Mr Richard Liu, chief executive of Alibaba arch-foe JD.com, said in a recent post on his WeChat Moments that, while he would never force staff to work a 996 schedule, people who slacked off were not considered his "brothers".
The e-commerce magnate weighed into a debate about work-life balance and the overtime hours demanded by some companies as the sector slows after years of breakneck growth. Some Chinese tech workers took it to GitHub to vent their feelings by creating a new GitHub project dubbed 996.ICU, in which ICU refers to the possibility of ending up in intensive care because of their tough work schedule.
But in a speech to Alibaba staff on Thursday, Ma said the company expected people to be ready to work 12 hours a day since it had huge commitments to its clients.
Mr. Ma, a former English teacher who co-founded Alibaba in 1999 and has become one of China's richest people, said he and early employees regularly worked long hours. He said that dedication was vital to the company's success. "If you do not work longer than others to make more effort, how can you achieve the success you want", he questioned Alibaba employees. "If you want to join Alibaba, you need to be prepared to work 12 hours a day, otherwise why even bother joining".
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Ma's comments were met with a backlash online, where many commentators argued that overtime hours are a huge blessing for employers only.
"Well, for him it is a blessing". "One should not attach the moral labels of "slackers" or "not willing to strive" to employees who are against 996".
Ma is not alone in his advocacy for overtime. The comments from Ma elicited some intense reaction. "Do you think you would feel proud if you don't experience 996 in a lifetime?" "Not only is it inhumane, it's unhealthy and even more unsustainable for long periods - plus workers, relatives and the law do not approve of it", he wrote in a post on Chinese micro-blogging site Weibo.
"If you find a job you like, the 996 problem does not exist; if you're not passionate about it, every minute of going to work is a torment", he added. The law stipulates that average work hours can not exceed 40 hours per week.