The Alibaba Founder and Chief Executive has ruffled feathers with his support for China's '996' working culture.

By Daniel Herborn


Posted on April 16, 2019

Ma said the 996 system was important for China and the national economy was “very likely to lose vitality and impetus” without it. ‘996’ refers to the practice of working from 9am to 9pm six days a week.

His comments have drawn a decidedly mixed response. While not naming Ma, a Chinese state media report hit out at companies which foster a workaholic culture. “Advocating hard work and commitment does not mean forcing overtime,” a comment in People’s Daily said.

“The mandatory enforcement of 996 overtime culture not only reflects the arrogance of business managers, but also is unfair and impractical.”

For his part, Ma wrote “If we find things we like, 996 is not a problem,” in an internal company post on Weibo, the popular Chinese social messaging site. “If you don’t like (your job), every minute is torture,” he continued, adding that doing overtime is “bliss”.

Ma: if you can’t work from 9am to 9pm, go elsewhere

In an internal memo, Ma had apparently scolded staff who were not willing to work 12-hour days. If they did not have this mentality, he wrote, they should not be working for the company.

He went on to say that he had never regretted working long hours. He said everyone had the right to choose how they lived but those who could not commit to 12-hour days “won’t taste the happiness and rewards of hard work.”

Born into poverty himself, Ma committed to long, long hours to build Alibaba up from a backroom operation to a behemoth of e-commerce vying to be the world’s largest retailer. Between 2010 and 2017, the company’s revenue grew an astonishing 2,272%.

Weibo user stupidcan123 said Ma’s support for long working hours ignored those who needed to care for elderly relatives or keep their children company. “If all enterprises enforce a 996 schedule, no one will have children” the user wrote.

While his comments were sharply criticised in some quarters, tech entrepreneur Richard Liu, the Founder of JD.com, chimed in to agree with the Alibaba supremo.

Liu voiced his concern that his own company had too many “slackers” and said China had become complacent after years of economic growth. The nation enjoyed double digit economic growth from the late 1970s to the mid 2000s but this has now slowed.

Liu’s JD.com is reportedly set to make mass job cuts in the near future.

Liu supported Ma’s endorsement of 72-hour working weeks

“JD in the last four, five years has not made any eliminations, so the number of staff has expanded rapidly,” Liu wrote. “The number of people giving orders has grown and grown, while the those who are working have fallen.”

“Instead, the number of slackers has rapidly grown! If this carries on, JD will have no hope! And the company will only be heartlessly kicked out of the market! Slackers are not my brothers!”

Liu also wrote that he would not sleep more than two hours so that he could always be offering his customers round the clock service.

Ma has previously outlined his plans to step down from his role as Executive Chairman of Alibaba in September 2019.

Header image credit: The Kremlin