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As the temperature in Chongqing reached above 104 degrees Fahrenheit for seven consecutive days, the extreme weather raised health alerts for people working in the delivery industry as they work twelve hours a day in the heat with little to no protection. 

Despite the heat in the summer, Chongqing is quickly becoming one of the most popular cities to travel to in China in recent years because of its rich entertainment culture and various street food. While the city’s booming economy brought prosperity and exchange of culture from all over the country, it also brought struggle and pressure for the people underpinning the economic success of this city.  

Junjie Li is originally from the Fuling district of Chongqing, working a summer job before his third year in high school. Li does delivery for Meituan, a Chinese platform for retail services, including entertainment, dining and delivery. Li is among many working for the company who struggle to make a living while being concerned about the risk of being exposed to such high temperatures, especially when Chongqing’s tourism industry is highly developed while the food delivery industry is short on employees.

“The heat wave this year made our work even more difficult,” Li said. “I was a standard delivery man with supervision when I started working [for Meituan], wearing their yellow uniforms with the company’s name on it. We need to follow stricter rules and have meetings once in a while to report on how things are going, but we are paid at a significantly lower price for each order and get a lot of deduction if an order is late or if we receive a negative review from the customer.” 

The deduction is about 500 yuan, or 56 dollars, per order, which is about one’s weekly salary. 

Li soon transferred to being an informal employee of Meituan, which made his job a lot more flexible since now he can determine how many orders he wants to take daily. The deduction is significantly lower than before if an order is late, from 500 yuan to about 50 yuan, or seven dollars, per order. However, it also means that Li can no longer enjoy the benefits and protections from the company, which include insurance, subsidies at high temperatures, and employees’ need to rent their own motorcycles and pay for the gas; Li said he is essentially on his own now. 

Li is one among many people in the industry willing to work without protection in exchange for the benefits of a flexible schedule and higher pay, but he also understands the risks of doing it.

“It is nice that you get to control the pace of work, but it is highly dangerous, especially in this year’s heat,” Li said. “Many people choose to end the day earlier than usual and take a break, but lots of people also don’t have that option because they have to make money. If the order is running out of time soon, we will just have to ride faster with the motorcycle down the highway.” 

Chongqing is one of the main places for motorcycle production in China, which is one of the reasons why the delivery business can thrive in this city. It is also more convenient to use motorcycles to go into more narrow streets and neighborhoods, which Chongqing has a lot of. It is easy to weave in and out of traffic with a motorcycle, but it is also very easy to get hurt since they are often too close to the cars. Li understands the risk that he is taking by riding a motorcycle without the company’s protection.  

Although Chongqing is quickly becoming a center for commerce and trade, a lot of the old buildings there are still preserved and kept well as part of the city’s culture and history. 

“We delivery people usually don’t like going to old residential buildings because they usually do not have elevators, and often the customers refuse to come down and get the order, so we have to climb up the stairs,” Li said. “They [the customers] don’t care if we are exhausted; they only care if they get their food on time.”

Shusong Lin is a formal employee of another food delivery service platform named, with approximately 62.6 million monthly active users in China. Lin is 25 years old and has been working for the company for four months.

Like Li, Lin has also faced difficulties in this line of business.

“You fully rely on your body’s health doing this business in this weather,” Lin said. “It’s not just me, everyone working in this industry often breaks traffic rules to get an order in on time, and customers don’t understand; after all the sweat and tears, we get nothing in the end if they give a negative review on us. I will go out of my way to pick up orders for long distances and take orders during hot or rainy days because the price of those orders is a lot higher.”

Lin also mentioned the unique style of architecture in Chongqing, where there are buildings within buildings; in those cases, the navigation system on the phone becomes wildly inaccurate, and they get lost in the facilities a lot.

The end of Chongqing’s scorching summer is still a long way off, and people like Li and Lin need to continue to work.