While there is growing scholarly interest in work conditions in China’s internet industry, many studies have focused exclusively on corporate employment relations strategies. By contrast, the article demonstrates the Chinese government’s significant role in shaping the collective work experience in business reality. Drawing on three months of fieldwork in China, the findings suggest that the state’s quest for technology supremacy has resulted in internet companies that compete ferociously, which in turn causes extreme working hours and burnout. The censorship of online labour activism and the ambiguity in court decisions also lower the interest of tech workers in organising and defending their labour rights. This study opens up an evidence-based debate on industrial relations in contemporary China and calls for more discussions on the state’s role in shaping worker well-being and protection.