A 22-year-old woman in eastern China’s Hangzhou city recently died after “days of overwork” in which she reportedly toiled nearly without pause for four to five consecutive days at an internet company, China’s state-run Global Times reported.
Local media reported this week that the young woman, identified only as Huihui, “worked for four or five days in a row at an internet company in Hangzhou until 4 or 5 am before she collapsed,” according to the Global Times.
Hangzhou government authorities confirmed Huihui’s death on July 28 through a press release. The officials said that they were investigating the circumstances of Huihui’s “sudden” collapse and demise. The notice stated that the woman “lost consciousness after days of overwork.”
“A notice released by the resources and social security bureau of Hangzhou’s Binjiang district on Thursday confirmed the woman had worked at a company called Hangzhou Muke Cultural Media Company. The bureau said it will investigate the case together with other departments, and if the company is found to have violated labor laws, it will face severe punishment,” the Global Times relayed.
Lu Xiao, a doctor at a hospital in Hangzhou called the Second Affiliated Hospital of Zhejiang University School of Medicine, spoke to local media this week and revealed further details of Huihui’s death.
“When Huihui was sent to the hospital by her colleagues, she had already lost consciousness and her skin had turned purple. It was ‘sudden death due to myocarditis’ and she eventually passed away despite being treated in the ICU [Intensive Care Unit] for six days,” Lu stated.
“Myocarditis occurs when the heart muscle becomes inflamed. When your heart muscle is inflamed, it can affect your heart’s electrical system. This can cause arrhythmia, or a rapid or abnormal heartbeat. Myocarditis can cause the heart muscle to weaken and can lead to cardiomyopathy,” according to the website of Johns Hopkins Medicine.
Cardiomyopathy is a condition in which a person’s heart struggles to pump blood to the rest of the body. This can, in turn, lead to heart failure or sudden death, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Huihui’s recent death in Hangzhou from apparent “overwork” at an internet company highlights an established phenomenon in China known as “996” in which employees work extreme overtime hours for several days in a row.
The Global Times observed in January 2021 that, “‘996’ refers to working from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. six days a week, a culture that is especially prevalent in China’s tech sector.”
“China’s Supreme People’s Court (SPC) and the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security have previously called on employers to ban the ‘996’ work schedule,” the newspaper recalled on July 28.
“Legally, workers have the right to corresponding compensation and rest times or holidays. Complying with national working hours is the obligation of employers,” read a jointly issued notice by China’s Supreme Court and China’s Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security in August 2021.
Jack Ma — who is one of China’s richest men and known globally as the billionaire founder of the e-commerce giant Alibaba — strongly associated himself with “996” in 2019 when he publically endorsed the term and its associated rigorous work culture.
“If we find things we like, 996 is not a problem,” Ma wrote in a blog post on Weibo, which is China’s version of Twitter.
“If you don’t like [your work], every minute is torture,” he stated on April 13, 2019.
China’s state-run People’s Daily published a commentary indirectly aimed at Ma’s blog post hours later. The article slammed Chinese companies, presumably like Alibaba, that support employees who choose to work long hours.
“Advocating hard work and commitment does not mean forcing overtime,” the Chinese Communist Party-controlled newspaper wrote on April 14, 2019. “The mandatory enforcement of 996 overtime culture not only reflects the arrogance of business managers, but also is unfair and impractical.”
Many observers view Beijing’s efforts to denounce “996” culture since 2019 as part of a wider attempt to curb Jack Ma’s influence on China, particularly in relation to any potential threat to dictator Xi Jinping. China’s central government has ostracized Ma since he critiqued Xi’s economic policies in October 2020.
“Ever since Alibaba founder Jack Ma criticised Chinese financial regulation in a speech last October, a regulatory storm has pummelled the country’s entire online financial and consumer sector,” Singapore’s Channel News Asia (CNA) observed in a commentary piece published in March 2021.
“The Shanghai Stock Exchange suspended the planned initial public offering of fintech conglomerate Ant Group – an Alibaba affiliate – just two days before its launch, and regulators subsequently launched a massive crackdown on Chinese Big Tech,” CNA recalled.