The 996 online revolt in China

Initial situation: With little euphoria, China is currently looking at the online revolt launched by the Chinese IT- The name “996 Work Pattern” refers to an unofficial work rhythm: it is worked from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily, six days a week. Nowadays, such a rhythm of work in China is becoming more and more commonplace and corresponds to at least 60 working hours per week. This is not permitted by law. The name “996 icu” derives from the following idea: if the 996 work pattern continues to live, there is a risk that workers will end up in the intensive care unit, or ICU (Intensive Care Unit).

This means: one works until oneself is given up, to the absolute state of exhaustion and has nothing more of life.

The issue is currently under intense debate. While self-made billionaires, such as Jack Ma, romanticize the 60-hour working week, the young programmers protest for more labor law and compensation.

Question 1: What is the motivation behind the high workload of the Chinese? Why is so much work done?

Wutao Wen: Historically, it is a new phenomenon that the Chinese today feel this enormous pressure to work and perform. In the time of the planned economy, the working world of the Chinese looked completely different. The state was the largest employer, giving the people the “iron rice bowl” (Chinese proverb). The state was responsible for the existential supply, provided for the people, provided work and thus food. At the same time, however, the job security guaranteed by the state is very restrictive and less motivating – the economic dynamism suffers. After the economic reform, many people were involved in the private sector and were able to achieve success. From 2005 to 2015, the share of the middle class in China increased from five to 25 percent of the entire Chinese population. The remaining 75 percent firmly believe that she or her children will soon rise to the middle class. Chinese persist in the idea, as they have benefited from the overall development dynamics in the past.

Question 2: Why are the young Chinese protesting against “996”? What does the protest say about the desire for a job description?

Wutao Wen: The Chinese suffer from “996” because it limits their quality of life – working from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., six days a week. With the 996 movement, a change in the professional field of IT professionals and programmers has now taken place. Especially in this profession, many sought-after top talents work, who have the power and know-how to make demands. Because many young Chinese no longer see any point in working to the point of self-sacrifice. Creativity and free thoughts represent the rethinking of the young generation – not permanent, stupid and sweaty work.

Question 3: What is the consequence of this protest movement on the consumer behaviour of young people in China? What does this mean for brand communication?

Wutao Wen: The high and permanent workload of young Chinese fuels their consumption. After a long and hard day’s work, a worker seeks escapes from everyday life determined by others, wants to compensate himself for his functioning and to reward himself. Freely following the motto “The day belongs to work and the night belongs to me.” (Slogan from the Internet) .By consumption, one can demonstrate one’s autonomy, is able to act independently. For the brands in China and their communication, the protest movement means constantly providing new inspirations, acting as companions and role models. Brands in China show future perspectives: “Which car suits me and my status? Which mobile phone should I use?”. Brands are thus always one step ahead of their consumers and show ideal images of what can be worked towards.


New trend in Beijing: “Ghost Markets” – flea markets that are open wednesdays from 0 a.m. to 3 a.m.

The rheingold expert

Wutao Wen

Wutao Wen

Wutao Wen, project manager at rheingold, grew up in China, studied market and media research in France and Germany and specialized in Chinese youth and media development. Tel .: +49 221-912 777-98 E-Mail: