China's youth turn to Chairman Mao's writings for comfort after tech executive says they sleep too much

A police officer wearing a face mask stands guard under a giant portrait of the late Chinese chairman Mao Zedong at the Tiananmen Gate in Beijing, China, 2020.
PHOTO: Reuters

A collection of Chairman Mao Zedong's articles has become one of the best online sellers in China in recent days as many people turn to his advice for the country's youth to take more rest.

The Quotations from Chairman Mao Zedong collection was the sixth bestseller in the past 24 hours on online platform, moving up from a ranking of 17th over the past week. On Dangdang, another go-to place for book lovers, the Mao collection was ranked 23rd most popular in the past 24 hours, moving up from 41st over the past week.

The sudden surge in interest in Mao's writings occurred after a tech executive criticised young people for oversleeping in a social media post that went viral among China's netizens.

On the May Fourth Youth Day in China, in honour of young people aged 14 and above and established to commemorate the 1919 May Fourth Movement, Tencent Holdings public relations manager Zhang Jun posted that young people today sleep too much.

"While we are busy working on campaigns to show respect to the youth, they are sleeping," he said on Weibo, China's equivalent to Twitter, receiving more than 90,000 comments and retweets, mostly negative.

"The biggest respect for the youth is to let them have a good sleep," commented one Weibo user in response to Zhang.

Zhang's opinion appears to have touched a raw nerve as many young Chinese have struggled with long working hours and the relentless pace of life in China's digital economy. Many employees, especially those in the internet industry, work what is known as a "996" schedule - meaning from 9am to 9pm, six days a week. These young workers would have been looking forward to a lie-in on May 4.

As such, many netizens are taking comfort from Mao's words, published from 1951 to about 1977 and widely distributed during the Cultural Revolution, on how young people should be treated.

"Young people aged between 18 and 25 need to study and work, but it is also the time for them to grow their body … the work and study load for them should not be too heavy … The youth shall sleep well," Mao wrote in one entry.

This page has been widely shared online and is from the fifth book of the Mao series, the final volume that was out in 1977 but stopped being published in 1982 as some parts did not match the spirit of the 1978 Chinese Communist Party Assembly.

Mathew Chen, a 31-year-old entrepreneur in Chengdu, Sichuan province, said he is looking to buy a copy of the writings.

"In order to run a company [in China], one has to stand with the state," he said, adding that he wanted to deeply understand socialism and the spirit of the Communist Party.

Tencent's Zhang did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The Shenzhen-based internet giant declined to comment.

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.