China's top e-tailer sends sacked staff a 'graduation certificate'

Massive job losses reported across Middle Kingdom's tech sector


China's big tech companies are making deep job cuts, and at least one is framing them as "graduation" from the company.

Reports of the job cuts have circulated for weeks, with Alibaba reportedly offloading more than 40,000 workers, and Tencent potentially losing around a tenth of its headcount. Ride-sharing company DiDi has also cut staff loose, as has ByteDance. None have addressed the matter in public.

Some of the job losses were made in response to Chinese regulations that have curtailed web giants' activities. Beijing's ban on online tutoring colleges has wiped out business units at big tech firms and plenty of small companies alike.

Some job cuts have been in poorly performing business units, while others have been done to cut costs.

E-tail giant JD.com has reportedly used all of the above rationales for its job cuts, which appear to have been detailed in an internal spreadsheet that leaked to Chinese media. The document details closures of some operations, and deep cuts among technology teams.

JD's letter to its redundant staff has gone viral on Chinese social media because it frames the job losses as a "graduation" from the company on grounds that staff may have been axed but got quite an education while on the books at the e-tail giant. Video sharing site Bilibili has used similar language in its letter to soon-to-be-former staff. We've heard of employees being upgraded, or downgraded, to customers as a euphemism, but this takes the cake.

Chinese journalist Zichen Wang shared the Bilibili and JD letters on Twitter.

To make matters worse, the letters also reportedly direct staff to the paperwork they must complete to formalize their terminations.

Framing the job losses as graduation rankles – not only because it is cynical, but because it ignores the uncertain outlook some workers face. Those in the private tutoring sector – which Beijing banned on grounds that kids should not be forced to attend school and tutors – face bleak prospects because the sector was destroyed by government order. That China's massive tech companies, which enjoy dominant market positions, need to cut jobs also suggests that those let go may struggle to find work.

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Even techies are worried about their job prospects, observers point out that China's giant tech companies have spent years building their platforms and may now be settling into a new phase in which less development work is required, and operational concerns come to the fore.

While the job losses and Beijing's restrictions on its tech giants are attracting lots of attention in China, they are in no way a sign that the nation has de-emphasized technology's role in China's economy or future. To the contrary, China recently announced a wave of efforts to digitize its economy.

State-controlled media and government agencies are keen to feature case studies that explain how internet connectivity is creating new businesses across the nation – even in remote towns. And they emphasize that 1.032 billion Chinese are online and the internet penetration rate is set to increase from today's 73 percent.

Trust the Party: things are only going to get better. ®


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