Pinduoduo worker dies by suicide while on leave, ex-employee’s video on disturbing work culture goes viral

Society & Culture

The intense backlash against Pinduoduo is a searing demonstration of growing public anger over the work culture in China’s tech sector.


Pinduoduo, one of the fastest-growing ecommerce companies in China, has once again found itself caught in a growing storm over its labor practices after a young engineer committed suicide over the weekend, which marked the second stress-related death of a Pinduoduo worker in less than two weeks (see our January 4 report).

The 23-year-old employee, only identified by his last name, Tan, jumped off the 27th story of an apartment building on December 9 in his hometown of Changsha, Hunan Province, according to police. He was pronounced dead at the scene. 

Later that day, Pinduoduo confirmed the man’s death in a statement (in Chinese). “We are profoundly saddened by the tragic news that one of our employees passed away by suicide. Meanwhile, we are waiting for relevant departments in Changsha to release the results of their investigation and disclose the exact cause of his death,” the company said, adding that it would do everything it could to support Tan’s family and loved ones during this time.

The statement further noted that Tan, who recently passed his probationary period and became a regular employee last month, requested leave from his office in Shanghai on Friday without giving any explanation and flew back home the same day. About 24 hours later, he leaped to his death.

In the statement, the company also promised to create an “internal channel and dedicated team” to offer mental health for all employees in light of Tan’s death.

Pinduoduo has yet to comment on why Tan took his own life, but sources close to his family told (in Chinese) local media that since Tan joined the firm, he had been experiencing a high level of pressure at work. Seeing him in low spirits, Tan’s parents tried to help him cope with his emotional difficulties over the weekend, but that effort ultimately did not succeed. 

Tan’s death follows days after that of a 22-year-old Pinduoduo employee surnamed Zhang, who collapsed late at night on December 29 after working long hours. Although the exact cause of her death has not yet been announced, there has been widespread speculation that Zhang was frequently asked to burn the midnight oil at work, and that the long hours might have taken a deadly toll on her body eventually.

With two employee deaths — both of which appeared to be related to workplace fatigue and stress, Pinduoduo has been facing a whirlwind of criticism over its intense company culture, which requires rank-and-file employees to work exceedingly long hours, limit their paid time off, and, in a nutshell, embrace extreme workaholism.

A viral video

Yesterday, the backlash reached peak volumes of anger when a former employee at Pinduoduo, whose last name is Wang, posted a video (in Chinese) in which he described the “unreasonable policies” and “constant exploitation” of the company, alleging that staff members at Pinduoduo’s Shanghai headquarters had to work 300 hours a month while those in the company’s grocery department, where Zhang was employed, were expected to work 380 hours a month. 

In the viral video, which has garnered more than 52 million views and 2.3 million likes on Weibo, Wang raises questions about a series of “problematic practices” on Pinduoduo’s part, including serving spoiled food in cafeterias, forcing employees to work on holidays, and asking them to improve productivity by cutting down on toilet time.

Wang also said that he was fired on Friday after anonymously sharing a picture of an ambulance that he claimed was at Pinduoduo’s headquarters on Thursday to collect an employee who collapsed at the office. “A second Pinduoduo martyr has taken a fall,” he wrote in a post on Maimai, one of China’s most-used professional networking apps.

Shortly after the post went up and started generating attention, Wang said he was called in to meet Pinduoduo executives, who told him that he was fired. “Maybe I haven’t matured enough as a professional, but I don’t think the world is supposed to work this way,” Wang said he told a manager before he was escorted out of the building. 

In a statement (in Chinese) issued today, Pinduoduo denied all of Wang’s allegations, saying that Wang was not dismissed for posting the ambulance photo on Maimai, but for making “extreme remarks” on the internet, which had “violated the company’s code of conduct” and “might constitute unknown threats to his colleagues.”

Pinduoduo’s denial, however, was received skeptically by its critics. On Chinese social media, Wang’s video has been met with an outpouring of support, with many of the comments praising him for speaking out against what they called a “blood-sucking capitalist pig.” “It’s high time we fight for our rights and end the exploitation,” a Weibo user wrote (in Chinese). Others called for boycotting Pinduoduo, saying that it was impossible for them in good conscience to continue using the service.

The intense backlash against Pinduoduo is a searing demonstration of growing public anger over the work culture in China’s tech sector, where a toxic culture of overtime has turned a number of people in the industry into outspoken critics who have gathered online to demand better working conditions.