Lessons from sudden death of a Pinduoduo employee
Published: Jan 04, 2021 11:04 PM

Photo taken on July 17, 2020 shows an office of online marketplace Pinduoduo in east China's Shanghai. Photo: Xinhua

A 22-year-old employee who worked at Chinese e-commerce platform Pinduoduo died suddenly after finishing work late at night and fainting on the way home. The news has caused a strong response on the internet. The exact cause of her sudden death requires authoritative medical conclusions, but public resistance and condemnation of excessive overtime has become the mainstream attitude on the internet.

Hopefully, all companies and institutions will attach great importance to this attitude of the public, take necessary measures to protect the employees' legitimate rights and interests and do not regard employees' excessive overtime as the basis of the companies' achievement. The Labour Law should also be more strictly enforced.

The excessive overtime of internet company employees is well known. Two years ago, there was a condemnation of the "996" culture - working from 9:00 am to 9:00 pm six days a week - but the problem has not really been alleviated because of the fierce competition among internet companies. People's competition in jobs is also fierce. The two kinds of competition have seriously squeezed the room for workers to defend their rights of not working overtime. Many public discussions have shifted to the so-called principle of fairness that employees who work overtime must be properly paid.

Objectively speaking, frequent overtime is not just a matter for internet companies. There are many other such industries in China. It is also very common for policemen to work overtime, as well as some other civil servants. They usually have no overtime pay, or only a very small amount of overtime pay. Some local and department leaders take this for granted and some managers even proudly tell others how their departments work seven days a week or work from day to night. 

In Chinese society, there is a traditional value that regards working overtime as an honor. Many descriptions of good people will include the content of how he or she works overtime for a long time, or works late at night. From government departments to enterprises, leaders and managers often appreciate employees who take the initiative to work overtime. Such value is deeply rooted in Chinese society.

When China was backward and shaking off poverty was the No.1 task, the abovementioned values were naturally formed. But when a huge middle class has been formed in urban China, the choice is subtly changing. People are putting more emphasis on their right to time off. There is heavy criticism online against the "996" working model, which is a clear sign of such a change. 

Today, people have diversified pursuits. There are still people willing to improve their lives by working exhaustively. But such a working style as a collective value has been shaken. More and more young people wish to strike a balance between working hard and playing hard. They want to keep moving ahead, but also take it easy. 

This is a broad trend. The more China grows further, achieving higher GDP per capita, such a value choice will attract more people. In addition, international society is scrutinizing China on labor protection, which is a term often mentioned when China conducts deep economic cooperation with foreign countries. Chinese society needs to adjust the concept of working overtime.

China's economic and social development cannot rely too much on people's long-time work as a driving force. We should improve labor efficiency and reduce formalism and useless work. People hope for more rest hours, and from this we need to find positive elements that promote development. We should try our best to unify development and the protection of people's rights.

Chinese people who often travel abroad will find that in a developed society, it is very difficult to hire drivers and translators who are willing to work overtime, not even if they're paid more. This cannot be simply regarded as "lazy."

Our economic and social development needs to be explored toward the gradually reduced cost of all citizens. Of course, this cannot be achieved overnight. After all, China is still not a rich country, and the low-income group is still large. Overtime work in some positions is inevitable. The spirit of enduring hardship cannot be absent in our society. In particular, we must not give up the encouragement of dedication. In some key sectors, it is very important to let such spirit continue to flourish. We need to constantly adjust to the progress of society and achieve a new balance.

Chinese society needs to rethink the internet sentiment opposing the "996" work model and the strong reaction to the Pinduoduo employee's sudden death. We should let such thinking rationally penetrate into the rhythm of social progress.

The author is a commentator with the Global Times. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn