Who wants 9-to-5 jobs? Chinese Youth, Precarity and Security

Research output: Contribution to conferenceConference paperpeer-review


“Slash”, a term coined by the New York Times columnist Marci Alboher to describe how technology has opened up a new horizon for many to pursue multiple careers in 2007, has attracted popular attention when a “slash” freelancer Susan Kuang introduced this term in Wechat to the Chinese readers in 2016. It quickly drew more than 100k readers, with hundreds of follow-up discussion on this. In Euro-American societies, this “slash” phenomenon has been widely critiqued for it over-romanticizes this precarious labour condition as intensifying debates expose how the sharing economy offered by platforms, such as Uber, has skirted national labour laws and worsened precarization. In China, slash, job security and precarization are discursively framed as a trendy lifestyle — consciously and voluntarily — chosen by the ambitious, talented and progressive ones, often rewarded with more income and social admiration. Discourse about “slashies” goes in tandem with a set of popular tech-led discourses about digital-mobile innovation, confidence, endurance, perseverance and selfexploration often personified by iconic figures such as Jack Ma and Ma Huateng. This “slash” subjectivity feeds into China’s evolving tech-led economy, as it needs an aspirational culture that generates dreams and hopes so young people will continue contributing to the nation’s development. Hong Kong, a developed economy once taking pride in being an Asian financial centre, struggles to transform itself with the tech-based economy. The self-reliant, self-exploration, adventurous spirits endorsed by the Chinese version of a slash subjectivity is struggling to find its equivalent in Hong Kong. Drawing on ethnographic research that combines observations and interviews with young entrepreneurs and tech-based startup initiators in Hong Kong and Beijing, this paper puts inter-Asia referencing into practice, so as to understand the diverging governing practices behind the tech-led economic transformations.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 26 Oct 2017
EventThe Industrial Revolution 4.0: Preparing for Disruptive Technologies in 21st Century Asia - Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore, Singapore
Duration: 26 Oct 201727 Oct 2017


WorkshopThe Industrial Revolution 4.0
Internet address

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)
  • Anthropology
  • Cultural Studies
  • Communication
  • Sociology and Political Science


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