996 protesters organize ‘performance art’ prank against Jack Ma

Weibo users say that one of the prank hashtags has disappeared along with hundreds of posts, Apr. 25, 2019 (Image credit: TechNode / Jiayi Shi).

On Monday, a GitHub user called on those who condemn 996 to respond to Jack Ma’s endorsement of the widely criticized work schedule by sending an official copy of China’s labor law on May 4 to the Alibaba headquarters.

The post calls the action “performance art” aimed at raising awareness over the harsh and arguably illegal working conditions in China’s tech industry. Chinese labor law states that staff shouldn’t work more than 36 hours of overtime a month. But the demands of the industry have employees working 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., six days a week.

Ma, founder of Alibaba and the richest man in China, dismissed outcry on social media over the grueling working hours in China’s tech industry in a blog post on April 12. “To be able to work 996 is a huge blessing,” he said.

The GitHub post estimates 1,000 participants will participate. As of Thursday afternoon, the post has received 710 stars on GitHub, which work as bookmarks on the code-sharing platform.

One of two hashtags that translate into #SendLaborLawToJackMa disappeared earlier today along with hundreds of posts, according to Weibo users who posted under the second hashtag.

Ma, founder of Alibaba and the richest man in China, dismissed outcry on social media over the grueling working hours in China’s tech industry in a blog post on April 12. “To be able to work 996 is a huge blessing,” he said.

The GitHub post explained, “This is a low-cost, humorous, artistic protest that mimics sending blades, but is completely legal compared to sending blades” (our translation).”Sending blades” is a slang term, which literally means mailing a blade to someone, but often denotes an attack against a public persona who has somehow upset the public.

The post explained that under civil law, it is difficult for this act to be found illegal, since only letters that “endanger national security, public interests, or the legitimate rights and interests of others” are outlawed. Further, the cost of purchasing an official copy and sending the document are estimated to be less than RMB 5 (around $0.74), according to the post.

Official copies of the law are published by the Law Press, an entity managed by the Ministry of Justice, and can be purchased at bookstores for a nominal fee of RMB 4, on average.

The “performance art” organizer invites participants who can spare more than $0.75 to also send the official copies to Richard Liu, founder and CEO of JD.com, and Ren Zhengfei, founder of Huawei, and provides addresses to all three company headquarters.

The day the protest will happen holds particular significance. It is China’s National Youth Day, which was established by the CPCC, a legislative body, in 1949 to celebrate the May Fourth Movement, a student protest against imperialism that started on May 4, 1919, at the end of of the first world war.

Ma’s comments came in response to a GitHub post that went viral, protesting 996. In late March, a user created a repository called “996.icu” which explained the exhaustion caused by the 996 schedule and the potential health dangers; “996 working, ICU [Intensive Care Unit] waiting.” It ended with “Developers Lives Matter,” a reference to the “Black Lives Matter” movement in the US.

The post quickly gained over 30,000 stars, and became the number one trending topic as overworked tech employees expressed their frustration on the site, which is not censored by the Great Firewall, the China’s vast censorship system.

The call for “performance art” also calls for a push in Chinese social media under a hashtag which translates into #SendLaborLawToJackMa, inviting participants to post videos of themselves sending the labor law on video-sharing platforms and post on micro-blogs on May 4, in order to help the action go viral.