The Striving Trap: Chinese 996 Work Culture, Online and Offline Perspectives
The concerns and questions of this paper focus on what happened when Chinese Internet tech companies initiated an overtime working schedule known as “996—working from 9am to 9pm a day, six days a week—in terms of the intertwined agencies of the state, companies, and workers. I describe how, on the one hand, “996” has gradually been transformed from a specific system of work into a culture of overwork that is not merely confined to Chinese Internet tech companies but has permeated China’s employment market, attracting great attention which is embodied in substantial discussions and critiques in online spaces. These involve explanations given by celebrities, grassroots movements, and interventions by the state. On the other hand, workers, especially tech workers, are trapped by “996” in offline spaces in virtue of the future-oriented promises of the work, at the cost of having to endure present suffering, which is externalized as work-life imbalances, gender inequality, and age discrimination. I have divided this thesis into two chapters: In the first, I have arranged the abundant online materials on the discussion of “996” chronologically, in order to present how “996” has developed in the public’s view in terms of protests and movements, and in order to discuss how these movements contribute to the formation of a Chinese precariat. In the second chapter, by presenting first-person voices from 996 tech workers, I attempt to analyze the term neijuan, which emerges from these discussions, alongside Xiang Biao’s analysis of “suspension” and Lauren Berlant’s theory of “cruel optimism” in order to show the complexities, possibilities, and predicaments of the influence of “996” on the working environment in China in general.
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