May Day was conceived as a celebration of the eight-hour work day by a coalition of socialists and labor activists in fin de siècle Europe. Over a century later, Shenzhen’s Communist Party Committee commemorated May Day by issuing a video paean to overtime and late nights spent in the office alone.
Commissioned for the May Day holiday, the short clip “Strivers Aren’t Lonely” romanticized the long hours of China’s “996” work culture as a personal choice. However, there is evidence suggesting that exploitative working conditions in China are caused less by a hunger for success than by a labor movement shattered by arrests and pressure campaigns. CDT has translated the short video’s transcript, and curated a selection of reactions from across the internet:
Strivers Aren’t Lonely
You’re always choosing to stay late
because you don’t want to miss a single opportunity.
You’re always saying “wait.”
You’re always saying “soon.”
You’re always saying “next time.”
There’s always someone who’ll leave the lights on for you.
You always turn out the lights at midnight
and walk out of the office alone.
You’re always thinking,
I can do even better.
You’re not alone.
You’re always rushing
to catch the last subway home.
There is always a car waiting for you.
At midnight you join the stream of people
gathered for Hi-tech Park station’s final late-night rush hour.
This might be China’s most extraordinary subway station.
Because you’re not willing to leave work,
the subway pulls overtime with you.
Your rhythm is the city’s rhythm.
Your character is the city’s character.
Your all-out effort is what makes this city rush forth
This is China’s Silicon Valley, the capital of innovation
This is the Shenzhen that strives to sprint faster
Today, during the just-concluded Seventh Party Congress
We decided to use the next five years
to increase our GDP from the $429 billion of today
to tomorrow’s $619 billion.
Our economic might and developmental quality will rank among the world’s best
It is you [visual of workers]
It is you [visual of Party officials]
It is every single amazing one of us
that gives this city of strivers confidence
Today, the Party’s meeting has concluded victoriously.
The goals are set, the blueprints are drawn.
Tomorrow, is the holiday for strivers.
Wishing all strivers a happy May Day. [Chinese]
Public opinion largely turned against 996 culture after it was linked to a number of suicides among the employees of major Chinese tech companies earlier this year. The rare remaining proponents of long hours, notably including Jack Ma, are themselves the target of scorn—not least from young “keyboard Maoists” enraged by the perceived excesses of capitalism. Online reactions to the Shenzhen Party Committee’s unabashed embrace of 996 ranged from the comedic to the nakedly outraged. CDT Chinese editors have collected responses from across the internet:
匿名用户：Is boss-man making you work overtime? Yes. Me! You? You, you chose to yourself! Yes, it was me! I want to work overtime!
IT說廢話：”Why was Jack Ma arrested?” “Because he pushed for 996.” “Is Daddy Xi not thinking about the greater public? 996 is really too exhausting.” “Daddy Xi wants to push for 007, but the chives are too accustomed to 996.” [“007” is a riff that takes “996” to the logical extreme: work from midnight-to-midnight, seven days a week]
hakkkkkkkuc： The closing line really drove the point home: “You”—work overtime, “We”—$619 billion.
清雨清春： Is this the official May Day propaganda video? Don’t they know May Day’s true roots and it’s meaning? May Day was created by workers’ resistance to oppression—it came from their struggle for the eight-hour work day!
Mmmmmmmmmmgo： One line in there was put perfectly: “You’re not a person.” [“You’re not alone” (你不是一个人) can also accurately be read as “you’re not a person.”]
Nihilmace奈爾梅絲： Are we sure this isn’t a high-level black parody?
可乐猪：This is so Shenzhen. Ever since I arrived in this city I’ve worked Sundays and overtime until 2 a.m. (I’d never done either over years of working in Xi’an). All of the restaurants near my company that required a wait were absolutely dead, even the cafeteria could barely stay afloat—I presume because new arrivals were too frugal. In Shenzhen, even if you’ve got a PhD from a 985 school, you have no dignity if you don’t own property. You’ll live in some peasant’s home or an old dormitory. Those who come here are really strivers, otherwise why would a normal person ever choose to submit to such abjection!
hi lty: The Party Congress publicly supports the New Era’s illegal 996 overtime!