Digital nomads are becoming more common in China

Digital nomads are becoming more common in China
The DAO Space in Dali, Yunnan province. It opened in August in an old bed-sheet factory and charges customers just 480 yuan a month.Photographer: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg

If you haven’t heard of the “996" system, it’s pretty brutal. It’s a kind of work culture well-known in China where people work from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., six days a week. And on the flip side of that, you have a protest work style called tang ping, which means “lying flat," where workers do as little work as possible to keep their job – you might also know this as “quiet quitting."

But, believe it or not, not everyone falls neatly into those two categories, and some people in China are finding new ways to work around the system, making the most of their free time outside the hustle and bustle of cities. Specifically, the number of digital nomads – people who move somewhere cheaper or more convenient while continuing to work remotely – in China is growing.

Some of these digital nomads are finding themselves in amazing places, like Richard Hao, who is a programmer for a company in Shenzhen while living in Dali, a tourist town with beautiful mountains and ancient pagodas, about 1,800 kilometers (1,100 miles) from Shenzhen. Others are investing in alternative forms of living, like a couple in Shenzhen who chose to start living out of a van instead of renting an apartment.

And some think these kinds of working arrangements could solve some of China’s problems. For example, despite having large numbers of highly educated workers, Gen Z has had trouble entering the workforce in China, creating a nearly 20% jobless rate. Some say that being able to work as a digital nomad could free up both companies and workers to be willing to work together.

The question now, experts say, is if the Chinese work culture will be willing to adapt to it. According to West Virginia University sociology professor Rachael Woldoff, “What is less clear to us is whether Chinese work culture is ready to adapt to this and how much Chinese workers would want to engage in it."