Companies that eat people
Slow Chinese 每周漫闻
The phrase, ‘eating people’ (吃人 chī rén), is used to criticise companies in China that exploit their employees.
It’s originally from Lǔ Xùn’s (鲁迅), A Madman's Diary (狂人日记 kuángrén rìjì), published in 1918:
As I look through the pages of history, I see there are no dates. On each page, written messily, are the characters, ‘benevolence and morality’. I can’t sleep. I read into the night. Finally, I find hidden between the characters across the page, the words, ‘eating people’.
The times have changed since Lu Xun made that observation more than 100 years ago, but the culture of ‘eating people’ has not, according to social media comments this week, such as this one:
吃人的事实，从来没有变过，历朝历代都是如此 - The reality of [companies] exploiting their employees is nothing new. It’s been the same throughout history.
Two of China’s biggest tech companies, Tencent and Bilibili, have recently been accused of ‘eating people’, abusing and exploiting their staff.
So that’s what we discuss this week.
Conversations worth consuming: interview with Zhāng Yìfēi 张义飞 a former employee of Tencent
Words of the week: coverage and social media commentary of a recent death of a Bilibili employee allegedly due to overwork.
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1. CONVERSATIONS WITH CONSUMING
Interview with Zhang Yifei
Two weeks ago a 25-year-old programmer at Tencent, Zhāng Yìfēi 张义飞, became an Internet sensation after standing up to his bosses at the company. He announced in an internal group chat that he was quitting his job, which then went viral on social media.
If 20-hour days is what the company wants, he wrote, ‘I’ll resign tomorrow’
36Kr interviewed Zhang this week (in Chinese). He talks more about the overtime culture at Tencent, and why he dared to take on his company in such a public way - he already had another job lined up.
There are some excellent words in his description of life as a working person at Tencent.
卡 kǎ - stop, block
什么时候离职的？有人卡你吗 - When did you leave your job? Did they try to stop you?
剥削 bō xuē - exploit
- Topics such as serious overtime, the 996 work system, and the exploitation of employees by Internet giants are being discussed again.
底气 dǐ qì - confidence, back up
自己已经提前拿到其他公司的offer，比较有底气 - I already had an offer from another company, so I was relatively confident about doing it.
忌惮 jì dàn - fear, be afraid of
如果一些互联网大厂因此忌惮、不录用我，我正好也不想去这种加班严重的地方 - If some big Internet companies are afraid to hire me, that’s fine by me. I also don't want to work in a company with such heavy overtime.
手软 shǒu ruǎn - ‘soft hand’, forgiving
不要特立独行，搞小团体，否则他不会手软 - Do not march to a different beat or form small cliques. He will come down hard on this kind of behaviour.
打硬仗 dǎ yìng zhàng - fight a hard war
张小龙管理下的企业微信，经常会强调用小而精的团队打硬仗 - The company Wechat, under Zhang Xiaolong’s management, would often emphasise using a small and efficient team to work on tight deadlines.
Note: a common phrase used in Chinese companies when a team is working intensely on a project or against a ridiculous deadline.
Related: 打胜仗 dǎ shèngzhàng - win a war
喊口号 hǎn kǒuhào - shouting slogans
但大家普遍的看法是，不想看到空洞地喊口号，只想看到具体行为 - The general view is they don’t want to see people shouting empty slogans. They want to see action.
初出茅庐 chūchū máolú - ‘just come out of the thatched cottage’; inexperienced, wet behind the ears
但对于大众而言，互联网巨头和初出茅庐的应届生，相比较下毕竟力量悬殊 - There’s no comparison between the power of the big internet companies and graduate employees with no experience.
More: 悬殊 xuán shū - disparity
昏昏沉沉 hūnhūn chénchén - feeling sleepy
- I’ve been here for two months. I feel tired and my memory has declined a lot.
热火朝天 rèhuǒ cháotiān - ‘hot fire face sky’; vigorously, with energy
- When it was time to finish at the end of the day, around half of the team stayed behind to talk energetically about their work.
2. WORDS OF THE WEEK
Bilibili eats people
A man who headed a content moderation department at Chinese video-streaming site Bilibili died last week after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage while working a Chinese New Year holiday shift.
The company was heavily criticised (Sohu - in Chinese) of having a toxic work culture.
One of the top comments on social media adapted the line from Lu Xun’s A Madman’s Diary. But instead of looking through the pages of history, overworked netizens find the same message hidden in their payslips:
I glance at my payslip. I don’t see any pay on it. All I see are the four characters scrawled across the page: ‘fined for being late’. I can’t sleep. I look at it deep into the night. I finally find hidden between the characters across the page, written the words: ‘eating people’.
The words shared below are from the Sohu article and also from social media comments.
猝死 cù sǐ - sudden death, die suddenly
他2月5日凌晨脑出血猝死 - He died suddenly in the early hours of the morning on 5 February.
嗝屁 gé pì - hiccup, to die
对大企业嗝屁几个不算啥，对于各个家庭你就是唯一呀 - A few people dying means nothing to a big company, but for a family it’s their only child!
Related: 翘辫子 qiào biàn zi - make braids - kick the bucket (Qing Dynasty reference relating to when men had to remove their braids).
他因为加班严重而翘辫子了 - He died because of too much overtime.
企图 qǐ tú - try to, seek to do something (negative)
通过各种企图将这件事压下来，我决定发声 - Bilibili attempted to suppress the situation through different means, so I decided to speak up.
Note: similar to 试图 shì tú, but more negative connotations
腐朽 fǔ xiǔ - degenerate, rotten
道出了资本家的腐朽和恶臭 - Reeks of the stench and rot of capitalism.
压垮 yā kuǎ - crush
就是无情的压榨现有劳动力，能压垮一个是一个，多招一个人算我输 - It’s the callous exploitation of the current employees. The company tries to squeeze as much as possible from each and every one of them rather than hiring one more employee.
血汗工厂 xuèhàn gōngchǎng - ‘blood sweat factory’ - sweat shop
B站因员工猝死一事，被推进了“血汗工厂”的舆论漩涡 - Bilibili has been dragged into a public debate about the company being a ‘sweatshop’ due to the sudden death of an employee.
Note: The pronunciation of 血 is normally xiě in colloquial phrases, and xuè in technical terms. But the rule is vague and not very helpful. In this phrase it's always xuè. But in 血汗钱 xiěhàn qián, ‘hard earned money’, xiě is more common. So confusing!
混淆视听 hùnxiáo shìtīng - to muddle or confuse an issue
晚9到早9确实不属于加班，因为是大夜班的正常时间，大厂就这样混淆视听？ - 9pm to 9am does not count as overtime. But that’s because the night shift is a normal working shift for these big tech companies. They are muddling up the matter.
枯燥乏味 kūzào fáwèi - boring
做审核的确工作强度很大，而且枯燥乏味 - Being a content moderator is a very intense job. It’s also extremely boring.
More: 枯燥无味 kūzào wúwèi - boring (same meaning)
恬不知耻 tián bù zhī chǐ - shameless
觉得正常吗？居然还能如此恬不知耻的说“没有让他加班” - Is this normal? How can they be so shameless in saying the company did not ‘ask him to work overtime’?
难上加难 nán shàng jiā nán - very difficult
只要企业做大了，普通职工想维权难上加难 - When the company gets big it’s almost impossible for employees to protect their rights.
Related: 雪上加霜 xuěshàng jiāshuāng - make matters worse
万变不离其宗 wàn biàn bùlí qízōng - make ten thousand changes but remain the same in essence
好像这些大公司公关都是万变不离其宗，核心就是推卸责任！- It seems the PR of these big companies tells a nice story, but in essence they don’t change. They are merely avoiding their responsibility.
不见棺材不落泪 bùjiàn guāncai bù luò lèi - won’t cry until they see the coffin
这也说得出口啊！真是不见血不掉泪啊 - They actually say this? Do they really have to let somebody die before they accept they are in the wrong?
More: I wrote more about this colloquialism in SupChina’s phrase of the week.
Related: 不到黄河心不死 bù dào huánghé xīn bù sǐ - not to stop until one reaches the Yellow River; refuse to give up until all hope is gone
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That’s it for this week.
I look forward to seeing you in your inbox same time next weekend.
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