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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.

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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 editor-in-chief of www.whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer and consultant (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends in China, with a focus on social media and digital developments, popular culture, and gender issues. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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China Digital

Will Weibo Become 30% State-Media Owned?

Alibaba is allegedly ready to give up its Weibo shares to SMG.

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Bloomberg recently reported that Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba is preparing to sell its 30% stake in social media platform Weibo. According to people familiar with the matter, Alibaba is negotiating with the state-owned Shanghai Media Group (SMG).

News about Alibaba planning to sell all of its Weibo shares has triggered some online discussions on the Chinese social media platform. Bloomberg was the first to report that the Chinese e-commerce and IT enterprise is talking to the state-owned Shanghai Media Group (SMG) to sell all of its 30% stake in Weibo.

According to Bloomberg, the move relates to regulators wanting to curb the influence of Chinese tech giants in the media sphere. The Bloomberg article claims that SMG, as one of China’s largest state-owned media and cultural conglomerates, stands a higher chance of gaining the approval of Chinese authorities than a private acquirer.

SMG is a large state-owned enterprise with over a dozen TV and radio stations, many newspapers and magazines, various drama & film production and distribution businesses, and more. The company has a major media influence, not only in Shanghai but throughout the country.

According to Weibo’s 2020 annual reports, New Wave held a 45% stake in Weibo, followed by Alibaba with its 30%. New Wave is the holding company by Weibo chairman Charles Chao.

“Weibo will change into another channel for SMG,” some Weibo users predict, with others also sharing their fear that Weibo would become more and more like a platform for official media (“微博现在越来越官方化”).

“This would be a big milestone in the crumbling of Alibaba’s media empire,” another commenter wrote. Some wonder if the developments have more to do with Weibo as a platform, or with Alibaba and its media influence.

In March of 2021, the Wall Street Journal already reported that the Chinese government asked the Alibaba Group to dispose of its media assets due to concerns over the company’s influence in the sensitive media sphere.

“When Alibaba exits and state-owned capital enters, Weibo is expected to magnificently transform into a ‘state-owned enterprise’,” another Weibo user wrote.

Although some commenters worry that Weibo will change for the worse and that there will be more censorship, others see a sunnier future for the social media platform: “It would be good for Weibo to be ‘state-owned’ so that it won’t be controlled by capital to influence public opinion anymore.”

Chinese tech site 36kr also reported about the issue on January 1st, but neither Weibo nor Alibaba or SGM have officially responded yet.

By Manya Koetse

With contributions by Miranda Barnes.

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.

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China Celebs

China’s Livestreaming Queen Viya Goes Viral for Fraud and Fines, Ordered to Pay $210 Million

Viya, the Queen of Taobao, is under fire for tax evasion.

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Viya, one of China’s most well-known and successful live streamers, is trending today for allegedly committing tax fraud by deliberately providing false information and concealing personal income.

The ‘Taobao queen’ Viya (薇娅, real name Huang Wei 黄薇) reportedly committed tax fraud from 2019 to 2020, during which she evaded some 643 million yuan ($100 million) in taxes and also failed to pay an additional 60 million yuan ($9.4 million) in taxes.

The Hangzhou Tax Administration Office reportedly ordered Viya to pay an amount of over 1.3 billion yuan ($210 million) in taxes, late payment fees, and other fines. On Monday, a hashtag related to the issue had garnered over 600 million views on Weibo (#薇娅偷逃税被追缴并处罚款13.41亿元#).

Viya made headlines in English-language media earlier this year when she participated in a promotional event for Single’s Day on October 20th and managed to sell 20 billion yuan ($3.1 billion) in merchandise in just one live streaming session together with e-commerce superstar Lipstick King.

China has a booming livestreaming e-commerce market, and Viya is one of the top influencers to have joined the thriving online sales industry years ago. When the e-commerce platform Taobao started their Taobao Live initiative (mixing online sales with livestreams), Viya became one of their top sellers as millions of viewers starting joining her channel every single day (she livestreams daily at 7.30 pm).

With news about Viya’s tax fraud practices and enormous fines going viral on Chinese social media, many are attacking the top influencer, as her tax fraud case seems to be even bigger than that of Chinese actress Fan Bingbing (范冰冰).

Chinese actress Fan Bingbing went “missing” for months back in 2018 when she was at the center of a tax evasion scandal. The actress was ordered to pay taxes and fines worth hundreds of millions of yuan over tax evasion. The famous actress eventually paid approximately $128,5 million in taxes and fines, less than Viya was ordered to pay this month.

Like Fan Bingbing, Viya will also not be held criminally liable if the total amount is paid in time. This was the first time for the e-commerce star to be “administratively punished” for tax evasion.

Around 5pm on Monday, Viya posted a public apology on her Weibo account, saying she takes on full responsibility for the errors she made: “I was wrong, and I will bear all the consequences for my mistakes. I’m so sorry!”

It is not clear if she will still do her daily live stream later today and how this news will impact Viya’s future career.

Update: Vaya’s live stream was canceled.

Update 2: Vaya’s husband also issued an apology on Weibo.

Update 3: Taobao has suspended or ‘frozen’ (“冻结”) Vaya’s livestreaming channel. Her Taobao store is still online.

By Manya Koetse

With contributions by Miranda Barnes.

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.

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