Why do Chinese people still work extra hard?

By Lilly Wang Source:Global Times Published: 2018/9/3 19:23:40

Recent statistics show that Chinese work an average of 46 hours per week. It is longer by 10 hours than the US, 9 hours than UK and 11 hours than Australia. The working rule of "996," which requires people to work from 9am to 9pm for six days a week, is accepted in many major companies.

The working hours in the construction industry, resident services, repairs and other services range from 49 hours to 51.4 hours.

Even if the Chinese economy has taken a great leap over the last 10 years, it does not make Chinese people work less.

What drives the Chinese to work so hard? It is not only the pursuit of better pay, domestic economy but also their mentality and the workplace culture.

Feeling insecure: working hard for the sake of it

The overall quality of life in China has improved. Metropolitan cities like Shanghai and Beijing offer live concerts, glamorous nightlife, art scenes and affordable overseas trips.

It is not enough for the Chinese to sit back and enjoy life. The country is still under pressure as a large population shares limited resources. Competition is a major threat. As the Chinese get richer, the fear of losing what they have rises. Working hard would help get rid of the feeling of insecurity and may temporarily address fears of an uncertain future.

If you take a close look at Chinese people's life, you would understand why they could never take a break.

The sense of insecurity and awareness of the competition has been instilled in their mind since they were young. Chinese often advice not letting your kids lose the competition from the starting line. Therefore, they send kids to various classes after school to develop new skills, or so-called new "hobby."

Recently, one Chinese parent complained on social media about spending half his year's salary to pay for his kid's extra classes during the summer holiday. How could Chinese kids not feel pressured to study?

It is sad that Chinese kids cannot have fun even during holidays. Every day, they would be reminded by parents that someone else is working harder in the class.

Before they finish university, they start job-hunting because they cannot let their parents down, since parents pay for kids' education in China.

Many Chinese believe being successful means you would have finished your degree, got a good job, bought a house and got married before reaching the age of 30. It is a long list to accomplish within a short period of time. No wonder why Chinese have to work hard to achieve that goal. Once they have children, they would like their children to do the same.

Traditional Confucian values and Chinese corporate culture

Confucianism is still relevant. Even in Asia, Chinese are regarded more hardworking than people of other countries. Former Singaporean prime minister Lee Kuan Yew has compared two Asian giants - China and India - and attributed Chinese success to Confucian culture that advocates enduring hardships and individual sacrifice for the benefit of family.

Chinese people believe that "the Heavens reward diligent people" and "the result is everything." Many famous Chinese tales such as the one about Mr. Fool moving two big mountains extols the virtue of hard work with strong determination. Laziness is regarded a crime. It is said recreation will make you less determined. It is almost like a religion that has deeply impacted Chinese in China and overseas.

Holding on to this idea, most Chinese would rather show their boss that they work for longer hours than showing they work smart or efficiently.

As a Chinese friend of mine often says, no one wants to be the first person to leave office before the manager even if one has finished work. It is a matter of maintaining the image of a "good worker." Most Chinese staff stay in office for longer hours probably also because they spend too much time on social media or online shopping on Taobao or JD.com before they get work done.

Surely, we should celebrate the benefits of working hard. However, the unhealthy culture of "working overtime" and "enduring hardship" does not necessarily lead to sustainable success, especially in the long term. After all, we are human beings, not machines. Encouraging diversity in the workplace and redefining "success" with happiness might lead to more creativity and better work-life balance.

The author is a Beijing-based journalist. She lived in Sydney from 2014 to 2016. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn



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