‘Touching Fish’ Movement Sees Chinese Workers Embrace Laziness Amid ‘996’ Culture

‘Touching Fish’ Movement Sees Chinese Workers Embrace Laziness Amid ‘996’ Culture
Jan 26, 2021 Translated by eChinacities.com

Young Chinese workers are embracing laziness as a means of non-confrontational resistance against unfair working practices, according to reports. The movement was apparently sparked by a Weibo post that went viral last year after calling on employees to adopt the “touching fish” philosophy.

“Touching fish” references a Chinese proverb about how catching fish is easier in muddy water. The original post’s creator, who goes by the name of Massage Bear, suggested workers could take advantage of the COVID-19 crisis to slack off at work while their managers’ attention is elsewhere.

“[It] is a life philosophy of perfunctory living, letting go of oneself and others at the same time,” wrote Massage Bear. “That’s the key to living in the moment and being relaxed.”

Some Chinese netizens have since taken to the philosophy with gusto, sharing tips on how to do less at work. Ideas include filling your thermos flask with alcohol, drinking lots of water to promote more toilet breaks and getting up from your desk whenever any other colleague does so. “Not working hard is everyone’s basic right,” wrote one commentator. “With or without legal protection, everyone has the right to not work hard.”

The rejection of the so-called “996” schedule, which sees employees, particularly in the tech industry, work a minimum of 9am to 9pm, six days a week, marks a cultural shift, according to British newspaper the Guardian. After a recent spate of media reports exposing unhealthy working practices and even deaths among employees forced to endure excessive overtime hours, some among China’s young workforce are failing to see the benefit of such relentless toil.

Although China’s labour laws state that all overtime should be paid at 1.5 times the standard hourly rate and should not exceed more than three hours a day or 36 hours a month, many companies are getting around the rules by naming their workers as contractors rather than employees and incentivizing rather than forcing long working hours. Some employees reportedly fine workers for missing phone calls during off hours and even install signal blockers in office toilets to prevent employees escaping for a break on their phones.

Until recently, China’s unrelenting work culture has been reluctantly accepted by ambitious employees and even celebrated by some of the country’s top execs, including Alibaba founder Jack Ma, Xibei Canyin chief executive Jia Guolong and JD boss Richard Liu.

Online movements similar to “touching fish” are becoming more common, however. Github’s 996.ICU campaign, for example, which names and shames companies engaging in intensive work practices, has become somewhat of a household name. While the Chinese government has largely stayed out of the debate, such campaigns have led to editorials against 996 appearing in state media in recent months.

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Keywords: China 996

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