Do Chinese-speaking universities operate on a 996 schedule, meaning that under normal (non-pandemic) circumstances they expect their employees to be present from 9am-9pm or longer, six days a week or more?

I don't refer to the actual time working: for example, many (lower rank) academics work all their waking hours every day of the week. I am referring to the time you have to show up.

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    BTW, we have a wiki about the admissions processes (and other factors) for grad schools in various countries. Readers familiar with Chinese Academia might consider adding an entry for China.
    – cag51
    Jan 14, 2022 at 8:00

2 Answers 2


OK, maybe I could be the right person to answer this question for you. I am Chinese, and I did my Bachelor's and Master's from Peking University in China, and I got my Ph.D. in the US.

First and foremost, I can surely tell you that right now all Chinese Universities have more strict and rigorous requirements for graduate students (Ph.D. and Master) to get degrees, all because of an actor's plagiarism scandal that happened in 2019 (check Tianlin Zhai plagiarism scandal).

So I assume you plan to go for a Ph.D in China. If you go for a Ph.D. in the top-level universities in China (Project 985 University), or the Chinese Academy of Science, you will have a lot of pressure, same as if you pursue a Ph.D. in the US. You have to publish 3 first-author peer-reviewed manuscripts in SCI-level journals and finish a dissertation written in Chinese.

So back to your question: do you have to follow a 996 schedule? As far as I know, right now many professors wouldn't ask their Ph.D. to do this, however, many Ph.D. worked on weekends voluntarily because they have to make good progress and publish papers. So it really depends on your research progress yourself. I really don't think your professor would force you to follow 996, but if you feel behind or you feel the pressure to graduate, you may force yourself to work on the weekends. When I studied in the US for my Ph.D., my advisor never asked me to follow a 996 schedule, but I worked 6 days a week in order to get more results and publish high-quality papers.

All in all, doing a Ph.D. in top-level universities in China is the same as you pursuing a Ph.D. in the US, Canada, or Europe. You need to take courses, publish papers, pass PhD qualify exam, finish the dissertation, oral defend Ph.D., and eventually and congratulations get your degree.

PS: If you really really plan to purse a graduate school degree in China, try the universities in the 985 Project University List in China. Honestly, I really don't think foreigners would benefit a lot if you enroll in a graduate program that is not on the 985 Project list.

  • I am absolute not asking about graduate school, the question is about lower ranking academics (such as postdocs).
    – Ambicion
    Jan 14, 2022 at 23:10
  • I know 996 is a toxic culture in China, and I really understand your concern. But 996 usually refers to IT industry. I believe most professors wouldn't require their postdocs to follow a 996 schedule. Jan 21, 2022 at 5:26

As far as I know, this depends on the department and the PI. In China, getting tenure is difficult, partly because of the low percentage of assistant professors receiving tenure. Usually less than 20% of the tenure-track faculty at top universities receive tenure, and this could be as low as 3% at several universities, e.g. Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou (link in Chinese).

So, assistant professors tend to work extra long hours, especially in the lab-based sciences. Even if you don't work for an AP, some PIs tend to ask their students to work long hours. In China, graduate students are not afforded protection under labor laws, and even full time employees are often asked to "voluntarily forfeit" overtime pay. This is a flagrant violation of labor regulations, yet it has become the norm nowadays, so some managers (in and outside of academia) do this without remorse.

Chinese workplaces love carding employees in/out: usually, students and postdocs are asked to card in and card out when they arrive at and leave the lab, respectively. If you work for a demanding PI, then you likely do have to show up for long hours (e.g., you must card in by 9am and may not card out before 9pm). So, 12 hours per day, definitely not unheard of.

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    3% chance of promotion sounds like a really good reason to not work long hours. Jan 13, 2022 at 19:28
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    @AnonymousPhysicist: not particularly in China, as if you get kicked out of your tenure track job your career outlook would be rather dim, as Chinese employers tend to be ageist (there's no law protecting against age discrimination). If one doesn't get promoted, chances that their opportunities for further employment is rather limited, i.e. provincial colleges or even polytechnics at best. So maybe it's better to work hard and try to be part of the 3%...
    – xuq01
    Jan 13, 2022 at 19:33

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