Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post (SCMP), Feb. 21, 2010, originally titled: Exhausted Chinese tech industry workers become “Buddhist entrepreneurs” in pursuit of work-life balance.
For years, the tiring schedule of the “996” work system has kept Chinese tech industry workers miserable. However, not everyone follows this demanding schedule, and some of them have decided to do the opposite in order to pursue ‘work-life balance’. They have become “Buddhist entrepreneurs”, and the list includes founders of some tech giants.
In the workplace, “Buddhist” is used to deride those who don’t want to make work their top priority, and to describe entrepreneurs who eschew the hyper-competitive Chinese tech market for developing products at a slower pace and maintaining a healthier work-life balance. “For companies and entrepreneurs, this is often the opposite of a ‘wolf company culture,'” said one venture capitalist.
In Chinese cyberspace, the origin of the term “Buddhist” has little to do with religion. The expression originated in Japan to describe members of China’s Generation Z who opt out of fierce competition to pursue their own hobbies. But the phrase is not always used in a derogatory sense; it is also depicts a relaxed mindset, the calm and self-awareness that people desire.
The chief customer officer of a tech company said he became a “Buddhist entrepreneur accidentally,” which he sees as being similar to the Western description of a “lifestyle entrepreneur. Unlike the typical work style of (Chinese) tech companies, “lifestyle entrepreneurs” build their businesses around the lifestyle they desire, choosing flexible work schedules and the most suitable work locations. Insiders say they are often people who have started businesses before and are not under pressure to raise capital, and can invest time in growing their projects gradually in good time.
This is clearly a different picture than is often used to describe China’s tech industry – a market where space for more products is rapidly becoming saturated, where large companies are burning money to provide expensive subsidies to compete for users, and where companies rely on employees working long hours to win in a highly competitive environment. This reality has made it impossible for some to adopt the “Buddhist entrepreneur” approach to business.
The head of a prominent Chinese cybersecurity company said in an interview late last year that “Buddhist employees” are not suited to work in a tech industry environment where small mistakes can lead to catastrophic failure. Some entrepreneurs who were previously described as “Buddhist” have also changed course and implemented a more “wolfish” management style to survive in China’s highly competitive tech industry.
The overtime culture has been resisted by many Chinese tech employees and the public. But some tech workers are hesitant to do so. “If the pay is good, 996 is acceptable,” said Benjamin Huang, a designer at a software company in Shenzhen, adding that while many people talk about “Buddhism,” few go for it; “even if the heart desires it, realities don’t allow you to do so.