Quote of the Day: “People Are Working ‘996’ Schedules for 12 Days Straight, in Exchange for a Five-Day Holiday Celebrating the Advent of an ‘Eight-Hour’ Workday”

Today’s CDT Quote of the Day is a response to the recent tide of online public discussion about the new “adjusted leave” (调休, tiáoxiū) holiday schedule that has lengthened certain Chinese public holidays, while at the same time requiring many workers to toil on Saturdays or Sundays before and after each holiday to “make up for” the additional time off.

“People are working ‘996’ schedules for 12 days straight, in exchange for a five-day holiday celebrating the advent of an ‘eight-hour’ workday.”

— Weibo user 一梦太古 (yī mèng tàigǔ), noting that many workers have had to juggle “996” schedules (twelve-hour days, six days a week, including Saturdays), in order to make up for the new, longer holiday periods—including the Qingming Festival in April and the current May 1 Labor Day holiday. [Chinese]

A recent essay from WeChat account 冰川思想库 (Bīngchuān Sīxiǎngkù, “Glacier Think Tank”) discussed the disconnect between the Chinese government’s rosy plan to stimulate consumption by extending holiday periods on one hand, and the increasing burdens being placed on an already overworked labor force on the other:

There is a widening gap between official narratives about the “holiday economy” and the lived experiences of workers.

The fundamental reason for this is that there’s a finite number of vacation days per year. The “adjusted leave” holiday schedule is essentially a numbers game that involves shuffling around this limited stock of time off. [Chinese]

CNN’s Chris Lau and Hassan Tayir reported on some of the reasons why “Labor Day isn’t the holiday it once was for China’s workers,” because public holidays now come “with strings attached”:

In recent weeks, complaints about this year’s Labor Day leave arrangements have exploded on Chinese social media. Many have slammed the government for prioritizing business over something they desperately need, which is an actual break.

People have been venting their frustration under the hashtags “you should not pretend not to hear voices opposing the tiaoxiu policy” and “tiaoxiu policy for May Day,” which have collectively drawn more than 560 million views combined.

One user wrote the online discussion was not merely a policy debate, it’s an embodiment of “physical and mental exhaustion caused by crazy overtime work.”

[…] “Workers are forced to work harder, afraid of losing jobs and at the same time afraid of whether finding another job is going to offer them better pay,” [said Christian Yao, a senior lecturer at the University of Wellington].

[…] With the policy, China is able to designate more than 25 days as official holidays. Without the maneuvering though, workers get 11 days, which is still in line with many other countries. The United States, for instance, offers 11 federal holidays while the United Kingdom has eight days.

But the problem for Chinese workers is that their statutory paid time off (PTO), or annual leave, is just five days a year, which is much less than many other countries. [Source]

China’s five-day entitlement does climb to 10 days after 10 years of employment, and then to 15 after 20. The minimum in the U.K. is 28 days including official holidays. The U.S. has no statutory minimum at all.

In late April, there was a burst of vigorous online debate over “You Can’t Pretend Not to Hear the Voices Opposing the New ‘Adjusted Leave’ Holiday Schedule,” an opinion piece by Zhang Heng of Top News (顶端新闻, Dǐngduān Xīnwén, a Henan Daily-backed publication). Related hashtags attracted 560 million views on Weibo, and topped hot search lists on the Weibo, Baidu, and Toutiao platforms. CDT Chinese editors have archived the full opinion piece, along with some online responses complaining about the “misleading” new holiday periods:

张三同学: I haven’t seen such clear-cut commentary for a long time. Whether it is useful or not is a separate issue. Daring to speak out in your own voice is exactly what the news media should be doing, instead of remaining silent or practicing tai chi or whatever it is they do.

三国法陆寰: Time and again, people vent the same frustrations, and [the government] turns a deaf ear and makes the same “adjustments.”

黑白小杜卡: Year after year, people call for abolishing the “adjusted leave” policy, just like they call for passing the “Anti-Cruelty and Animal Protection Law.” Since when has the government ever listened to the online vox populi? And yet they managed to pass the [tremendously unpopular] “mandatory 30-day cooling-off period” for divorces pretty quickly, didn’t they?

猫咪KEN: It’s outrageous to count Saturdays and Sundays as part of a public holiday. Why can’t they just come out and admit that we only get one day off for the May 1 Labor Day holiday? [Chinese]

In other Labor Day news, WeChat account 我是麦杰逊 (Wǒ shì Màijiéxùn) published a masterful dubunking of a dubious “positive energy” story—heavily promoted online—about a young college graduate from Anhui who struck it rich by lowering his expectations and staying humble. Xu Yuning, the entrepreneur in question, supposedly parlayed a modest investment of 3,800 yuan in a business selling shaobing (stuffed flatbread) in Hangzhou into a turnover of 1.1 million yuan within the first year. The WeChat article debunked the feel-good story by calculating that Xu, working nonstop all year round, would have to sell about one shaobing per minute to make that sort of profit. The author also included screenshots showing that Xu’s reportedly bustling first shop only has six online reviews, casting doubt on his sales figures, and revealing that Xu registered his business eight years ago, rather than four years ago, as the feel-good story claimed. 

Xu’s tale is typical of “positive energy” stories that make the rounds online when Chinese government propagandists or state media seek to distract from the reality of high unemployment among China’s college graduates. The unemployment statistics for that cohort were so alarming that, for a time, the Chinese government simply stopped publishing the data. (It has since resumed publishing them, using a slightly different metric.) The self-deprecating “impoverished scholar Kong Yiji” meme that arose among unemployed and underemployed college grads has also been targeted for erasure by censors on a number of different occasions. For more on this and other expressions of economic angst, see our recent “China Digital Times Lexicon” ebook.


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