The following censorship instructions, issued to the media by government authorities, have been leaked and distributed online. The name of the issuing body has been omitted to protect the source.
All media and news websites: do not report information related to recent corporate layoffs, including those at large Internet companies. (January 3, 2019) [Chinese]
Noting job cuts and tepid wage growth in manufacturing and services, The Economist this week expressed skepticism at China’s official unemployment figures, which have held steady at around 5% even as the economy slows.
When China’s leaders met in December to map out economic policy for 2019, they said their priority would be to stabilise employment. They are anxious about social stability in a year studded with sensitive anniversaries. Among them will be the 30th of the Tiananmen protests, which involved economic grievances as well as political ones. Suppression of labour unrest has become even harsher in recent months. In one case, police detained more than 30 students and activists who had tried to help workers organise a union at a firm in the southern city of Shenzhen. [See also several related translations from CDT and an overview of the state of labor relations in China last year from China Labor Bulletin.]
[…] As investors turn cautious, jobs [in the high tech sector] are coming under threat. The starkest example is Ofo, a bike-sharing company previously feted as an innovator. Today it is battling to survive. Search engines, online travel agencies and e-commerce websites have all reportedly trimmed staff. This could be bad news for this year’s record number of university graduates (students in Zhengzhou are pictured at a job fair last year). Wang Xing, head of Meituan Dianping, a company known for its food-delivery app, captured the gloom last month with this line on his micro-blog: “2019 might be the worst year of the past decade, but it might also be the best year of the coming decade.”
[…] The government is also boosting its own recruitment. At a labour centre in northern Zhengzhou, once used for hiring Foxconn workers, the biggest ad is for jobs in Hami, a city in Xinjiang, the north-western region where officials have incarcerated vast numbers of ethnic-Uighur Muslims for “re-education”. Hami is looking for auxiliary police. “Join us to realise your dreams”, says the poster, with a picture of officers brandishing machine guns. Applicants, who must be between 18 and 35, are promised monthly salaries of at least 6,100 yuan ($890), roughly the wages at Foxconn when the going was good. [Source]
Technode’s Elliott Zaagman offers more detail on job losses in the tech sector, noting recent denials from companies such as JD.com, Tencent, and Zhihu of recent or planned layoffs.
It’s difficult to prove or disprove such rumors or refutations specifically. In China, few companies admit to laying off staff, even when downsizing is obvious. Part of this is often attributed to culture, but to be sure, no company would like to bring attention to fact that they are putting some of their employees out of a job.
[…] Looking at the difficult conditions facing Chinese tech firms, it is unsurprising that many are evaluating again their staffing needs. While the top headlines have focused on Chinese trade tensions with the US and the overseas legal and political troubles faced by Huawei and ZTE, there are a number of other factors at play.
[…] To further complicate an already-fraught situation, regulation has also hampered some of the most promising areas of China’s tech sector. A nearly year-long freeze in gaming approvals, along with a regulatory clampdown, has placed strain on a field in which Chinese companies had been excelling.
Restrictions on development and application of blockchain technology have caused many Chinese startups to at least partially relocate overseas. A series of crackdowns in online content has limited growth options for social media platforms, and required many to spend heavily on managing and censoring content. [Source]
The fortunes of companies like Huawei carry particular political charge given their roles as national standard bearers. ZTE was celebrated in last year’s tech documentary “Amazing China” which, buoyed by heavy official promotion, broke records until a U.S. export ban laid bare the company’s heavy reliance on imported components, and authorities reversed their earlier support for the film. Huawei has also suffered entanglement in trade tensions with the U.S., notably including the arrest in Canada of company executive Meng Wanzhou last month, which has reportedly made the company’s phones the strongly encouraged patriotic choice for some other firms. Another Huawei employee was detained in Poland this week, this time for suspected espionage. Read more on “Huawei’s Battle for Central Europe” from Project Sinopsis, via CDT.
Since directives are sometimes communicated orally to journalists and editors, who then leak them online, the wording published here may not be exact. Some instructions are issued by local authorities or to specific sectors, and may not apply universally across China. The date given may indicate when the directive was leaked, rather than when it was issued. CDT does its utmost to verify dates and wording, but also takes precautions to protect the source. See CDT’s collection of Directives from the Ministry of Truth