Taking on Tencent
Slow Chinese 每周漫闻
Last week an employee at Tencent became an Internet sensation after standing up to his bosses for their glorifying of the brutal work practices at the tech company.
Zhāng Yìfēi 张义飞, a 25-year-old programmer, was given a ‘business breakthrough award’ (业务突破奖) after working 20-hour days as part of a team rolling out a new feature for a productivity app.
If 20-hour days is what the company wants, he wrote, ‘I’ll resign tomorrow’:
明天我会提离职，请各方不要卡我审批，免得妨碍我安心过个好年 - I’m handing my notice in tomorrow. Please don’t try to stop it; I want just to be able to enjoy the Chinese New Year holiday.
Screenshots of the message quickly circulated online. He became an instant hero for speaking up against his superiors and of the overtime culture of one of China’s biggest companies.
This week we discuss two things about the story:
Words of the week: lingo from Zhang’s original message and how it’s being discussed in the media
Conversations worth consuming: how the story is being discussed on social media.
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1. WORDS OF THE WEEK
How to sack your company in style
The full text of Zhang’s complaint against Tencent is worth a read (163.com).
He paints a bleak picture of life as a graduate employee, or a working person 打工人, at Tencent.
Words for death and suffering describe his life as a young and mistreated employee.
死活 sǐ huó - life and death, health, wellbeing
是不是非得让开发人员加这20多个小时的班，才能让这个版本满你们的意？ 你们做任务排期的时候到底有没有考虑过手下人的死活？- Is it really necessary to ask your programmers to work more than 20 hours straight just to satisfy your needs? When arranging the work of your team did you even consider their wellbeing?
Note: life and death can also mean ‘not at any cost’ - listen to last week’s newsletter for more.
More: nice colloquial use of 满意 mǎnyì here.
慢性杀人 mànxìng shārén - slow killing
把慢性杀人当作荣誉激励 - Consider the slow killing of your team as some kind of honour for them.
Note: mànxìng is normally translated as ‘chronic’ but here it’s better translated as ‘slow’.
撒手人寰 sāshǒu rénhuán - ‘casting hands, people cycle’ - pass away
我的一个高中同学突发脑出的血，他的室友发现后马上拨打120把他送进加护病房，但他仍在三天后撒手人寰 - One of my high school classmates suffered a brain hemorrhage. His roommate immediately called an ambulance and sent him to the intensive care unit, but he died three days later.
The tone of media coverage is relatively neutral. Zhang is praised for his courage in taking on his bosses, but Tencent also come out of it fairly well as they reacted quickly and sympathetically. The slick work of Tencent’s comms team oozes from the press commentary.
There’s some useful words, though:
棱角 léng jiǎo - ‘edges and corners’ - have courage, be assertive
一些本来有棱角的年轻人在这种职场多次碰壁后，也渐渐变得圆滑和麻木 - Some young people who initially were quite assertive, have gradually lost their edge and become numb after coming up against challenges in the work place.
碰壁 pèng bì - hit a stone wall, come up against insurmountable challenges
叩问 kòu wèn - question, call into question
叩问“用健康换表彰奖金”到底值不值得 - Call into question whether or not exchanging your own health for the sake of a bonus is really worth it.
沉疴 chén kē - a serious and protracted illness; a perennial problem
过度加班问题，也确实是让很多职场人诟病的沉疴 - The overtime issue is a perennial problem that lots of people in the work place complain about.
More: 诟病 gòu bìng - criticise
螺丝钉 luó sī dīng - a tiny screw in a machine
下属员工似乎只是岗位中的“螺丝钉”，服从并执行领导的意志即可 - Lower level employees are merely a tiny screw in a huge system. They only need to obey and implement the instructions of their bosses.
不安分 bù'ān fèn - discontented, difficult
有太多自己的想法和意见反而是“不安分” - If you have too many of your own ideas and opinions you are considered to be difficult, and will not blindly follow what you’re told to do.
到头来 dào tóulái - ‘to the head’, in the end
如果纵许这种加班风气蔓延增长，到头来只会加剧“内卷”和员工的健康损耗 - If this kind of overtime culture is allowed to spread, in the end this will only exacerbate the problems of ‘involution’ in the work place, and the impact on people’s health.
Note: A more colloquial way to say ‘in the end’ 最终 zuì zhōng.
炒公司鱿鱼 chǎo gōngsī yóuyú - fried-company-squid - sacking your employer
「炒公司鱿鱼」在互联网打工人群体中实属罕见，以至于上述宣言一度登上微博热搜榜 - It’s very rare for employees to ‘sack their company’ in China’s Internet sector. So as soon as his statement was made public it hit the top social media rankings.
Related: 炒鱿鱼 chǎo yóu yú - get sacked (see newsletter from last April for more).
2. CONVERSATIONS WORTH CONSUMING
Social media commentary on Tencent’s overtime culture
Soon after Zhang made his feelings felt in the internal group chat, the story went viral on social media under the tag 腾讯应届生因高强度加班怒怼领导 (‘Tencent graduate worker vents his anger at management due to aggressive over-time’).
Unlike the media coverage, which was tempered and restrained, Netizens were critical of Tencent:
腾讯危机公关一百分。就是加班这件事，应该不会改了 - Tencent gets full marks for its crisis PR. But as far as overtime goes, this will not change a bit.
There are some colourful and useful words in the commentary.
怒怼 nù duì - angry, critical
怒怼管理者的这位年轻人，无论是叙事逻辑还是语言表达都很清晰 - The young lad who criticised his bosses clearly structures his argument and communicates coherently.
Related: 怼 duì - have a go at somebody (a bit like 骂 or 批评; correct pronunciation is fourth tone; in spoken language it’s third tone (see 23 October newsletter).
熬死 áo sǐ - overtimed-to-death
这一代毕业的年轻人可是独生子女哦，熬死一个，整个家庭就成失独家庭了 - Don’t forget this generation of young graduates are only children. If one dies of overtime their parents will be bereaved and left alone.
Related: 熬夜 áo yè - pulling an all-nighter (see 24 April newsletter for more)
破厂 pò chǎng - ‘broken factory’ - crap company
想去鹅厂上班不要我，至少工资待遇高啊，我们那破厂天天加班还加班费低 - I wanted to work at Tencent but they didn’t want me! At least the pay there is quite good. The crap company where I am now needs us to do overtime every day but the overtime pay is really low.
Note: not to be confused with 破产 pò chǎn bankrupt.
糟粕 zāo pò - dross, mediocre people
就让时代慢慢更迭代谢掉那些糟粕的，这大概需要挺久吧？ Let’s hope that as time goes on these people will gradually disappear. But how long will it take?
福报 fú bào - reward, blessing
可悲的是，越来越多的人都觉得996是福报加班是正常 - The sad thing is more and more people believe that 996 culture is a blessing and doing overtime is totally normal.
If you really want to make a point the there’s always a Chinese idiom to help you. Here are some different opinions expressed about overtime through idioms.
迫在眉睫 pòzài méijié - ‘urgent on the eyebrows’ - urgent
不是因为事情迫在眉睫而要求，只是因为他是领导，他想要 - The demands are not made because they are actually urgent. It’s purely because the boss wants it done now.
More: What is it with urgency and eyebrows in Chinese? There’s also:
火烧眉毛 huǒshāo méimáo - ‘fire-burning eyebrows’
燃眉之急 ránméi zhījí - ‘burning eye-brows urgent’
加班加点 jiābān jiādiǎn - working over-time
加班难道不是常态么？单子来不及做，加班加点使劲熬夜，怎么就没人在群里骂老板啊 - Is working overtime really not the norm? If there’s not enough time to complete a project the only option is to work overtime through the night. How could there not be people complaining about their bosses in internal chat groups?
胆识过人 dǎnshí guò rén - brave
有理有据，思路清晰，胆识过人 - A point well made, clear thinking and brave.
川流不息 chuānliú bùxī - ‘river-flow-not-stop’ - to flow past in an endless stream
一代人有一代人的坚持，一代又一代，川流不息 - Every generation has the things it believes in. Each generation is replaced by the next, like a never-ending flow of change that remains constant.
喝西北风 hē xīběi fēng - drink the North West wind, to have nothing to eat
鼓励不加班？还是珍惜加班吧，世道那么不好，工作那么难找，难道在家里歇着喝西北风舒服？- Encourage people to not work overtime? Or should we appreciate overtime? The world is a difficult place, and work is hard to find. Should we stay at home, do no work, and have nothing instead?
And if there’s not an idiom that makes your point, there’s almost certainly a colloquialism.
Here are three about being brave.
宁可站着死，不可跪着生 nìngkě zhànzhe sǐ, bùkě guìzhe shēng - I would rather die standing up than live on my knees
人家最后已经说了会辞职，佩服宁死不跪的人 - He has already said he’s going to quit. I admire people like this who are brave enough to not live on their knees.
Related: 不跪 bù guì - not kneel down
为众人抱薪者，不可冻毙于风雪 wèi zhòngrén bào xīn zhě bùkě dòng bì yú fēng xuě - we must not let those who blaze a trail for the rest of us, freeze to death on the road
为众人抱薪者 不可冻毙于风雪 - We must not let the trailblazers who go before us die because of their cause.
莫欺少年穷 mò qī shàonián qióng - do not bully a young person who is poor
兄弟牛逼，莫欺少年穷，出去后创业，到时候干死腾讯 - Brother, you are impressive. No one should bully the young. Go out and start your own business, and eventually you can take on Tencent.
This is a colloquial phrase from Cantonese. Read more in phrase of the week in SupChina.
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That’s it for this week.
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