News of a 28-year-old male employee’s sudden death at ByteDance, the company behind apps including TikTok and Douyin, went viral on Chinese social media on Wednesday, with many attributing the death to frequent overtime demanded by tech companies.
The incident was first mentioned in a message posted on Maimai, a career and social networking platform, on Tuesday night. The message mentioned that “another” ByteDance employee had died, and that the man had a wife who is two months pregnant.
Maimai is popular with China’s tech workers and verifies their employment status. It also offers anonymity on its forum.
ByteDance issued a statement that was shared in an internal letter with its staff in China. The company said the deceased employee was named Wu Wei, and that he worked as a computer vision algorithm engineer. In the note, ByteDance said Wu was still being resuscitated at an emergency room at 12:30 a.m. on Wednesday.
Furthermore, the company said Wu visited the company gym at around 6:00 p.m. on Monday. The note described Wu feeling dizzy after an hour of exercise. He was then taken to a hospital at around 7:30 p.m. ByteDance claims that Wu was still in critical condition and was being resuscitated at 12:30 a.m. on Wednesday—more than a full day after he was hospitalized.
Chinese media outlets first reported on the content of ByteDance’s letter to its staff. An engineer from ByteDance’s pre-delivery inspection department confirmed its validity to KrASIA.
ByteDance said it will “accompany” Wu’s family to assist them with the administrative procedures related to the incident.
Wu is the latest in a series of tech workers who were seemingly worked to death. During the Lunar New Year Holiday in early February, a 25-year-old staff member of Bilibili died, with suspicions that the cause was overwork. Last year, a 22-year-old employee of Pinduoduo collapsed and died after leaving work, leading to an investigation. Additionally, a star engineer at Tencent Games subsidiary TiMi Studio Group jumped off the roof of an office building in Shenzhen, where Tencent’s gaming department is located.
In August 2021, the Chinese government indicated that 996 work arrangements—starting at 9:00 a.m., ending at 9:00 p.m., six days a week, plus overtime—is illegal. The practice has sparked criticism from state media and controversy among the general public.