Glitzy nightlife, museums, live concerts – Shanghai promises everything that attracts young professionals to an expensive city. But Li Zhepeng, a 25-year-old who arrived from China’s heartland, wasn’t able to enjoy any of it.
Instead, he spent his time at the office working. He would clock in at 9am, after a 90-minute commute to the outer suburbs where his e-commerce firm rented cheap office space, and usually left well after 8pm.
“Sometimes, there was no reason for the long hours – it was just the whole work culture,” Li says. The young professional was expected to stick to a grueling work schedule that has become so pervasive in Chinese companies that it’s now commonly referred to as 996: working from nine in the morning to nine in the evening, six days a week.
Refusing the 12-hour workday
As a low-level employee at an e-commerce site, Li was tasked with posting descriptions of toys and backpacks. He was even expected to work on Sundays, when he’d reply to questions from customers from Australia, Europe or the US from home.