Chinese tech employees have pushed back against a wave of protest over the industry’s notoriously long hours, known as the “996” schedule of working from 9am to 9pm, six days a week.

For months, former and current employees of some of the country’s most well-known companies had been posting evidence of unpaid, often compulsory or heavily encouraged overtime on the code-sharing platform Github.

Over the last few weeks, that discussion spread across Chinese social media, prompting outcry and a broader debate about work culture in China.

Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba, one of the companies included in a black list of firms forcing overtime on employees, has defended Alibaba’s long hours in comments. He called the 996 schedule “a huge blessing” and said workers should consider it an honour rather than a burden.

“If you join Alibaba, you should get ready to work 12 hours a day. Otherwise why did you come to Alibaba? We don’t need those who comfortably work 8 hours,” he said, according to comments posted on the company’s Wechat account on Friday.

Chinese tech companies are known for encouraging an obsession with work. Telecom giant Huawei reportedly promotes an aggressive, cut-throat “wolf culture” among its ranks. Richard Liu, founder of another major Chinese e-commerce company, also defended the 996 schedule.

In a note on Friday, Liu recalled how in the early days of the company’s founding, he would wake up every two hours so that he could offer customers 24-hour service. Liu said since then, the number of slackers in his company has grown. “If this carries on, JD will have no hope and the company will be heartlessly kicked out of the market! Slackers are not my brothers.”

On Github, users have created a blacklist of more than 150 companies, including Bytedance, the creator of the video app TikTok, Huawei, and ecommerce firm Pinduoduo. Former and current employees continue to add to and edit the list, uploading details of the companies and the hours they require.

In some cases, companies require hours worse than “996”. Ant Financial, a financial services firm started by Ma, is listed as having a “9106” work schedule, starting at 9am, ending at 10pm, for six days a week.

The topic has continued to dominate social media discussions, with many debating the kind of work-life balance that Chinese companies are creating.

One user commented on the discussion forum Zhihu: “Most of today’s companies are machines that cannot stop running. We are all screws on top. If the screw is rusty, just polish it, put a little lubricant on, then twist it on again and use it. If it breaks, they’ll find a new screw to replace you. The machine cannot stop.”