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Young Chinese are sick of working long hours (bbc.com)
302 points by bill38 on May 10, 2018 | hide | past | web | favorite | 283 comments

As an engine tech for a diesel truck service center, I can seriously sympathize with where young chinese people are coming from. excessive overtime, even paid, can turn you into a miserable zombie pretty fast.

somewhat quickly after my apprenticeship I was gifted quite a bit of nonsense overtime from the old timers. rotor turns, oil changes, timing, valve clearance, etc... were all heaped up on me until I was spending nearly 70 hours a week in a shop that advertised working hours of about 8 hours a day. My paycheck was more than enough to buy a new motorcycle, but social events like going out to dinner or seeing a ball game were out of the question. I was exhausted by the time I finished, despite the fact that most of my work used air tools. I could only keep it up for about a month before i started to seriously burn out. I found out managers despised having to cut huge overtime checks but found hiring a new tech too time consuming and costly in terms of training and certification. Whats worse is sometime around the thanksgiving holiday I walked into the shop with nearly 30 brake services to do in a single day because the front office had made promises to customers that I would be available without checking to see that I had a major engine service that would take up most of the day.

Young guns might want overtime, but management can get addicted to it and its not a problem until you're knee deep in paperwork and turning customers away.

At least you got paid for your overtime. Every salaried job I've had has been exempt from overtime. About 10 years ago, I spent a 6-month stretch pulling 100 hour weeks. Only went home every other day during the week, and that was mostly for a shower, an hour of sleep and a change of clothes. Other days, it was a shower on-site and a change of underwear & socks, no sleep. Got to go home on Friday nights, but back in by 8 on Saturdays for another 12 hours. Half-day on Sunday, work from home.

Long of it is: it wasn't worth it. Most of the time was spent fixing/implementing things that were poorly spec'd out or the "spec" was verbally (and poorly) communicated so often developer & manager disagreed on what was previously understood. But, hey, time to market, and all...

Last half of the project I told my manager to fuck off if he came to me with a verbal change to the spec (and I had permission from his manager to do so because I'd voiced the complaints and we had delivery date slippage). Put spec changes in writing, an email at least, so we'd have a written record of what was expected. That helped - a little.

edit: clarity

And as soon as you complete that big project the employer can easily fire you. Why give up anything for free?

with cause because it was behind schedule!

>>I found out managers despised having to cut huge overtime checks but found hiring a new tech too time consuming and costly in terms of training and certification.

>>[...] Young guns might want overtime, but management can get addicted to it and its not a problem until you're knee deep in paperwork and turning customers away.

Those are the two competing forces at work: short-term pain in reduced productivity to train and mentor new hires to avoid long-term issues where your supply becomes too constrained to meet demand spikes.

Well if you ever decide to get into pre-revenue startups like a lot of us you're basically primed and ready to commit to the 6mo-3yr+ hell of 70 hour weeks. You won't get overtime, ever, but maybe you'll walk out with a tiny percent of RSUs that don't expire or become worthless before you forget about them.

Probably not.

One of the reasons I really prefer boring B2B shops that are making money.

I saw late 30’s employees get addicted to overtime and plan their lives round expecting that fatter pay check.

Then financial crisis hit.

The thing I don't get about these stories: don't you have a contract specifying working hours? My contract says 8 hours a day, for x$ per month, this is what we agreed to and this is what I deliver. Asking me to do 12h instead of 8h would be the same as paying me 66% of my salary at the end of the month instead of 100%. That's a blatant breaking of our contract, why would I agree to that?

Imagine that there are 1 million other people exactly as qualified as you and living in your city, who will work under those conditions.

All the power in this case belongs to the employer.

I'd like to see three things to solve this kind of issue.

1) The elimination of unpaid overtime for anyone that isn't a 'corporate office able to hire employees at will'.

2) Required 'typical hours' in employment contracts; companies can't pay out less than this unless the employee agrees, and the employee cannot be forced to work MORE unless they agree.

3) All firings have to be for cause.

All firings for cause will reduce hiring. It will create more illiquidity in the labor market, drive down wages and reduce mobility and efficiency. Look at the French labor market if you want to see how that nightmare plays out. 10%+ unemployment and a vast increase in time-limited, non-permanent work.

I don’t owe you a job. If I don’t need you any more, why the hell should I be forced to owe you?

Are you required to buy the same amount of groceries each week? Why not? Same for labor. When you need less, you buy less, when you need more, you buy more.

I'm not an expert on that; however wouldn't the issue be with the /difficulty/ in firing, not the fact that it merely has to be documented and for a 'valid' reason? Though now that you mention it, such reasons probably should be regulated the same way sealed court records are; unless challenged in a lawsuit.

Also, from the perspective of an employer, a valid reason very well could be the end of the project that a contract is for; such a termination / re-evaluation date should be built in to the contact and clear up front.

That’s more laying off than firing. Forcing a cause to fire/lay off someone makes the company think long and hard before hiring you since they’ll be stuck with you, therefore less hiring. Not to mention “unfirable” workers leads to less quality.

> Required 'typical hours' in employment contracts; companies can't pay out less than this unless the employee agrees, and the employee cannot be forced to work MORE unless they agree.

On paper the typical hours will be in the contract, but in practice only those willing to agree to less pay/more hours will be hired/kept, making it less of an agreement and more of an obligation.

> Li said that initially he felt he couldn’t be too be picky: he had majored in English, not in one of the sought-after science or technology fields, and he had attended a low-ranked university. Many of his friends are unemployed.

To me, this was the most interesting part of the article. It all sounds so familiar.

New Chinese (non-STEM) grads have it worse, amazingly enough.

The central government demanded more graduates at any cost, threw money at the problem and they ended up with corruption, very expensive facilities and many times more graduates with questionable skills in subjects that mostly aren't yet in demand.

This all sounds so familiar too. :) Is a global problem.

Why though? I don't think globalization is the culprit.

Central planning is the culprit. The free market works when it is allowed to work.

That's weird, I got the opposite conclusion. I would have thought this happened because China choose to drift back to free markets instead of improving their central planning. The government demanded a larger market for graduations, and the colleges were free to increase their prices. Is that not econ 101 supply and demand? Now the graduates are on the market and whoever wants to hire can pay at a lower market price, and they're even free to not hire if there's extra candidates. Under a good central planning, anyone who really wants a job could be planned a state sponsered job. It doesn't have to be a fake office job or a bureaucratic layer job like in large US corporations, there's actually plenty of science and engineering research that could be worked on, and China has the man power to challenge research in the US. Interestingly enough, a lot of science and research in the US is state sponsered. If it weren't, I wonder if that talent would be employed, working at Starbucks, or building a new Electron MVP to 'disrupt' one stagnant market to replace it with even more stagnant, monthly rental SaaS.

>I would have thought this happened because China choose to drift back to free markets instead of improving their central planning.

What would "improving their central planning" mean? Force people to study certain subjects? Force people to teach for free?

Throwing government money into a market definitely disrupts it. Perhaps it doesn't make it not "free" but it causes distortions that likely would not have come about from the market alone.

>Is that not econ 101 supply and demand?

Yes, it is. That means that these aren't simply forces that can be wished away by a central government with an agenda. They are things that come about naturally.

>Under a good central planning, anyone who really wants a job could be planned a state sponsered job.

"Good central planning" is an oxymoron if you ask me. In order to guarantee that people have jobs, you have to take away people's free will to make sure they can perform the functions you as a central planner desire. They cannot study what they want, you will essentially have to plan people's entire lives for them. This is all assuming that people are interchangeable cogs and you are able to predict that people will be good at the tasks you wish for them to perform.

>Interestingly enough, a lot of science and research in the US is state sponsered. If it weren't, I wonder if that talent would be employed

Who knows? The money used to fund their research would not have been taken and would have been spent how the person who paid the taxes saw fit. It is difficult to find exact numbers on research spending of government vs private industry. The top 20 companies spend almost $200 billion on R&D [0] this is about 1/5th of the US federal government total discretionary budget, which includes military spending. [1]

Point being, I think it is pretty safe to say that private R&D spending dwarfs public spending. The large corporations that are often maligned are the best institutions to do risky R&D as they have lots of resources and experience in their problem domain. Of course they don't always do so, but if they don't a competitor will.

[0] https://www.statista.com/statistics/265645/ranking-of-the-20... [1] https://www.nationalpriorities.org/budget-basics/federal-bud...

> What would "improving their central planning" mean? Force people to study certain subjects? Force people to teach for free?

That's an unfair misrepresentation of central planning, using the phrase "force people to" to imply some kind of slavery unique to central planning. Maybe the Chinese government will choose to use it's state monopoly on violence to coerce people into unwanted job, but it's not like you don't need a garbage crew in both economic systems. Central planning can be used to make funding available for high priority items. You can technically force people at gunpoint into specific degree paths and occupations, but more likely you'll make the jobs exist and make sure potential engineers aren't trapped at the bottom of the economy.

> Yes, it is. That means that these aren't simply forces that can be wished away by a central government with an agenda. They are things that come about naturally.

There are tons of examples in science where designed and engineered systems outperform natural systems. No amount of "natural horses" can compete with modern trains, space shuttles, bus systems, race cars, etc.. And there are things science hasn't discovered how to optimize yet, so we do end up still using horses from time to time, despite cars being ubiquitous in modern society.

> "Good central planning" is an oxymoron if you ask me. In order to guarantee that people have jobs, you have to take away people's free will to make sure they can perform the functions you as a central planner desire. They cannot study what they want, you will essentially have to plan people's entire lives for them. This is all assuming that people are interchangeable cogs and you are able to predict that people will be good at the tasks you wish for them to perform.

This is a pretty flawed argument against central planning. You do not have to plan people's entire lives. Outside of religion and perhaps some SciFi novel about AI, I've never heard of any central planning theories having a plan for people's entire lives. What happens is that people naturally pick what they want to do, and some people don't really pick anything coherent. You make plans based on where you currently are, what resources you estimate you will have next year, and where you are looking to go. You iterate each planning cycle based on successes and failures. This is not much different than how large corporations do their planning. Most notable difference is that "success" will be measured in something much more valuable to society than private profits. Another aspect of a good central plan is that you can't plan for everything. There are people who are naturally motivated to do something useful, so it may be optimal to give them a team and see if future planning cycles can benefit from the team's output.

The alternative to this is that you have writers and artists wasting their talents serving coffee at starbucks. You have people who didn't study what they want because only STEM jobs are going to be above minimum wage for sure in the next 20 years. You have a system that looks at the bottom half of the economy and says "I have no plan for you.". How many teams are building redundant clones of candy crush? How many teams are seeking to innovate for the sake of seeking new rents rather than for innovation itself? How many teams are focusing on getting consumers to buy fake/misleading products? How many teams are trying to market dangerous, unhealthy, and/or addictive high margin items to children? How many "free markets" have rational actors that depend on information asymmetry for the majority of their consensual arrangements? These issues are rampant epidemics under capitalism. Entrepreneurs are a slave to profit motives and the people are not free. Only the free market is free.

> Point being, I think it is pretty safe to say that private R&D spending dwarfs public spending. The large corporations that are often maligned are the best institutions to do risky R&D as they have lots of resources and experience in their problem domain. Of course they don't always do so, but if they don't a competitor will.

Looking at your sources, $200 billion in private R&D is less than the 1.1 trillion in public spending. I don't think it would be accurate or meaningful to say there is a significant difference.

Dude the gov can’t even get healthcare right, now reread your MASSIVE essay comment here and find all the problems with a gov managing this many moving parts and people. Nobody will go for this because we all know it will fail, reguardless of how “better planned systems are”

The United States is currently the laughing stock of the first world when it comes to who gets healthcare right. You're saying that after seeing the way republicans set out to intentionally sabotage the 2008-2016 president's entire career (including healthcare reforms), people are going to want to follow the republican plan of doing the complete opposite of what is working with great success for the rest of the modern first world?

The free market is what allows this to happen in the first place. The free market's goal is to abuse workers and push them to just near their breaking point for profits.

A credential in "English" isn't the exemplar of self-indulgence that it would be in the US, where everybody already knows English and "English" as a school subject just means literature.

Knowing English in China has real, immediate financial benefits. For any given job (programmer / secretary / waitress / anything), a role that involves having to communicate with English speakers is more prestigious and offers higher pay.

I agree. Jack Ma's biggest advantage was his ability to communicate in English, which opened may doors for him.

Every college student already knows English. It's a required subject in high schools. Anecdotally I do know of a Chinese student majoring in English in college telling me the best part of her college life is reading Dickens all day.

It is true that English is a required subject in Chinese high schools. This no more means that all Chinese college students can speak English than US high school foreign language requirements mean that American college students can all speak Spanish.

You’re right about most of that, and if you look at Japan it’s a similar situation with a similar outcome. It is however also not true that Americans have to take Spanish, they could just as easily take Latin.

That depends heavily on where you go. My high school only offered German and Spanish. I think a few years after I graduated they added either Japanese or Chinese, though that's because our school district was growing significantly year over year.

If you're not in a large school district / large city, your options as a student in a public school (and most private ones) are quite limited indeed.

I was kind of surprised by this. I would have though that speaking decent English would be a fairly valuable skill for Chinese companies that operate outside of China.

An understanding of history and ethics and psychology is also a valuable skill, but if that's your only skill, you'll be making lattes.

It's perfectly possible as a Chinese person in China to enjoy a solid middle-class lifestyle based only on your ability to speak English.

Problem is, majoring in English doesn't necessarily mean they actually have the ability to really speak English.

If you can actually speak English to a level high enough to communicate effectively with monoglot English speakers this is absolutely true. Unfortunately lots of degree programmes that aim for that level of fluency do not achieve it. I’ve worked in Shanghai for the past six years. This is definitely one of the cities with the highest fluency in English in China. Most educated professionals have some basic competency in reading English. That’s really the most you can assume.

Living in Beijing, I was amazed in Shanghai when the taxi driver actually spoke to me in English. That would just never happen in Beijing.

English wasn't uncommon in the professional world, however.

A taxi driver who speaks good English is pretty rare here too but plenty speak a little. Definitely a minority but they exist.

English is common in the professional world, absolutely, but it’s not necessary for a high level professional career like it would be in most of Western Europe.

If you are a foreigner good English is most definitely essential unless your Chinese is 大山 good. But I agree with your point!

It seems that is no longer the case.

It never really was the case. It's pretty much just a meme that's often repeated about China, and to some extent the rest of Asia. If you don't have marketable skills, then learning a second language simply makes you unmarketable in two languages.

> sought-after science or technology fields

Hell, I did major in one of the sought-after science or technology fields, and unpaid overtime is an infuriating, unavoidable fact of my life.

I left my last company because of the miserable work culture. It was a life-changing product that a lot of people were excited about but I could barely bring myself to come into work every day. I felt so exploited by the employer that I gave notice before I had another job lined up. They really wanted me to stay so they offered me an extra month's salary if I would stay on for 2 more months, but I said no.

It is really not. It depends on the field, country and other factors, but it is very much avoidable. I know, I don't do overtime unless it's by my choice. And it is mostly about choosing an employer (if you have that privilege) with the appropriate company culture. What good is money if you can't spend it?

“In my experience young people, especially the post-90s generation, are reluctant to work overtime – they are more self-centered,” says labour rights expert Li Jupeng, one of many who have observed some millennials challenging the 996 concept.

self-centered is a funny word. It implies selfish, but is it really selfish if it's self-preservation?

Yet the executives and CEO who all benefit directly from unpaid overtime tool around in Maserati's and vacation on Greek islands, but surely that's not "self centered." Surely, capitalist culture has never, ever idolized self-centeredness and entitlement!

China has the same problems the West has. We see labor as this fungible thing done by faceless automatons and its the job of management to extract as much labor as possible to enrich those above them by any means possible. Its considered perfectly normal and moral to have a class of people worrying daily about their bills and keeping a roof in their head and a whole other class who we defend when they scream at the valet or the housekeeper because some trivial thing bothered them. We equate both those situations as the same thus barely being able to feed your kids is on the same level of outrage as 'you scuffed by Maserati's brake pedal with your boots!'

I don't envy the Chinese as they seem to have few fewer avenues to labor enrichment than the West, but fundamentally we all share the same problem: the one-sided relationship between capital and labor. Ironically, their country was built on addressing that fundamental problem but now have fallen into the same dirty form of capatalism everyone else has.

>Ironically, their country was built on addressing that fundamental problem but now have fallen into the same dirty form of capatalism everyone else has.

I laugh when people call it Communist.

Do workers own the means of production? No. Not Communist.

Yeah, clearly the employers are not self-centered for demanding grueling work hours.

OVER-time. As in additional time over what was agreed in the original employee-employer relationship. There is nothing selfish here except maybe on the part of the companies that expect overtime out of their employees.

Even better, those who expect ot but have labelled an employee "key" to say they are ot-exempt...

I later found out it has a legal definition.

Key employee, in the ot law, means you have some profit sharing or stake in the company. Doesn't matter how "key" you are to the operations. FYI. I bet lots of people are getting shafted by this.

Exempt means you don't report hours. My first professional job after college was with one of the big consulting firms. I reported hours, and I got paid overtime after 40. I was expected to log at least 40 hours a week on something -- could be internal/self-training or client billable.

In all the other jobs I've had I did not report hours. I am hired to get a job done. If that sometimes takes me 30 hours a week and sometimes takes me 55 that is what I'm expected to do.

That's not how the law on this works. It wasn't changed until around 2015, which is why so many companies started doing funNgames with employee wages and hours around then in anticipation of the change.

Sounds like there's laws on this in many countries. In Norway you are exempt from overtime regulations if you have an independent position, which is pretty well defined in law and practice. It basically means that you control your own work day and what you work with. Typically C-level. It is of course abused by employers.

Well, who "wants" to work overtime ? Most European work cultures survive well with a great work-life balance.

I know many people that are hourly that loves overtime. 1.5x-2x pay means a world of difference to them. Jobs for them ranges from drivers, construction, to programmers. Some are hoarding money for early retirement, just to make more, others are contract basis so earning 2-3x projected amount enables them to take half the year off.

This is to the point where many of these friends loathe to take an exempt job because they know their income will likely be cut in half on the initial transition without raises/promotions.

These professions also enjoy long periods of downtime. Which is really the important factor. Sure, it sucks working 12 hours days for long periods of time, but the weeks or months long periods of downtime between sessions make them tolerable.

I wouldn't mind two weeks of 5x12s followed by a full week off.

Floor nurses often work 3x12 shifts, so three 12-hours days with four days off per week. When my partner was a floor nurse, she would often try to schedule that magical 6x12 shift that provides eight days of vacation. Throw in three days of PTO the next week and you'd have yourself a 15-day vacation!

Whereas, if I want 15 consecutive days off, I'd need to spend 88 hours of PTO.

Yes. Heard of this too, wasn’t top of mind since I don’t have any nurses as friends.

To a lesser extent, there are some government jobs that gives options for 10hr work days so a person works 4 days per week. Shifting the day off for Monday and Friday and add in a few pto days per month, makes it possible to have nearly a week off work every month.

There is a difference between volunteering for overtime and getting forced to in a way.

Of course there is. There’s nothing in my comment or parents comment about forced overtime.

sure but it's slowly being eroded by the americanisation of companies & management styles.

salaried workers being exempt from paid overtime in most European countries has turned in to a joke. Instead of just being used to deal with "emergency" situations, it's used to coerce extra work for free.

That's exactly it, overtime is so normalized that planning never takes an 8-hour workday into account, with the obvious result of a frequent need to go to overtime to achieve basic business goals.

I have to imagine something was lost in translation there? My brain just cannot fathom how "overtime" by the very nature of the word can be anything but an optional extra.

You'd just as likely selfishly choose overtime as you would not choose it.

I can't speak to the situation in the mainland, but in Hong Kong, "overtime" for employees in smaller local companies often means the period that you must work beyond your scheduled finish time, and for which you are not paid.

It is not optional if you plan on keeping your job

There are many ways to make something a "choice" that you really have no choice in.

Self-preservation is the most selfish thing you can be centered on, and it is absolutely ethically and morally correct. Being self-centered is what makes free markets successful, as in pitting your self interests against others, brings out the most productive aspects of everyone involved.

This is wonderfully ideological. I'm surprised people still believe this stuff.

Free markets are successful because people are self-centred?

The last 40 years or more should have been enough time to see that humans are not just machine-like self-interested information processors that respond to the market, they do behave altruistically and will co-operate when the purpose is worth it.

It's this naive insistence that the market and holders of capital, if left alone, will direct humanity in the right direction that causes so much of the concentration of wealth, obscene inequality, economic instability and incredibly damaging waste that western economies have experienced since the end of the last world war.

Amusing to see the priests of this perverse religion still purveying this post-human fantasy of market democracy and Objectivism though.

> This is wonderfully ideological. I'm surprised people still believe this stuff.

Since I tend to skew this way, I'd like to see you lay out what some of the ideological assumptions are. Free market views are pretty well backed by economics, and plenty of nations have tried to implement alternative ideas and crashed pretty hard.

> The last 40 years or more should have been enough time to see that humans are not just machine-like self-interested information processors that respond to the market, they do behave altruistically and will co-operate when the purpose is worth it.

This is all true. The other side of that coin that frustrates the Progressive vision is that politicians and other government agents are not just altruistic beings who cooperate, according to public choice theory, they have a significant aspect of being self-interested information processors, to use your terms.

> It's this naive insistence that the market and holders of capital, if left alone, will direct humanity in the right direction...

I'm not sure who is insisting that. I think you have an underlying assumption that the state must provide for the totality of its citizens existence, so you assume that if the government isn't doing this, people must believe that corporations would take over that role.

Free market and small government advocates reject that entirely and believe that social structures can be built from the bottom up. Individualists don't think there needs to be a larger direction for humanity because your individual endeavors have intrinsic value.

Markets have existed for thousands of years, no 'social structures' were built from the bottom up. It did not lead to any civilization then. On the contrary unchecked capitalism directly led to genocide, plunder, slavery, exploitation, segregation and worse.

What we today understand as civilized society, democracy and rule of law took centuries of work by progressives and government.

Decades of propaganda by libertarians has set up an artificial divide between government and people. See 'Democracy in Chains' by Nancy Maclean.

The government is you in a democracy, it's there to protect your and everyone else's interests, that what democracy and rule of law means. It's what guarantees a somewhat civilized society. It is not this simplistic 'majority can do what they want' illiteracy spread by market fundamentalists.

It appears some people become rich and increasingly alienated from people, society and government and begin to believe they don't need government. This is the kind of hubris that leads to tyranny and quasi feudalism, which is of course what they want.

It seems like you're conflating government with social organization. Think about how a society could have social organizations like welfare, social security, medical treatment, mental health care, and all the other wonderful aspects of an organized society without combining that with the use of force to make people contribute to specific organizations or ways of living.

That's what Libertarianism is in my mind. It's not about reducing the scope of social organization, it's about divorcing that social organization from government and minimizing the responsibilities of government. When government gets large enough it A) ceases to act in the best interests of its citizens and B) starts to legitimize the use of force against its citizens. Take a look at how our police forces are militarizing and our elected representatives are ignoring us for a pretty concrete example.

The nice thing about small decentralized government is that even when it ceases to be of and for the people it can be taken down relatively quickly and painlessly.

The problem with the Libertarian approach is that it's genuinely hard to get people to agree with each other about whether a social endeavor is worth their time, and in the mean time real people are affected by whatever the societal ill is. That's something that we have to be willing to accept if we want to reduce the scope of government. We also have to be willing to accept that there are different ways of living that we might not agree with. And we have to be willing to help people who want to be in our society to join our society.

The real problem is that no matter what our society looks like, it's hard to get people to look past their knee-jerk reactions and try to be tolerant and understanding of others' ignorance. And that cuts both ways.

Of course people will cooperate: it's in their self-interest. It's rational to recognize positive-sum situations and cooperate.

It's also rational and serves your self-interest to act "altruistically", as your empathy is a basic biological instinct that you can't really fight against, just like hunger or sexual desire. But just like with hunger or sexual desire, letting a biological instinct dominate your whole life is unhealthy and, tbh, pretty stupid.

Except by that standard, me pouring waste in the river, instead of paying to have it properly disposed is "ethically and morally correct."

But you have neighbors downstream who will object to your contaminants polluting their use of the water. Externalities can be efficiently resolved by applying the Coase theorem.[1] Another common objection is that there are certain public services that can only be provided by the state, but we often find in practice that self-interested parties can develop a business model that addresses those needs.[2]

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coase_theorem [2] http://www.independent.org/publications/article.asp?id=757

> In this 1960 paper, Coase argued that real-world transaction costs are rarely low enough to allow for efficient bargaining and hence the theorem is almost always inapplicable to economic reality. Since then, others have demonstrated the importance of the perfect information assumption and shown using game theory that inefficient outcomes are to be expected when this assumption is not met.

Not so reassuring.

Let's think about a plausible scenario: I run an industrial facility and am secretly dumping industrial waste into the river. My neighbors start getting sick. When they analyze their drinking water, it shows the presence of a bunch of chemicals whose most probable source is my industrial facility. My neighbors realize I'm to blame, and complain to me about dumping chemicals into the water. I say I've got no idea what they're about and those chemicals must be from somewhere else. Obviously I refuse to hand over any records from my facility.

Getting nowhere, my neighbors file a lawsuit. Then we go through a years-long series of lawsuits where I deny any wrongdoing and maybe eventually have to pay some money, although it hardly brings back everyone killed by illnesses my facility caused.

There is such a thing as enlightened self-interest, where you consider not just what's good for yourself in the here-and-now but also whether the likely consequences to you (both natural and social) are going to be good.

Dumping waste in the river may be cheaper now, but won't be if you get hit by a fine, or have to deal with an angry mob at the factory gates, or end up polluting your own drinking water supply.

The problem is you end up having to do a bunch of hedging like this. What if I have a lifetime supply of safe drinking water for my home and I am absolutely positive nobody will find out I'm dumping waste into the water? Or I'm sure I can blame it on someone else? If self-interest is all that matters this is a completely logical course of action (and I hardly need to point out that this isn't just some theoretical thing; numerous people have done just this).

...which is why people spend a significant amount of time dreaming up both incentives and enforcement mechanisms to ensure that it's not in one's self-interest to be really shitty to your neighbors.

It's not a perfect system - in particular, it's reactionary, which means that enough people a.) need to be harmed and b.) need to complain effectively before the broken incentives are fixed. In practice, it seems to work a lot better than societies where people act for the nebulous "common good", which always seems to end up being defined in a way that suits the self-interests of the people doing the defining anyway.

You have a selfish interest in maintaining your society. This includes things like ensuring the less fortunate in your community are fed, clothed, and sheltered, and that you don't destroy the environment in which you live.

But, as we often see, people act against their self-interest all the time.

Given the way people act, I don't know if I can agree with the idea that those things are a selfish interest.

That is a bit of a stretch. Maybe if you believe you'll burn in Hell otherwise.

Probably a translation from a Confucian concept in English

NASA supposedly found that its programmers' code quality dropped after about 40-45 hours of work per week.

Scandinavian and Slovenian immigrants to the USA, working as coal miners, felt that 8 hour days were important (http://collections.mnhs.org/MNHistoryMagazine/articles/52/v5... pg 254) and negotiated to have that included in their employment contracts.

So is it perhaps universal that 8 to 10 hours per day is what people feel comfortable with?

I'm curious if the 40-45 hour work week is cultural. Maybe if society was set up for a 20 or 60 hour work week, we'd see the same type of productivity cliff.

Before the 40-hour work week society was indeed set up for longer work weeks, and workers organized to reduce it. There's historical context for many countries given here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eight-hour_day

And before industrialisation, working times, days, and years were fairly considerably less.

Employment is much more constant in some trades than in others. In the greater part of manufacturers, a journeyman may be pretty sure of employment almost every day in the year that he is able to work. A mason or bricklayer, on the contrary, can work neither in hard frost nor in foul weather, and his employment at all other times depends upon the occasional calls of his customers. He is liable, in consequence, to be frequently without any....

Some workmen, indeed, when they can earn in four days what will maintain them through the week, will be idle the other three. This, however, is by no means the case with the greater part. Workmen, on the contrary, when they are liberally paid by the piece, are very apt to overwork themselves, and to ruin their health and constitution in a few years. A carpenter in London, and in some other places, is not supposed to last in his utmost vigour above eight years. Something of the same kind happens in many other trades, in which the workmen are paid by the piece, as they generally are in manufactures, and even in country labour, wherever wages are higher than ordinary. Almost every class of artificers is subject to some peculiar infirmity occasioned by excessive application to their peculiar species of work.

Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations



I think it’s more like 60 to 80 hours per week of “work”, both personal and professional. A society set up for 60 hours a week would have you outsource pretty much all housework, shopping and assorted chores in order not to burn out. I believe it when people routinely do 70 hour weeks, but only if they don’t have a personal life of their own that they sink effort into.

Back before the 40 hour work week a lot of those tasks were outsourced to wives.

> During the 40 hour week that work was outsourced to wives

It wasn't until the late 70s that married women start to maintain full time jobs in large numbers (The 'quiet revolution'), but the 40 hour week was in place 30 years earlier.

Of course now we have the situation where you have to have two full time earners to run a household. When I was at highschool in the 90s, I was quite unusual in having two working parents. My best friend for most of high school had a stay at home dad, who looked after him and his younger brother, my other close friend has a stay at home mom. That was fine, as house prices were still in the c. 4 time average income range.

It's the other way round now, where house prices are in the c. 8 times average income range, so it's rare to find anyone with a single income family, and UK society subsidises the two income lifestyle and childcare industry -- you get tax breaks for sending your 1 year old to nursery 50 hours a week, but not for asking a grandparent to look after them, or even reduce your hours so (god forbid) the parents can look after them.

There's a good joke in there about women joining the work force to get away from their husbands who were now home more with that 40 hour work week.

In middle and upper class. Poor people had to work all the time and that often included small children.

Fun fact I gathered:30% of Victorian workforce were women, because social situation was that. (There were also high levels of prostitution).

I believe you shouldn't "work" more than 20-24 hours a week period, especially if you have your own projects or other systemic pursuits.

I wish I could work 20-24 hours/week. I'd be so much more productive. I'm at 65 now if I calculate in my unpaid commute. It's a total drain on life.

I see China's system making it's way to USA soon, in my opinion they just lay the blueprints.

At least in America, isn't it a product of FDR?

No, it's a product of violent riots and union action where thousands of workers died at the hands of police and hired guns.

I don't quite see this adding up to "thousands" i.e. more than 1999 people, even if you double it for not being an exhaustive list: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_worker_deaths_in_Unite...

Correct, I meant to say where thousands of workers mobilized, some of which died or were injured.

In the Law, yes, the Fair Labor act was enacted during his presidency. But the Idea of 8 hours of work, 8 hours of sleep, 8 hours for what you will long predates him, and 8 hours was already a standard shift at some (many?) factories by that time.

Have a link to anything supporting the NASA comment? I believe you, I'm just curious to read an article on it.

Very interesting article, but I was disappointed that the article stated that the millenial only-children of China are "outspoken", "pampered", or "self-centered".

I don't believe that any of those terms apply to people who are fighting against working 72 hours per week for low pay. This is a case of basic human rights. The words that come to mind to describe the folks who are fighting this fight are "proud", "resilient", and "hard-working".

It's nice to see that however much America and China might be at odds, they can apparently agree on attacking their young people as lazy and entitled.

"Millennials are now killing the Chinese manufacturing industry!"

The word "millenials" as a classification is not used in China. Everyone gets classified instead as 80后,90后,00后, etc. (meaning born after 1980, born after 1990, born after 2000, etc.). Because of China's rapid economic growth, the difference in attitudes for someone born in the 80s versus someone born in the 90s is actually very pronounced.

I know nothing about China or how pronounced these differences are, but you see the same thing even in the "Millennial" generation everyone loves to talk about here in the US. You'll find a drastic difference between younger Millennials and older Millennials, to the point where Buzzfeed is writing articles comparing the two. No matter how much people want to pretend that "Millennial" is actually a real thing, it's not. It's entirely made up and the sub-generations inside of the category share very different cultural values and life experiences.

It's hard to argue that someone born in 1982 shares much (if anything) in common with someone born in 1998.

I think social scientists are now making a distinction between people who grew up with smartphone and without them. There are apparently quite large differences in behaviors and attitudes between these two groups of young people.

Compared to someone born in 1950 or 2020, you have a whole lot in common.

Compared to someone born in 1810, someone born in 2020 and 1950 have a lot in common. Compared to someone born in 1215, someone born in 2020 and 1810 have a lot in common. It still doesn't make much sense to lump them together and generalize their behaviors.

It's like metric vs imperial measurements for generations.

Care to elaborate? Does one look down on the other?

What is universal, evidently, is confirmation bias. From the linked page, "the quotation is spurious."

I clicked on the link expecting the Socrates quote and was not disappointed. But, if you read the page through to the end, it seems that this quote was made up in by William L. Patty and Louise S. Johnson and published in "Personality and Adjustment, p. 277" in 1953. It was popularized in the 1960's to trivialize complaints by the older generation against the hippies. I have believed for a long time that this was a true quote from ancient Greece and it has shaped my world view. I have used this quote in many conversations and I still am hoping the quote is authentically from ancient Greece. I'll have to poke around the internet some to convince myself one way or another.

There were a number of similar quotes in a recent review of Bruce Cannon Gibney’s book on Boomers:

‘And way, way before that, a letter published in a 1771 issue of Town and Country manages to sound laughably familiar, in sentiment at least: “Whither are the manly vigour and athletic appearance of our forefathers flown? Can these be their legitimate heirs? Surely, no; a race of effeminate, self-admiring, emaciated fribbles can never have descended in a direct line from the heroes of Potiers and Agincourt.”’

Eh, whenever they have to rewind 400 years, it's a reach. It's actually fairly likely that "heroes" from battles so long ago have no living issue.

...oh. Forgive me for not reading my own link too thoroughly. Maybe it's not so universal then!

Though that quote in particular is attributable to Kenneth John Freeman's 1907 dissertation at Cambridge University, rather than Socrates (as it is often attributed).


it is a right of passage for each generation. In your 20s you are called lazy and entitled, then in your 40s-60s you say the same to people in their 20s.

Not quite, we didn't have social media when I was growing up, so we got it from lazy, smug magazine articles. Now you have memes that are equally unfair, but with highly evolved hilarity. And, of course, I'm just on the edge of Gen X while my brother is a millennial, so fairness be damned, you're all whiny hipster SJWs snacking on Tide pods.

China and the USA share a many values. I think in many ways, China in the USA are more closely aligned vis-a-vis values than the USA and Western Europe are.

As standards of living and society itself improves, dire necessity decreases, and the proportion of the population motivated by necessity decreases. As general wealth increases, the more the general populace feels entitled.

Right now, you may well feel more or less entitled to a flush toilet and the ability to access all of the world's information in your pocket. In years past, these things were luxuries. Most of you reading this: Almost everything in your sight was once a luxury.

So here's the thing: You are lazy and entitled. That is both a good and bad thing. It's good, because it shows we have made progress. It's good, because you now have the time and resources to do something positive. Where it's bad, is that you also have the choice to do something positive with those time and resources, or not. Where it's bad, is that you will have a harder time understanding the magnitude of the sacrifices that got us where we are.

Your choice. It's up to you now.

Whether those things are true or not, I'm always wary when employers or managers or things from their perspective use words like "outspoken", "pampered", "self-centered". If you subject your other employees to ridiculous nonsense overtime, poor direction, and expect them to make up for it with extra unpaid hours and killing themselves but I think that I could easily get another job and have a huge nest egg because I live with my parents, I can refuse to "play ball". But I'm not really sure that's me being self-centered versus market forces acting normally. It reminds me of the "nice guy" phenomenon where stereotypically unkempt, rude, socially inept men berate women for not wanting to date them and then accuse them of being rude or stuck-up for not accepting their advances. It's not rude and I don't really view myself as self-centered, I just don't think that you're offering anything that I need from you, and it's really self-centered for you to expect me to randomly go against my own interests for your sake in a business setting.

Collectivism is hard coded in Chinese public education, kids are encouraged to hard work and make dedications to their native land in schools. The gov make idols to worship like Jiao Yulu(焦裕禄) way before this working overtime issue (and Jiao died from overwork and liver disease) and making tv shows Touching China,a mandatory learning section for middle school students. With this premise it's not odd to me that criticizes are made.

Here's what my Chinese wife says about all that. People go to a monthly meeting. You hear a "sermon" and sing some patriotic songs. Then people go on with their lives. Not everyone who goes to church necessarily really believes. Not everyone necessarily believed even in the 1800s.

That said, the social/theocratic hegemony of western Christianity wasn't all good, but it also wasn't all bad. The same probably goes for the secular ideological "religion" you see in communist countries.

I grew up in China. What 'monthly meeting' (where 'you hear a "sermon" and sing some patriotic songs') is your wife talking about? That sounds bizarre

She's from Fujian. It was some kind of communist party community meeting.

Careful with generalizing. Southerners, and very especially Fujianese, are less patriotic than Chinese in other parts of China, especially the north.

> Careful with generalizing

Well, indeed. In my experience it varies very widely and pretty much follows the pattern you see everywhere else - intelligent, curious people with good job options tend to be less concerned with patriotism; the less fortunate find solace in it.

The most loudly and irrationally patriotic chinese person I know is from guangzhou. Still wants to move away though of course, what's a little cognitive dissonance between friends?

intelligent, curious people with good job options tend to be less concerned with patriotism; the less fortunate find solace in it.

Then, there are also people with memories of what happened in the 1st part of the 20th century.

Careful with generalizing. Esp. with southerners in one bin, and northerners in the other bin.

Sure. However, if South China and North China were actually different countries, you would notice a distinct differences in the trends between both.

And if Fujian somehow became a part of Taiwan, you might not notice much difference in CPC support between the province and the island.

Fujian is quite isolated from the rest of China. Until the modern era, the easiest way to get there was by sea.

And if Fujian somehow became a part of Taiwan

Parts of Fujian are claimed by Taiwan.

Fujianese are also the most emigrant Chinese, it is rare to find one there who doesn’t have more than a few relatives abroad.

A special case to be sure.

Yeah. "The south" of China is quite a big and diverse place. My wife's dad is definitely patriotic!

That sounds like a meeting for party members, often people (or the families of people) angling for local government jobs. Of course there'll be some True Believers but the subtext is it's basically a networking event.

So yes, definitely like Church ;)

I find something ironic about this, but of course it's unfortunately true. Until last year my "Church" experience was mostly on and off spending time at a Buddhist monastery which was more about taking part in an isolated community and retreating from the world. Wanting to find something similar I started going to the local Anglican Church and being the studious kind of person I am decided to read the Book of Common Prayer, which includes the Articles of Religion[1] and in particular Articles XIII and XIV: Of Works before Justification & Of Works of Supererogation respectively. My understanding of it is that doing more work than needed is basically a Sin. Funny that until the mid-1800s these Articles were required for University students in Britain (and before Sir Isaac Newton students were I believe required to Ordain into the Church before Graduation). Part of me wishes they would make a come back.

[1] http://anglicansonline.org/basics/thirty-nine_articles.html

  XIV. Of Works of Supererogation.
  Voluntary Works besides, over and above, God's Commandments, which they call Works of Supererogation,
  cannot be taught without arrogancy and impiety: for by them men do declare,
  that they do not only render unto God as much as they are bound to do,
  but that they do more for his sake, than of bounden duty is required:
  whereas Christ saith plainly When ye have done all that are commanded to you,
  say, We are unprofitable servants.

Oh it's definitely true. To the extent that I, an atheist with a long history of moving or being moved to random cities in which I know basically no-one, have seriously considered going to church there - just to get some social interaction and maybe even friends in a self-selecting group of vaguely judeo-christian tradition, active, gregarious people who might even be interested in bettering themselves, philosophy and making the world a better place. Damn, I'm talking myself into it again.

And that's an interesting quote. Perhaps that rule would be better reinstated.

My wife's dad is supposed to be quite patriotic. I think he's connected. (She's the youngest of 6 sisters. Note the policy implications.)

The comment about how they are outspoken and pampered was a general statement about the generation, not a reaction to them wanting better working conditions/wages. The mention of "self-centered" was a direct quote.

I do agree however that the author should have been more careful with their choice of words.

I think each generation thinks the next one is the worse. I just hope these guys are not treated unfairly at their workplace.

Couple of years ago, I had raised staying late in office as a big concern at my workplace. My manager told me a story about how his daughter will not eat certain food items. He said he would killed to have those food in his plate. But now, he has to strong arm his daughter into finishing her plate. Next thing I know I am rated as a under-performer because I don't "stretch" enough hours like rest of the team.

My manager told me a story about how his daughter will not eat certain food items. He said he would killed to have those food in his plate. But now, he has to strong arm his daughter into finishing her plate

My mother told me something similar about never having enough mung bean sprouts.

I had the same type of imbecile as a manager. You are not alone Im afraid

> This is a case of basic human rights.

There's no such things as "human rights standards" for how much you should work per week. For most of human history people lived in abject misery and precariousness and in comparison 72 hours a week and most folks having all the comfort of modern city life is not as bad as it sounds like.

You're getting downvoted to hell, but FWIW I basically agree with you. This isn't really about rights but about economics. China used to be quite poor. So, on average, the Chinese people had to work pretty hard to raise their standard of living.

But as China has gotten richer it's only natural that Chinese citizens will want to convert some of their hard earned wealth into more leisure time instead of more physical goods so average hours worked per week will tend to decline.

The same sort of thing happened in America and elsewhere.

Call me stupid but I cannot see how you are agreeing with your parent comment. It basically states "don't complain and get back to work", and you basically said it's normal for people to want their hard work to pay off and are thus pushing back against insane working schedules.

I don't see the connection, help me here.

I was agreeing with this part:

"There's no such things as "human rights standards" for how much you should work per week."

A 40 hour work week isn't (in my view) a "human right" in the way that life, liberty and property are rights. It's an exchange of time/work for money. People can choose to work a lot or work a little depending on how they value their time vs their leisure.

I believe the assertion about basic human rights is rooted more in research about maximum "productive" hours a day/week. Scientists have proven that hunter-gatherer tribes work anywhere between 10 to 20h a week and are doing just fine.

The 40h a week is pretty artificial default that has been imposed on most of the people by business interests. That's how I view it historically at least.

So we might not agree on slippery terms like "basic human rights" but modern phenomena as burnout and work depression are pretty widespread already and can thus serve as an example as to how the current workload standards might be broken.

As far as I know, the 40h/week was pushed by unions, not business interests (those wanted more).

History is written by the victors, so we'll never truly know. Maybe the unions were bought out?

What's more likely however is that 40h a week seemed more reasonable than the baseline at the time.

Still doesn't make it good for the humans in general though. Time and again studies show humans have no flat productivity rate, and some studies are trying to prove that 40h a week is too much and the people don't have enough productive hours left outside of that to actually tend to family, house cleaning, cooking, leisure hobbies etc.

Yeah, people in the past were tortured for being witches, therefore there are no human rights today and everyone should shut up about criminal reform. It is not that bad, since someone else had it worst, so stop talking and trying to change things.

Past excesses are how we got to current "human rights standards". Also, rationally, good feeling from being tough on those entitled lazies should not be reason to stop discussion about whether such schedule is reasonable.

There were periods in medieval history when a typical peasant only worked ~150 days out of the year.

While you are right that life was difficult, your sense of the past is warped to the point of caricature.

I'm sure it's possible to work 150 days a year now if you are okay with that standard of living.


However, the rest of the time was spent with military duty (feudal levy), preparing/preserving food, collecting firewood, takig care of livestock and general homesteading like repairing your mudbrick house.

yeah and they had nothing to eat at all some years if the harvest was bad, and no medical care and most people died in their 30s. So, which scenario do you prefer?

Ok, so now you're making an observation about medicine instead of hours of work. What exactly is your point here? Things are better now than they were in the past, so there's no reason why they should be better?

I mentioned harvests which have nothing to do with medicine. I know we don't suffer from famines nowadays but this was a real thing before.

most people didn't die in their 30s, if you could make it through childhood you'd usually live to your 60s/70s.

Care to provide a citation or clarify the period you're referring to?

Citation: common knowledge of much higher infant mortality rates throughout history + the intricacies of the mathematical mean

You’re not wrong, but for most of human history I could declare that you offended me and challenge you to fight to the death. “Most of human history” is a bad standard and is essentially hypocritical to raise selectively. People don’t compare their lives to those of ancient barbarians, they look around themselves today and they look to the future. Few people will be convinced by the argument that they have it better than a serf who died at 30, or s hunter-gatherer.

> I could declare that you offended me and challenge you to fight to the death.

You still can, but not death in the sense of your target ceasing to breathe, rather the death of everything they've worked for in life being violently ripped out from under them, such as their careers, by the court of public opinion. Still sad when it happens though.

> “Most of human history” is a bad standard and is essentially hypocritical to raise selectively.

I made that point because someone referred to "human rights" when it comes to working hours. There is just no such thing and there has never been.

Article 24: Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.


There's no such thing as "human rights" in general by that standard. You can't point to a physical object or some quantum of energy and say, that's a human right that you can measure. Human rights are something we decide on as a society, and if society decides that there is a human right to a set amount of working hours, then it becomes a human right.

The argument that there never has been such a thing is basically arguing that we should stop all progress. That nothing that doesn't already exist should ever be created

That's a myth. For most of human history, "working" 10-12 hours/week used to be the norm. There are still isolated tribes living as hunter gatherers and they are far from miserable!

It's been pointed out that hunter gathers worked a lot less than modern humans do: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Original_affluent_society

Only after developing agriculture do societies start having 12 hours a day of work

Not only that, but "work" was often fun back then. These people were basically doing for work what people today do for fun: hunting, crafting, cooking, exercising, etc.

Yes it is. What good are all those comforts of modern city life if you never have time to enjoy them?

In ancient cultures it was considered normal to leave a baby to die if you didn't want to raise it. Should we bring that back too?

That’s a bit of a false equivalency, isn’t it?

Besides, modern times have allowed us to avoid raising children if we don’t want to. We just don’t have to wait until the baby is a fully formed human and born from its mother’s womb to make that decision. In practice it may feel better to do it that way, but the basic effects are the same.

Abortion serves, in modern society, essentially the same function as abandonment.

Our law does not consider those things equivalent and I bet if you went around and asked many people would not consider that equivalent either.

Naturally a society which practices abortion but not abandonment would think so. But in both cases the function is essentially to provide a mechanism for infanticide to a society in which infanticide is prohibited (or rather, abhorred). There is a rationalization (for us, that the fetus isn't a child; for them, that the child is not actually killed, its life being turned over to the gods or to fate) but the rationalization is secondary to the fact that the act leaves the parent within, or on the border of, the normal workings of society instead of outside them altogether.

I don't agree, but I think my argument would work equally well if we took the example of being born into slavery.

Or adoption. Or I mean... it's not like people don't still abandon their babies if they really want to.

You can even avoid legal consequences by abandoning them at a fire station: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Safe-haven_law

Yes, but in the Roman world they left them at trash dumps and if they didn't simply die of exposure they were free for anyone to take as slaves. So I think we're still doing a bit better.

So... you're saying that society provides a more humane option so that we no longer leave children to die of exposure. Unlike in the past.

All those adjectives are always applied in relative terms, and aren’t any universal standard!

I think one has to contrast that with the historical conditions for workers (even in a socialist country) as well as the differences between sweatshop factories versus white collar workers. My take is while the sweatshop workers are the ones putting in extraordinary hours, it’s the white collar workers fighting against useless overtime pretend work in offices.

I've worked in 2 countries on 2 different continents and working overtime is common in both. A combination of easily-manipulated young employees and terrible project managements, in most cases. My country has labour laws to protect employees against that BS, but people still do it.

I went to China and everyone i met was doing 9-5 monday to friday.

A school leaver with no qualifications in his chosen career finds his first job is crap is not really world news.

Change jobs and hang in there kid.

China's unemployment rate is lower than the uk where this article originates.

You have labour laws.

The worst expected unpaid overtime hours i ever worked or saw worked was in a bank in London. 885 was totally normal.

Making news out of a single case study implying its universal it not really responsible news, even if it is not quite fake news.

You were a travelor, and didn't live there. You are comparing your own experience as an analyst in Banking, one of the most brutal industry for work.

"600,000 Chinese die from overworking each year"


I'm surprised with your experience. I'm chinese and almost everyone I know work for extra hours regularly, without any extra salary. It's definitely a bad work culture and being discussed a lot on varies chinese forums

> chinese forums

Curious on whether these forums are moderated or monitored by Govt? And are there any online places where people can discuss without fear of the Chinese govt?

yes, all popular forums (Baidu, Weibo, Zhihu etc) are moderated. But to be honest, I feel like you misunderstood of the whole "monitored by government" situation in china. It's true that we can't discuss about certain history event or some sensetive policy (people still do that using code language or whatever). But I assure you no one is having fear discussing it, as long as you are not deliberately spreading those negative things in a large scale.

China’s official unemployment rate is lower, but who knows where the real number rises, and there is a lot of gaming the system going kB (especially with lesser tier universities forcing students to get fake jobs before they can graduate).

Chinese were working 6 days a week universally until around 15 years ago, it still isn’t rare to hear if someone who has to work every Saturday (especially in tech).

I worked in China for 5 years. Our suppliers would sometimes work their software engineers so hard, that their wives would come in crying in the office at night because they never saw their husbands.

I was there to witness it because I also worked the same hours. I am a stupid man, who believes in people who build hot dog apps apparently.

Making an anecdotal statement as a rebuttal based off a single visit to China isn't very authoritative either.

Sort of off topic but maybe not: I'm in Chengdu right now, my first trip to China since 2010. I had previously just been to Beijing among Chinese cities (lots of time camping in Xizang backcountry otherwise). Chengdu is so tranquil, orderly and clean compared to the Beijing of my memory. People don't yell or spit, traffic lights are obeyed and drivers slow for pedestrians, the city is quite nice. Is this just the difference between the megacities and the smaller cities, or has Chinese urban culture matured a bit?

Chengdu has a reputation as being a very laidback place with laidback people. Supposedly, it actually goes back to an irrigation project during the Qin state (before the Qin dynasty), which made life pretty easy in Sichuan. See https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dujiangyan

But people in Kunming are also laid back, I get the feeling that southwest China is just that way.

That's just a Chengdu thing. I don't know why precisely but it's widely considered one of the nicest Chinese cities. A few local I know even claimed it's the San Francisco of China, whatever that means.

Ok, it occurs to me that they are re-creating the bay area where people work lots of hours, have long commutes, and don't make enough money to buy houses near where they work. Presumably that isn't intentional.

I expect it is not surprising that this isn't sustainable. Too many of my co-workers went through burnout, nasty divorces, or both from living this lifestyle. I consciously chose to balance family/work more and paid the price of slower advancement and missed opportunities. But in the process learned a lot about teams that that do work well with good balance.

There are a lot of things that conspire to work against sane work environments, not the least of which is the magical feeling when you push really hard and you get way more done than was expected. That in turn gets praise and glory which encourages managers to go back to that well again and again. Until it is the only way the team operates and everyone burns out.

As a manager I feel it is my job to protect my team from being burnt out in this way and push back on demands that cannot be met. But I am also trying to figure out inefficiencies and work with folks to get them what they need so that they aren't fighting internal processes as much as they are the problems they are trying to solve.

Can we get the word Chinese capitalized in the HN title?

Wonder how deep and widespread this dissatisfaction really is, beyond a simple worker dispute in a country where so many other public disputes are not tolerated.

Sure, you can find anecdotal statistics and generalize it, but my impression is that the extreme performance culture not only is accepted, but an integral part of the Chinese school system and upbringing. The 6 to 1 model with; 1 child, 2 parents and 4 grandparents who project their expectations and family reputation on to the child seems to structurally strengthened this. Not to mention that the neighbouring countries have practiced this for decades.

Recently hung out with a Chinese women in her twenties and to her studying 12 hours per day for a child was completely natural.

Who's not tired of working overtime?

Me. I think I am underpaid (actually I think most devs in my country are underpaid) so i don't do it with the exception of when I made a major cock up and the team was waiting on me.

Serious question: why do you think you're underpaid? Why do you feel you should be making more. The market has said that you're currently worth/getting paid X. So... why think you're Y?

People are often underpaid compared to market rate because jobs are not a perfectly liquid market. This is due to a number of factors: family situation, workplace social bonds, confidence in one's abilities, fear of change. It is very naive to believe that the labor markets are efficient. This is why some companies are able to take advantage of employees and get away with underpaying them.

Why would you assume that what he is being paid is his current market value? It's entirely possible that he is being paid well under his market value, thus creating feelings of being underpaid.

He said "actually I think most devs in my country are underpaid".

They also said the words "cock up"

They're very likely in the UK.

They are very likely getting underpaid for dev work, unless they're a contractor. Our salaries are definitely lower here than in the states.

I am from the UK working in Spain, I think the UK pays better than here, though depends on the location.

Then you're discussing different markets. There are very significant barriers to moving between countries in the global market.

I'd agree with your premise if each side in a negotiation had perfect information, there was no power asymmetry between parties and humans were perfectly rational actors 100% of the time.

"The market has said that you're currently worth/getting paid X"

Has it? Seriously, who is this all powerful "market" that one can go ask and get an exact answer? What does "market" have to say about employers simply giving anemic raises, if they give any at all, to employees they believe will have trouble finding new employment?

Someone's current wage is not correlated with the market wages for their current position.

I see what people in other places earn. Last time I mentioned I was in Spain a number of people said that the salaries sounded low. Still the quality of life is decent here or I would move.

Its often the case that nurses and teachers are considered underpaid as well. While bankers are overpaid. Would you agree with that?

I don't really work overtime (and if I do I take some hours off to compensate so it's not really overtime), it really depends on your company culture

> Who's not tired of working overtime?

I never work overtime unless necessary. I've worked around 5 hours of overtime in 2 years, and I made up for it later.

People who get compensated for it.

My experience of shift work is that if time-and-a-half or double-time is offered, there are plenty of volunteers. There will always be someone saving for something who can use the money. It only becomes a problem if it’s the “new normal”.

One thing that drives me crazy (and to be honest has been impacting even my own family) is that companies learned to use gamification technics to engage young ones at work so they eventually don't think they are spending time at the office with overtimes, they are being psychologically rewarded constantly so it is not a social burden. Perhaps people in China just started to hit the upper limit of that and other countries will follow in some years once people get it does not pay off.

The article references the 996 hours and the title of the article is about UNPAID overtime. If it truly is unpaid, I would walk away in a heartbeat as well. Unless it’s office work, getting tired in a warehouse would mean higher chances of injury and death.

Would you in the US be informed that you are getting paid $20/hr but it stops at 8 hours? There is a reason that the US has laws about the minimum that people can get paid on a salary.

"There is a reason that the US has laws about the minimum that people can get paid on a salary."

There is no federal law in the US about that. California has such a law, but it requires being reported to be enforced, and as such, is not very often enforced.

There is in fact a Federal law that covers that.

The Fair Labor Standards Act.


Someone else here can speak to whether the exemption rate minimum was officially raised from the old $455 per week (the DOL was attempting to increase it). You legally must be paid at least the minimum wage unless you're exempt, and then the minimum weekly pay is in force. The only exclusions are for tip workers, certain types of farm labor, and certain types of seasonal temporary employment.

The DOL also recently increased its penalties for non-compliance:


(amount made) / (hours worked) >= (minimum wage) is all FLSA says. At tech worker salaries, that equation would hold if you worked 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It doesn't make the fundamental problem of mandatory unpaid overtime go away.

You are right; Federal law does actually outline a minimum amount for being salaried. I misspoke.

However, from what I understand, the amount outlined in that law has not changed from when it originally was written. So it is laughably low, to the point where it doesn't really help. I guess it's more than the hourly minimum wage, though?

This is a huge issue in Hong Kong and Singapore too. The work hours in both are crazy.

> Pilots or train conductors, for example, can work longer shifts than the eight hours stipulated under Chinese law.

I can't think of anyone who I'd less want to be working excessive hours than pilots.

What about a 9 hour flight? Bring 2 sets of pilots?

Can confirm that the 996 schedule is also applied towards a lot of office+retail jobs in Pakistan.

This isn't just about human rights and treating people fairly, this is about poor efficiency. There are multiple reasons we have the 40-ish hour work week.


"Many people believe that weekends and the 40-hour workweek are some sort of great compromise between capitalism and hedonism, but that’s not historically accurate. They are actually the carefully considered outcome of profit-maximizing research by Henry Ford in the early part of the 20th century. He discovered that you could actually get more output out of people by having them work fewer days and fewer hours."


"In US hospitals, 50000 to 100000 patients die annually from medical errors, and inadequate sleep among physicians may be a factor."

I'm sure there's more data from WWII and later sleep studies as well, yet everyone continues to ignore it.

They should join a union, or form a socialist workers' party, or something.~

We are even not allowed to have feminist organizations, any non-governmental groups with powers are considered threat to this country.

It was a joke. He was implying that if the workers took hold of the means of production, they could displace the capitalist bourgeoisie that are exploiting them. Then they could set up some sort of People's Republic, with a single, communal political party that represents the people, not the powerful minority. They could call it the "People's Republic of China". That would solve everything, what could go wrong? Communism in action!

Does it look like the workers own the means of production in China or is it a mix of government and private capitalists? If so, that's state and private capitalism. If the workers own the means of production it means they literally are the managers of the factories in a democratic fashion. You wouldn't see much useless overtime if that happened.

That is the joke. The communist government, that was supposed to liberate the people, created this situation. It didn't work like it was supposed to did it?

My point was that the joke is common but incorrect. If someone is telling workers what to do (the government) you've just replaced private rulers with public ones. That could be considered a step up or a step down, but we haven't gotten to real democracy and real freedom. Just because the Chinese call themselves socialist doesn't make it so, just as you might criticize American capitalists for taking subsidies from the government for not really being a free market.

China is not communist, it's state socialism! No one has ever tried communism.

(Except that they obviously tried state socialism, which is supposed to be the precursor to socialism, which itself is a precursor to communism, but going through the precursor steps to communism doesn't count as trying communism because... reasons.)

If Stalin and Mao got past the precursor stages they might have been able to starve people even more efficiently!

No, frockington.

In true communism, the leaders are no longer necessary; the people will starve themselves, in the most efficient manner possible.~

This is not quite right. The socialists and communists both believe in the overthrow of capitalism, and may have similar ideas about the endpoint, but their means are different. Socialists are peaceful parliamentarians while communists believe in forceful revolution. They have been even more constrained in the wake of the USSR where Lenin advocated the idea of a vanguard party and due to their initial success, other communists modeled their revolutions on them.

The idea Lenin expressed in "State and Revolution" was the idea of the wilting of the state into nothing as it becomes useless without class antagonisms to subdue.

If you follow Marx, the only universal, the step that both China and the USSR skipped which might be why they ended up the way they did, was that Socialism is supposed to evolve from advanced capitalism which produces the abundance of tools and facilities that make a new more equitable highly developed civilization possible.

The interesting lede here is that the USA is, unlike a poor peasant country, in a state of advanced capitalism and is the most wealthy country in world history. It is also the imperial power that oppresses the rest of the world rather than vice versa. These unique circumstances raise the possibility that Marx's vision might be best fulfilled here, not over there.

When I look at my health care coverage and deductibles, and the cost of tuition, and the prevalence of 30-year mortgages to purchase housing, and the rate of change in measures of wealth inequality, I feel confidence in saying, "not bloody likely".

You're not getting a worker's paradise here unless you shove some people up against the wall.

Is this irony or sarcasm? If so, you made the funny.

It may be worse than 996. WeChat easily penetrates employee's life after 9. A message from your boss that requests something urgent, and you begin working again.

Poor Chinese Millennials. They are frustrated their country turned dictatorship. They are constantly monitored by the big brother, social credit score, public cameras that have facial recognition. Their words censored by wechat, and the great firewall. If they say something wrong, they will be watched and put on no travel list. There's no moving up the ladder; they're stuck trying to buy a $500k house with a meager $1000/month income. There's no other good investment choices. They see tuhaos (country bumpkin milllionnaires) drive maseratis around. They see CEOs being disappeared by the government with each passing day, which tells them if they're ever successful, that's the fate that awaits them. Their only hope is to escape to Australia or Canada. But in the meantime they have to endure horrific pollution and rising inflation.

I think you'll be surprised to find that many young Chinese people support their government and their hard-handed approach to social stability. I've notice that its a uniquely Western trend to apply our judgement on these issues and expect it to automatically be in line with the Chinese perspective.

Sure, and I'm sure you will find ardent supporters of North Korea regime, Hitler Germany, and Mao's regime.

It's not a uniquely Western trend to want freedom, voting rights, and justice. It's also not uniquely Western to see the regime party members get super rich and get angry.

People in glass houses shouldn't throw stones. Now your house might not be entirely glass in this case, but it's not particularly sturdy either.

Are there non-Western peoples who want Western things? Sure, the West has been rich and powerful and dominated the world for the last 300 years. It would be incredible for other peoples to not try to emulate the West.

But I think you're underestimating the extent to which universalism is a Western metacognitive bias that other cultures don't necessarily share [1].

The idea that there is one universal set of rules that everyone in the world can and should agree on, based on logic and rational consideration, is not really shared by all other cultures.

The Chinese response that 'it may work for the West, but it's not for us', is not a specious cop-out (the Western response being typically what do you mean there are two sets of rules!?) but probably represents the honest opinion of a large fraction of the population.

That's even before we get to the end result of democratic elections in many countries, where dictators are who the people choose.

[1] https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/c742/1acd7e63519d22458b5a65...

> They are frustrated their country turned dictatorship.

You're wrong; the majority of chinese I've talked to say that while it can be overbearing, it's given them more opportunities. I hear more things positive about the government in frank, private conversations than with most people from my country. This is a result of the recent rise in wealth. But just wait until that prosperity subsides.

I'n not arguing that there isn't bribery, censorship, or corruption. I think that western societies function better under democratic rule, but the chinese culture and political system is much different than ours. As long as the people are prosperous they won't mind the rulers, but once things go bad at a large scale the power will change.

Every country has positives and negatives, you just listed the negatives.

Have you ever been to China recently? The major cities there are 10 years ahead of the West. No one uses cash anymore in China. You use your mobile phone to pay for everything... even the street food vendor or mom and pop stores accept Alipay or WeChat Pay. Public transportation is clean and efficient; new stops (for subway) and new routes (high speed rail) are added monthly. The pace of innovation is amazing. The cities are super safe (cameras everywhere) and clean too (no homeless, no human feces, or needles on the streets like in SF).

That's what they used to say about Stalinist Russia and the fascist states.

This is a very western view of China. I'm sure many Chinese millennials would disagree with you on their prospects within China.

But if they agree, they won't be dumb enough to announce it publicly (if they're even allowed on that forum by their government censors)

gosh this sounds like a revolution in the cooking state, is this totally true? maybe not that bad I hope.

the big problems are the debt and the house bubble, one of them blows up will cause serious issues, so far so good it seems.

Last time they stood up to speak, 10,000 students were murdered in public to make an example. They might think twice now.

If the government suppresses the history of the event in China, how are the protesters of tomorrow supposed to know to think twice?

Actually, everyone knows about it and people talk very openly about it off the record, but no one is willing to talk about it in a recorded medium with a Westerner.

don't think people born after 90's have any idea of those, or 99% of them have no idea whatsoever, so yes, history can be revised at will, at least in the short term.

Indeed. They also didn't have the omnipresent surveillance back in 1989. Hard to imagine how the student movement back then would have gained momentum using today's communication tools (with the government backdoors and all).

Surveillance and an all-powerful regime has well and truly snookered the Chinese, and it seems their autonomy will not improve for a very long time.

Except that history isn't taught in China.

btw, those students were communists protesting the privatization of collective farms among other things under Deng.

In an authoritarian state, any spontaneous popular movement is dangerous to the leadership, even if it aligns with their nominal aims (maybe especially then). The CCP has been "Communist" in name only for a long time, but Deng Xiaopings market reforms were probably the most obvious breaking point. It's not unsurprising that students who had been taught about the inevitable victory of Communism would protest against this change of course, especially given the surrounding economic instability.

Although Communism and Democracy are frequently seen as opposites in the West, Chinese propaganda doesn't hesitate to claim Democracy for themselves (there are elections after all) and volunteering in various state-adjacent organizations is encouraged. From the point of view of an upstanding party member, organizing a student rally probably seemed like the right thing to do, in good old revolutionary tradition.

No it isn't actually true. Roughly 80% of Chinese people are happy with the direction the country is going vs 40% in the USA.

Most people don't care about censorship and the ones that do can get around it. From their point of view, it is no different to the NSA or the cameras in the UK (way more than China).

Most Chinese people I know own a house (more like a shack) BUT it is out in the countryside. They want to move to the city where apartments are more expensive and there are more opportunities.

They look at their parent's life and their life is a lot better. The ones that have enough money (not all of them) generally move to another country since they can afford it. The ones without money don't care.

The pollution is bad but at the same time China is putting more money into green energy than any other country. Every bus in the cities are being sent to the country or scrapped and replaced with electric busses (more than every other country combined).

As far as the debt goes it is something they worry about. At the same time, it is lower than the USA debt. The housing bubble is also an issue but they are building millions of apartments unlike other cities in the world.

Basically, the working class is currently better off but they have the same problem that the USA has right now. Lots of students graduating from universities without enough high paying jobs to match.

Technology scales really well so you don't need a lot of workers. You need a lot of low paid works ... same as in other countries.

> Roughly 80% of Chinese people are happy with the direction the country is going vs 40% in the USA.

An obviously fraudulent setup. There are very few things you can get 80% of people to agree on unless they feel compelled to agreement. The Chinese people no longer possess the ability to dissent. What little ability they had to do so, briefly, has been wiped out in the last five years under the new dictatorship.

Your China reference is as legitimate as Putin's approval rating.

As an American with family in Russia, I think you're underestimating the conformity of opinion developed in countries that aren't America. We're unique in the amount of diverse cultures and perspectives that we have in large numbers, and we're constantly fighting with one-another, and we hold polar opposite views.

If you look at a country like Sweden, arguments amount to "Should we give more financial assistance to refugees, or to the elderly?". Their environmental regulations, their high welfare state, their criminal law... None of that is ever debated, because they're all in near-unanimous agreement.

Russia is similar but leaning conservative, and they view Putin as the person who can accomplish their national goals and uphold their conservative values. This is how most of the rest of the world exists, and children in those countries are very likely to continue that trend, given that it's all they're exposed to. 80% approval is totally believable, with that in mind.

> No it isn't actually true. Roughly 80% of Chinese people are happy with the direction the country is going vs 40% in the USA.

This doesn't really have much do with superior governance though, does it? It has a lot do with the country's recent history.

a) It help government approval tremendously when you can censor bad news and disproportionately cover positive news.

b) It's also really difficult to assess how much credit the Chinese government actually deserves for China's economic success. Every other old-world power that has embraced capitalism has achieved similar success. China has also had the benefit of playing their economic catch-up from 1980-present, starting from an essentially pre-20th century economy. Is there really some amazing government wizardry (that couldn't be replicated by any of the governments of developed countries) in achieving immense growth by applying highly advanced (relative to yours) foreign technology to your gigantic populace through a market system?

Is censorship, stoking nationalism, and violation of human rights really the magic formula? I'm really skeptical there.

c) It's easy to overlook the immense inequality in China, both in economic terms and in terms of human rights. If you're a Han Chinese living in a first-tier city, you likely have a very different experience with the government that a Uighur or Tibetan. The CCP, to stay in power, really only needs the support of the Han population (they make up 90% of the population). This distorts incentives for treatment of minority groups significantly. If it's good for Han, it's good for the CCP.

On the other hand, the whole "censor the bad news" thing means that Han Chinese don't necessarily hear about how minority ethnic groups in Xinjiang or Tibet are treated... removing the historically most powerful feedback mechanism for improving the treatment of the oppressed. Which, obviously, is the dominant ethnic group being aware of the plight of minority groups, feeling human sympathy, and calling for change.

Worse still, as China's sphere of influence grows and yet the censorship remains, the same dynamic will occur--the CCP is incentivized to keep the Han Chinese population happy, and the Han population feels none of the guilt that a population with a free press provides when reporting on the its government's less-than-acceptable actions elsewhere.


I'm happy for the Chinese people and their economic success and progress so far, but it's dangerous to overpraise the its government model given the misaligned incentives that exist. I understand that rapid change can be dangerous and believe steady progress may be preferable, but that's a very different position than promoting China's governmental model as something to be praised and replicated.

I'm still on the fence if it is superior governance (corruption is common). Although the same could be said of the USA's economy. Most of the growth in the USA is just random luck from the end of world war 2 and then riding the wave of growth without screwing it up (much).

The point I was trying to make is don't expect a revolution any time soon. They are fairly happy since life is generally improving for "most" Chinese people.

It might be a revolution if people previously had better living conditions. But for country like China it probably looks like a big success and people want stability and not changes.

Not sure if I'm missing sarcasm or anything, but this sounds like the exact same problem as everywhere else in the world.

In terms of using high tech for oppression, the Chinese are the world leaders by far. However, I have to admit that plenty of countries are slowly evolving towards emulating the new high tech Chinese model of tyranny.

Really? Which parts of that apply to any western country? The US (where I live) certainly has its problems, but none of the things described by the original comment apply widely in the US.

The surveillance of citizens and credit scores don't apply to the US?

Or the obscene ballooning of rents without a corresponding increase in wage?

Absurd overtime expectations?

> The surveillance of citizens and credit scores don't apply to the US?

Strawman. Your credit score won't legally lock you out of being able to fly in the US and is not a government punishment enforced through violence. Surveillance in the US is not similar to the extreme oppression occurring in China and the almost complete lack of freedom of speech, freedom of demonstration, freedom of religion, freedom of expression, and freedom of press. This HN forum can't exist in China.

> Absurd overtime expectations?

Nope. The US works about as many hours as New Zealand, which is not infamous for very punishing work hours. It sits at the OECD average and is comparable to Italy and Canada.

> Or the obscene ballooning of rents without a corresponding increase in wage?

Non-qualified setup. That entirely depends on where you live and what your job is. If you're trying to be a janitor in San Francisco, you have a problem. Most of the US is not in fact outrageously expensive, it's quite reasonable.

Spot on. US introduced credit scores even before China.

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