China: Trouble in Workers' Paradise

Three small numbers are making big waves in China. The digits 9-9-6, a shorthand for 9am to 9pm, six days a week, have become a rallying cry for tech workers frustrated with their bruising work schedules. In recent weeks, what began as a discussion among a few programmers has morphed into a broader debate about working conditions in China's most important industry.

It's a fascinating story, not least because it's a rare example of a labor protest in China organizing and going viral despite the country's sophisticated government-backed censorship.

But the 9-9-6 debate also exposes deeper tensions within the Chinese system:


China's political ideals vs its capitalist growth engine: Under the Communist Party, China is meant to be a workers' paradise, but labor laws limiting work to 40 hours per week plus 36 hours of overtime per month are rarely enforced. China is the only country in the world that's come close to replicating the success of Silicon Valley, partly because of workers' willingness to submit to the grind. But life is short, and as living standards rise, it's inevitable that well-to-do tech workers with globally attractive skills will start to demand more free time.

Tech billionaires vs "worker bees": Leading Chinese tech entrepreneurs have pushed back against complaints about the 9-9-6 movement, effectively saying, "suck it up, slackers!" Jack Ma, the billionaire founder of e-commerce giant Alibaba (and a member of China's Communist Party), said tech workers should consider it a privilege to work such a tough schedule. Another Chinese billionaire, JD.com founder Richard Liu, warned the company's future would be in jeopardy if people were no longer willing to put in the time, saying "slackers are not my brothers."

But here's the problem: Both the Chinese government and industry bosses need obedient tech workers. China's technology industry is increasingly the engine of its economy. The government needs tech workers to keep living standards rising across the country and create new economic opportunities as growth starts to slow. Tech companies need their high-skilled workers to compete in a cut-throat industry. No wonder workers say they're feeling squeezed and that the status quo is unsustainable.

Upshot: If that's true, what does it say about the sustainability of the Chinese tech-led growth model?

The Paris Call for Trust and Security in Cyberspace launched in 2018 with the commitment of signatories to stand up to cyber threats like election interference, attacks on critical infrastructure, and supply chain vulnerabilities. Last week, on the first anniversary of the call, the number of signatories has nearly tripled to more than 1,000 and now includes 74 nations; more than 350 international, civil society and public sector organizations; and more than 600 private sector entities. These commitments to the Paris Call from around the world demonstrate a widespread, global, multi-stakeholder consensus about acceptable behavior in cyberspace.

Read More at Microsoft On The Issues.

In recent years, Republicans have come to dominate most of the state legislatures in the US. Ironically, it was during the Obama-era that the GOP made major headway in states that had long been considered safely blue. State legislatures are now redder than they've been in nearly a century, and in most parts of the country, one party holds all the levers of power. For the first time since 1914, there's only one split legislature in the entire country: Minnesota. To be sure, some state races are bucking the trend: Kentucky and Louisiana, both deep-red states, recently elected Democratic governors. Here's a look at how Democratic and Republican control of state legislatures has evolved over the past four decades.

Forty years ago, Islamic extremists angry at the Saudi government's experiments with social liberalization laid siege to the Grand Mosque of Mecca, the holiest site in Islam.

The attack came on the heels of the Iranian revolution across the Gulf, putting the House of Saud and its American backers in a precarious spot. Tehran had challenged Saudi Arabia's Islamic legitimacy from without, while jihadists were now doing the same from within. For a few days it seemed as though the world's most important oil producer – and the custodian of Islam's holiest places – might be in danger of collapse.

More Show less

Forty years ago today, dozens of bearded gunmen stormed the holiest site in Islam, the Grand Mosque at Mecca, in Saudi Arabia.

They held the complex for two weeks before a French-trained Saudi force rooted them out, but the fallout from the attack went on to shape the modern Middle East in ways that are still with us today: in the scourge of transnational jihadism and the deepening rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

More Show less

What changes now that the U.S. softened its position on Israeli settlements?

Well, I mean, not a lot. I mean, keep in mind that this is also the administration that moved the embassy to Jerusalem, from Tel Aviv. Everyone said that was going to be a massive problem. Ultimately, not many people cared. Same thing with recognition of Golan Heights for Israel. This is just one more give from the Americans to the Israelis in the context of a region that doesn't care as much as they used to about Israel - Palestine.

More Show less