Yes, China’s 9-9-6 work culture does make Silicon Valley look sleepy. Startup teams in China routinely work 9-9-6 or 12 hours per day, seven days per week while the Bay Area is more accustomed to 9-5-5.
The gap in economic development between China and the United States accounts for this acceptance of long hours in China as it catches up to the West, and begins to surpass it in some sectors. Chinese founders and their teams can’t afford to be lazy or act entitled. There’s too much work to be done. From what I have seen and experienced in China’s leading innovation hubs of Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen, it wouldn’t be a stretch to see Chinese entrepreneurs working 10-10-7 or 12-hours every day of the week.
Granted, there is an argument to be made that too much time working can destroy creativity and that taking a break and going for a hike can yield better results. Play hard, work hard. A healthy body is more productive. Today, China’s millennial population is paying more attention to healthy lifestyles — working out at the gym, eating nutritious foods.
But China’s 9-9-6 culture won’t disappear. China is too motivated to succeed. The tech economy is growing too fast, the competition is too brutal, and the opportunities are too vast in China to take a laid-back approach. The pace can be seen in China’s on-demand market, where consumers order by mobile, pay by mobile, and get near-instant deliveries.
China’s first generation of Internet entrepreneurs including Robin Li of Baidu, Jack Ma of Alibaba and Pony Ma of Tencent gave China entrepreneurial heroes. Jack Ma himself is a proponent of the 996 work hours. These three leaders already inspired a new group of up and comers to follow their lead, to become billionaires: Colin Huang of social commerce upstart Pinduoduo is one who comes to mind. There are many more featured in Tech Titans of China.
Over the past decade, China’s tech economy has caught up with Silicon Valley in many ways: venture capital, unicorns, IPOs, business models, and innovation in several sectors. Tomorrow we will see more disruptive innovations coming from China for many reasons: Chinese government support and fewer data privacy issues but most of all, entrepreneurial vigor. This is just the start, and that’s why China is working so hard.