A 25-year-old employee at Chinese video platform Bilibili suddenly died during the Lunar New Year holiday last week, with the cause of death suspected to be overwork. The incident put Bilibili in the spotlight, sparking an online debate about the culture of overwork in China’s internet industry.
A Weibo influencer known as Wang Luobei posted about the incident on Monday after receiving a direct message saying a content moderator at Bilibili’s Wuhan subsidiary died at work during the holiday period. Multiple Weibo users, who asked to remain anonymous, have since sent direct messages to Wang to confirm the death.
In response, Bilibili issued an internal memo on Monday, stating that the employee was feeling unwell on the afternoon of February 4 and claimed he did not die due to excessive work. According to the company, the deceased employee was on a nine-hour shift that day from 9:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., and did not work overtime over the week before his death.
However, a Weibo user who claimed to be the employee’s cousin refuted Bilibili’s response, suggesting that a highly intensive workload led to his death. “He didn’t come home during the Lunar New Year holiday and decided to stay in Wuhan for work,” she said.
The cousin posted a screenshot of the employee’s account on WeCom, an enterprise collaboration app, which showed a summary of his work activities for 2021. This included records of the employee working until “late at night” for 321 days last year, including one instance where he left work at 4:00 a.m. in November.
Bilibili said it is cooperating with the police for their investigation into the employee’s death.
According to job openings for content moderator positions at Bilibili, staff members must “accept night shifts, and have a strong ability to work under pressure.” One of the posts, which is still online for active recruitment, specifically states that the job involves 12-hour overnight shifts.
The “996” work schedule—being on shift from 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., at least six days a week—is commonplace in China’s major tech companies. Even though the government has said the practice is illegal, overtime culture is still prevalent.
Last month, internal chat records showing an entry-level Tencent employee speaking out against intensive workloads went viral in China, renewing discussion surrounding overwork practices at tech companies. A Tencent executive said he felt ashamed because of his employees’ overwork, and said he hoped to see more internet companies confront the issue.