Tencent exec’s Youth Day message for China’s youth: You are sleeping too much

Society & Culture

Chinese social media users lash out against the country's overwork culture.

If public relations is about saying the right thing at the right timing, the chief PR officer of Chinese internet giant Tencent might consider a career change.

Tuesday was National Youth Day in China, an annual holiday to commemorate the May Fourth Movement in 1919, which saw thousands of Chinese students march in Beijing to protest the outcome of the Versailles Peace Conference. Tencent executive Zhāng Jūn 张军 apparently felt this was a good time to write on social media (in Chinese): “When we were busy planning various campaigns to commemorate the youth, they were sleeping.”

Perhaps Zhang was right about the sleeping part, given that this year’s Youth Day fell in the middle of the Labor Day holiday. But the tone of his remarks put off lots of people.

Zhang was bombarded with thousands of comments. People scolded him and called him a jerk for ruining their holiday. They also lashed back:

“The best way to pay respect to young people is to let them have some sound sleep,” one comment read.

“What would I be up to if not sleeping? Visiting your tombstone?” read another.

“You old people at Tencent know nothing but make social media campaigns in the most emotional way possible. Your mind is perpetually occupied by the desire to gain traffic. Writing sensational stories and plagiarism is all you like to do,” someone else wrote.

And then, Zhang’s statement became a springboard for people to vent their frustration at China’s overwork culture, which has come under increasing scrutiny after a number of deaths and suicides linked to long hours in the workplace and job-related mental health issues.

Last month, Chinese actress-turned-entrepreneur Zhāng Méng 张萌 (no relation) was forced to apologize after revealing on a reality show that she’s a difficult boss who regularly texted employees late at night with the expectation of getting a timely reply.

“You should feel lucky that we were sleeping, rather than hanging capitalists like you on street lamps,” a Weibo user wrote at Zhang Jun.

Another one said, “We need to rest well so you can continue to exploit us when we go back to work.”

But instead of apologizing, Zhang hit back in the comment section. “Don’t you feel it’s inappropriate to roast an old person like this?” Zhang replied to the most upvoted comment.

As of today, the hashtag #如何看待腾讯张军青年言论# (“What to make of Tencent Zhang Jun’s remarks about the youth”) has generated 78 million views on Weibo.