Why China’s Gig Economy is on the Rise

By Alistair Baker-Brian, April 13, 2022

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Even before the onset of COVID-19 and all the subsequent effects upon work in China and elsewhere, jobs in the gig economy were on the increase in the Middle Kingdom.

Such jobs tend to be defined as anything which includes short-term, part-time or freelance contracts. In China, you might think of waimai delivery employees, Didi drivers etc. – jobs which many of us interact with on a daily basis. 

Global Times recently reported that many young people in China are now taking up a whole new batch of gig economy jobs, including scriptwriters for murder mystery experiences, virtual artists, shopping assistants, sleep hotline operators and more – professions which independent analyst in the internet sector Ding Daoshi says will become commonplace in years to come. 

A report by Ali Research estimated that by 2036, there would be around 400 million people self-employed in China, as reported by South China Morning Post back in 2017. 

Why the change? 

Many young people want flexibility in their work schedules, as opposed to being tied to a rigid office schedule. Working as a freelancer can allow that to happen. 

This is a trend which has been happening for a while now, with recent backlash against China’s ‘996’ work culture – the notion that employees should work from 9am-9pm, six days per week. 

This has been catalyzed in part by deaths of workers, which have received attention from Chinese media. 

On December 9, 2020, an employee of e-commerce group Pinduoduo collapsed while walking home from work in Urumqi, capital of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. They had been working until around 1am. 

READ MORE: Death of Tech Worker Renews Concerns Over '996' Work Culture

There have been some signs that big companies are taking note. In February, 2022, Chinese travel agency Trip.com announced it would implement a hybrid work model for employees, allowing for time to be spent working from home.

READ MORE: Trip.com to Implement Work from Home in China

And of course, there’s the COVID-19 impact. 

In a report entitled The Future of Work after COVID-19, US-based McKinsey Global Institute states that the epidemic has “elevated the importance of the physical dimension of work.”

Furthermore, the report notes the move towards remote work as a trend was exacerbated by COVID-19. 

It states that in the first half of 2020, jobs in e-commerce, delivery and social media in China grew by more than 5.1 million, though it doesn’t specify how many of said jobs are defined as being part of the gig economy. 

Based on current trends, it seems that China’s workforce will only become more accustomed to freelance and part-time work, with ever more flexible hours. 


[Cover image via Unsplash]

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