even worry about rectifying, just go away,” some commenters wrote about Didi after learning the car-hailing company illegally and excessively collected user data.

Manya Koetse

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One of the topics trending on Chinese social media this week is Chinese ride-hailing giant Didi and the precarious situation the company is in. Online discussions are ongoing after the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) imposed a fine of 8.026 billion yuan [US$1.19 billion] on Didi Global on July 21 due to its alleged violation of at least three major laws, namely China’s Network Security Law, Data Security Law, and the Personal Information Protection Law.

Didi CEO Cheng Wei and President Liu Qing also each received a fine of one million yuan (US$148,000) personally as they were held responsible for the company’s violations.

Beijing launched a cybersecurity investigation into Didi on July 2nd of 2021, just days after the company’s June 30 US$4.4 billion initial public offering in New York. The investigation was launched “to protect national security and the public interest,” and also came at a time when Didi reportedly went against the CAC by pressing ahead with its New York stock listing despite allegedly being urged to wait until a cybersecurity review of its data practices was conducted. Shortly after, the CAC ordered domestic app stores to remove all of Didi’s services.

Now that the investigation into Didi is completed, the CAC states that there is conclusive evidence that Didi committed 16 law violations including illegally obtaining information from users’ smartphones – such as collecting information from users’ clipboards and photo albums – and “excessively” collecting personal data, including facial recognition and information relating to age, occupation, home/work addresses, and family relations (also see Zichen Wang’s write-up on this here).

Didi Chuxing, China’s biggest taxi-hailing service, has over 550 million users and 31 million drivers. Besides taxi-hailing, Didi also offers other app-based transportation services, such as private car-hailing and social ride-sharing.

It is not the first time for the company to be in hot water. In 2018, the murders of two young women by Didi drivers caused national outrage and sparked concerns over customers’ safety when hailing a car through the Didi company.

On Weibo, various hashtags relating to Didi went trending over the past week, such as “Didi fined 8.026 billion yuan” (#滴滴被处80.26亿元罚款#), “Didi excessively collected 107 million pieces of passengers’ facial recognition information” (#滴滴过度收集1.07亿条乘客人脸识别信息#), and “Cyberspace Administration of China imposes administrative penalty on Didi” (#网信办对滴滴作出行政处罚#).

Some Weibo users wonder why Didi is just receiving a fine rather than being immediately shut down over the serious violations they committed. “You still not shutting them down?” was a popular recurring comment. Although rumors surfaced over Didi’s car-sharing business going bankrupt, some expert bloggers claimed the company still would have enough financial power to go on after paying the fine.

The CAC has not provided details about the exact nature of the previously reported government’s “national security concerns” regarding Didi, but on Weibo, some netizens share their ideas on the matter: “Didi has a lot of people’s data. Just by hailing a car, they determine your cellphone number, your occupation, address, family member information, The U.S. could carry out targeted bribery or intimidation of some important people in China, as well as obtaining the geographic data Didi has, which would mean a heavy blow to China’s cyber security.” Another commenter wrote: “Didn’t they already sell this illegally obtained user information? Is it a threat to national security?”

Others worry about their own privacy, writing: “Do people still have privacy nowadays? We talk about one thing today, tomorrow we’ll be bombarded with advertisements for that very same thing.”

But others mentioned that the general consumer will keep using Didi when booking a taxi via app, simply because it’s still the major player in the market.

On Weibo, Didi responded to the administrative punishment via their official Weibo account, writing:

We sincerely thank the departments in charge for their inspection and guidance, and we thank the public for their criticism and supervision. We will draw a lesson from this, and will pay equal attention to the importance of security and development, and we will further strengthen the construction of our network security and data security, enhance the protection of personal information, effectively fulfill our social responsibility, serve all of our passengers, drivers, and partners, for the company’s safe, healthy, and sustainable development.”

“Don’t even worry about rectifying, just go away,” some commenters wrote.

Read more of our articles about Didi Chuxing here.

By Manya Koetse
With contributions by Miranda Barnes

 

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©2022 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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China and Covid19

Beijing Communities Asking People to Wear Electronic Monitoring Wristband during Home Quarantine

“It’s almost like wearing electronic handcuffs. I don’t want to wear this,” one tech blogger wrote after being asked to wear a monitoring wristband during home quarantine.

Manya Koetse

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Social media posts from Beijing residents claiming that they were asked to wear electronic monitoring wristbands during home quarantine have prompted angry reactions on Weibo.

“Last week, I went on a work trip to Guangzhou and before I returned to Beijing I did the nucleic acid tests in time. I also reported my home isolation to authorities and received the antigen tests. In the middle of the night, I then received a notification from my community that they are giving me an electric bracelet to wear,” one Beijing resident writes on Weibo on July 14: “If they need to monitor my health, I’ll cooperate with temperature checks and nucleic acid tests at the door, but I cannot accept this so-called 24-hour electronic monitoring.”

Similar stories by Beijing residents returning back to the city after traveling have popped up on Chinese social media over the past few days. Tech blogger Dahongmao (@大红矛) – who has over 170,000 followers on Weibo – also shared their wristband experience, writing:

After returning to Beijing from a business trip, I reported to the community on my own initiative, and also volunteered to take the tests and stay in home isolation. Seeing that I could go out, a lady from the community called me and said that there was a new policy again and that all people in home quarantine must wear an electronic bracelet, and that it would be delivered to me that night. She explained that it is used to check the body temperature and that they could conveniently monitor body temperature data on the phone. I said that I had already strictly followed Beijing’s requirements in accordance with the anti-epidemic work. If this bracelet can connect to the internet, it definitely is also able to record my movements and it’s almost like wearing electronic handcuffs. I don’t want to wear this. If you want to know my temperature, just come to the door and check me, that’s fine, I’m also still clocking in to do antigen testing everyday. She said it’s a requirement from higher-up and that I shouldn’t make it difficult for her, I said I would not want to make it difficult for her but that she could tell those above her that I won’t wear it. If you insist that I wear it, you’ll have to come up with the documents that prove that it’s a Beijing government requirement and that this is not some unlicensed company trying to make a profit.

As more stories started surfacing about Beijing compounds asking residents to wear electronic bracelets during their home isolation, various hashtags related to the issue made their rounds on Chinese social media and photos taken by people wearing the bracelets also were posted online.

Photos of the wristband’s packaging show the electronic wristband is manufactured by Beijing Microsense Technology (北京微芯感知科技有限公司), a local Beijing company established in April of 2020 that is located in the city’s Haidian District.

These stories raised concerns online, especially because the wristband had not been announced as a policy by the city’s official health authorities.

“Resist the craziness,” one Weibo user wrote: “Our personal freedom is covertly being limited, and there’s people making a profit behind it.” “This is becoming more and more like one big prison,” one Zhejiang-based blogger wrote.

Tech blogger Dahongmao later updated their Weibo story about the bracelets, saying the community staff had come back to retrieve the electronic bracelets on Thursday afternoon because they had received “too many complaints.” News of the wristbands being recalled after too many complaints also became a hashtag on Weibo (#大量投诉质疑后社区回收电子手环#).

Chinese state media commentator Hu Xijin (@胡锡进), who is Beijing-based, also responded to the controversy, emphasizing that the bracelets had already been retrieved by community workers and that Beijing city would not force people to wear electronic wristbands during home quarantine. “I wonder if this adjustment was made due to the pressure of public opinion,” Hu wrote: “But even if it was, let us encourage this kind of respect shown in the face of public discontent and opposition.” He also made a video about the incident for his Hu Says series.

Earlier on Thursday, Hu had called some of the posts about the electronic wristbands “unfounded rumors” because people returning to Beijing from low-risk regions inside of China do not even need to isolate at home at all.

According to the official guidelines, individuals arriving (back) in Beijing must have a green health code and a negative nucleic acid test obtained within 48 hours. Only those individuals coming in from overseas must complete a 7-day centralized quarantine plus 3-day home isolation. Secondary contacts of confirmed cases will also be asked to do 7 days of home quarantine.

“Don’t say it’s just rumors,” one Weibo user wrote: “I’m wearing one [a wristband] right now. I had to, because my roommate returned from a trip.”

Blogger Dahongmao responded to Hu’s post about the wristband, saying: “Hu, if you are really concerned about this, then help to ask the relevant departments about these three questions. 1) Why doesn’t this consumer electronic product have the nationally required 3C certificate? 2) How come this anti-epidemic product doesn’t have medical device certification? 3) Without these two certificates, how did this [company] enter the purchasing list of the government for the Winter Olympics?”

As reported by Jiemian News, the same company that allegedly produced these wristbands also manufactured a smart wearable temperature measurement device called a “temperature band-aid,” which was used in the Olympic Village during the Beijing Winter Olympics.

On the late afternoon of July 14, the Beijing Municipal Health Commission responded to the online concerns about the electronic wristband, reportedly saying that home isolation is only necessary for people returning to Beijing from inside of China if they are coming from high-risk areas, and that there is no official policy in place regarding the need to wear electronic bracelets.

To read more about Covid-19 in China, check our articles here.

By Manya Koetse
With contributions by Miranda Barnes

 

Get the story behind the hashtag. Subscribe to What’s on Weibo here to receive our weekly newsletter and get access to our latest articles:

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2022 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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