SUICIDES IN CHINA
Suicide rate in China: 6.7 deaths per 100,000 people (8.6 for males and 4.8 for females): (compared to 12.2 in Japan, 23.5 in South Africa, 14.5 in the U.S. and 2.3 in Jamaica. [Source: World Health Organization, Wikipedia, 2019 wikipedia.org
According to an article in the China Daily in 2011 about 287,000 people commit suicide each year in China, resulting in 3.6 percent of the country's annual deaths. Seventy-five percent of suicide cases occurred in rural areas, three times number of suicides committed in cities, according to statistics posted on the website of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention. China's suicide rate reflects a trend different from other countries," article posted on the website at that time said. The number of suicides is 25 percent higher for females than males in China, but in developed countries male suicide rates are three times higher than female suicide rates, said the article. [Source: China Daily September 8, 2011 ==]
About 26 percent of the world's suicides take place in China. A survey jointly conducted by the Chinese CDC and the Beijing-based Huilongguan Hospital ranks suicide as the fifth leading cause of death overall and the leading cause of death for people aged 15 and 34 in China. About two million Chinese citizens attempt suicide each year, and the figure has increased by 60 percent between 1960 and 2010. according to the CDC. According to the 2011 China Daily article every year around 2.25 million people attempt suicide in China; around 287,000 succeed. This works out to a rate of 23 per 100,000, more than double the rate in the United States. The rate used to be higher. In the early 1990s China had the second highest suicide rate in the world behind Hungary. According to one study there were 343,000 suicides in China in 1990.
Hanging and drinking poison or pesticides are the most common ways to commit suicide in the countryside. One AIDS victim who figured he would commit suicide before he wasted away told Reuters, “Given the choice between hanging myself or eating pesticides, I’d prefer to hang myself.” For a long time China was s one of a few countries in the world in which more women (58 percent of the total) commit suicide than men and in which rural residents die by their own hand in greater numbers than their urban counterparts. Suicide is now the leading cause of death for people between the ages 15 and 34. The rural suicide rate is three times higher than the urban rate. Poverty and access to pesticides are cited as reasons why.
See Separate Articles: POVERTY AND POOR PEOPLE IN CHINA factsanddetails.com ; RURAL POOR IN CHINA AND PROBLEMS IN CHINESE VILLAGES factsanddetails.com ; HOMELESS PEOPLE AND URBAN POVERTY IN CHINA factsanddetails.com ; COMBATING POVERTY IN CHINA factsanddetails.com ; CHINESE SOCIETY factsanddetails.com ; INCOME DISPARITY IN CHINA factsanddetails.com ; RURAL LIFE IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; MIGRANT WORKERS IN CHINAFactsanddetails.com/China
Websites and Sources: Wikipedia article on Poverty in China Wikipedia ; Social Issues in China peopledaily.com ; Wikipedia article on Social Issues in China Wikipedia ; Suicide in China Guardian story guardian.co.uk ; China Daily article chinadaily.com ; Center for Disease Control cdc.gov
Suicides in 19th Century China
In 1899, Arthur Henderson Smith wrote in “Village Life in China”:“The principal concern of every one interested is the “face” of the family involved, and to save this imaginary self-respect it may be necessary for some one to commit suicide, which is done with the smallest provocation at all times. No Chinese is ever quite free from the dread that some one of his household may take this step. Provision is expressly made in Chinese law for the punishment of those who can be proved to have “urged to death” others; a crime which is treated as manslaughter. This fact alone would serve as a gauge of the wide interval between the civilizations of the west and of China. [Source:“Chinese Characteristics” by Arthur Henderson Smith, 1894. Smith (1845 -1932) was an American missionary who spent 54 years in China. In the 1920s, “Chinese Characteristics” was still the most widely read book on China among foreign residents there. He spent much of his time in Pangzhuang, a village in Shandong.]
“Moral discord can be cured only by radical and not by superficial remedies. Yet there is one prescription of an economic as distinguished from a moral type which were it tried on a large scale for a generation or two might work such a revolution that China would hardly know itself. If marriages could be invariably postponed until the partners had arrived at mature age, and if on occasion of the marriage of each son the family property were divided so that a conflict of interests were no longer unavoidable, a whole continent of evils would be nipped in the bud.
“At the inquiry held in marine courts as to the reasons for the wreck of great steamers with all their passengers and cargo, in the Formosan Channel, it is often shown that the vessel was acted upon by a powerful but hidden current which made ruin inevitable. The hereditary habits of the Chinese in the agglomeration of large numbers of individuals under one head constitute a drift toward disunity and disintegration. We firmly believe that the strain upon the temper and the disposition incident to the mechanical collocation of so many human beings in one compound-family on the Chinese plan is one which no society in the world could endure, because it is more than human nature can bear. It is certain that the resultant evils are inevitable, insufferable, and by any means at the command of the Chinese incurable.
Daughter-in-Law Suicides in 19th Century China
Daughter-in-laws in China have traditionally gotten a raw deal and sometimes this has resulted in suicides. Smith wrote: “The real position of any class of people may be learned by an examination of their ideals. One of the native Chinese newspapers a short time ago contained a notice of a young woman whose parents had betrothed her to a youth who turned out to be a profligate, and who squandered what little substance he had in rioting and debauchery. The parents of the girl desired to break off the, engagement, but this would, have been impossible if the young man had not waxed indignant and voluntarily returned the engagement papers. The parents of the girl were about to arrange for a more, eligible match When the girl, becoming aware of what was going on; burst Into tears, declaring that she had been betrothed to the young man, arid would either be his wife if alive or his spirit consort if dead; and would under no circumstances have another husband: When her parents refused to listen to her entreaties, she hanged herself at night by a strip of cotton cloth. The comment of the native paper is. significant, "!|5uch heroic fidelity and devotion are deservedly worthy of commendation, and esteem." This young woman, was a thorough-going Confucianist; her parents were only Confucianists, in part. Cases of similar behaviour on the part of Chinese girls do not appear to be uncommon. [Source:“Chinese Characteristics” by Arthur Henderson Smith, 1894]
“The governor of Horian, in a memorial published in the Peking Gazette a few years ago, showed incidentally that while there is responsibility in the eye of the law for the murder of a child by a parent, this is rendered nugatory by the provision that even if a married woman should wilfully and maliciously murder her young daughter-in-law the murderess may ransom herself by a money payment. The case reported was that in which a woman had burned the girl who was reared to become her son's wife with incense sticks, then roasted her cheeks with red-hot pincers, and finally boiled her to death with kettles full of scalding water. Other similar instances are referred to in the same memorial, the source of which places its authenticity beyond doubt. Such extreme barbarities are probable rare, but the cases of cruel treatment which are so aggravated as to lead to suicide, or to an attempt at suicide, are so frequent as to excite little more than passing comment. The writer is personally acquainted with many families in which these occurrences have taken place, and even while these lines are committed to paper, details of another instance are given by a mother, who wishes for sympathy in her trouble. In this case, the mother-in-law, whose family consisted only of herself, her son and her son's wife, exercised such a tyranny over the two latter, that they were never allowed to eat or to sleep together. If the son wished to please his mother, he did so by beating his wife. The latter being accused of having appropriated to her own use a skein of thread which did not belong to her, was so abused in consequence, that she threw herself into a well, whence she was rescued by her husband. Her mother brought her to the foreign home in which the mother was employed as nurse, and the daughter having passed a few days in this seclusion, remarked, with a bitter reference to her previous abode, that "it was so peaceful that it seemed like heaven I"
“The woes of daughters-in-law in China should form the subject rather for a chapter than for a brief paragraph. When it is remembered that all Chinese women marry, and generally marry young, being for a considerable part of their lives under the absolute control of a mother-in-law, some faint conception may be gained of the intolerable miseries of those daughters-in-law who live in families where they are abused. Parents can do absolutely nothing to protect their married daughters, other than remonstrating with the families into which they have married, and exacting an expensive funeral, if the daughters should be actually driven to suicide. If a husband should seriously injure, or even kill his wife, he might escape all legal consequences, by representing that she was "unfilial" to his parents. Suicides of young wives are, we must repeat, excessively frequent, and in some regions scarcely a group of villages can be found where they have not recently taken place. What" can be more pitiful than a mother's reproaches to a married daughter, who has attempted suicide and been rescued; "Why didn't you die when you had a chance?"
Change and Suicide in China
Yu Hua wrote in The Guardian in 2018: In my 58 years, I have experienced three dramatic changes, and each one has been accompanied by a surge in suicides among officials. The first time was during Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution, which began in 1966. At the start of that period, many members of the Chinese Communist party woke up one day to find they had been purged: overnight they had become “power-holders taking the capitalist road”. After suffering every kind of psychological and physical abuse, some chose to take their own lives. In the small town in south China where I grew up, some hanged themselves or swallowed insecticide, while others threw themselves down wells: wells in south China have narrow mouths, and if you dive into one headfirst, there is no way you will come out alive. [Source: Yu Hua, The Guardian, September 6, 2018. Yu Hua is a famous writer in China, considered a candidate for the Nobel Prize. He is the author of “Chronicle of a Blood Merchant”, “To Live” and “Brothers.”]
“In the early stages of the Cultural Revolution, many people from the lowest tiers of society formed their own mass organisations, proclaiming themselves commanders of a “Cultural Revolution headquarters”. These individuals — rebels, they were called — often went on to secure official positions of one kind or another. They enjoyed only a brief career, however. Following Mao’s death in 1976, the subsequent end of the Cultural Revolution and the emergence of the reform-minded Deng Xiaoping as China’s new leader, some rebels believed they would suffer just as much as the officials they had tormented a few years before.
“Thus came the second surge in suicides — this time of officials who had clawed their way to power as revolutionary radicals. One official in my little town drowned himself in the sea: he smoked a lot of cigarettes first, and the stubs littering the shore marked the agony of indecision that preceded his death. This was a much smaller surge in suicides than the first one, because Deng was not out for political revenge, focusing instead on kickstarting economic reforms and opening up to the west. This policy led in turn to China’s economic miracle, the downside of which has been environmental pollution, growing inequality and pervasive corruption.
“In late 2012 came the third dramatic change in my lifetime, when China entered the era of Xi Jinping. No sooner did Xi become general secretary of the Communist party than our new leader launched an anti-corruption drive, the scale and force of which took almost everyone by surprise. The third surge in suicides followed. When officials who had stuffed their pockets during China’s breakneck economic rise discovered they were being investigated and realised they could not wriggle free, some put an end to things by suicide. In cases involving lower-ranking officials who were under investigation but had not yet been taken into custody, the government explanation was that their suicides were triggered by depression. But, if a high-ranking official took his own life, a harsher judgment was passed. On 23 November 2017, after Zhang Yang, a general, hanged himself in his own home, the People’s Liberation Army Daily reported that he “had evaded party discipline and the laws of the nation” and described his suicide as “a disgraceful action”.
“These three surges in suicide demonstrate the failure and impotence of legal institutions in China. The public security organs, prosecutorial agencies and courts all stopped functioning at the start of the Cultural Revolution; thereafter, laws existed only in name. Since Mao’s death, a robust legal system has never truly been established and, today, law’s failure manifests itself in two ways. First, the law is strong only on paper: in practice, law tends to be subservient to the power that officials wield. Second, when officials realise they are being investigated and know their position won’t save them, some will choose to die rather than submit to legal sanctions, for officials who believe in power don’t believe in law. These two points, seemingly at odds, are actually two sides of the same coin. The difference between the three surges in suicide is this: the first two were outcomes of a political struggle; framed by the start and the end of the Cultural Revolution. The third, by contrast, stems from the blight of corruption that has accompanied 30 years of rapid economic development.
High Rate Suicides Among Females in China in the 1990s
China was the home of the 56 percent of the world's female suicides in the 1990s. The rate of suicides for females in China at that time was 33.5 per 100,000 compared to 7.1 per 100,000 in the rest of the world. The rate was particularly high among rural women between the ages of 15 and 39. Chinese Women killed themselves at double the rate of men. In most countries the suicide rate is much higher men among than women.
Suicide was the leading cause of death for rural women in China. Some ended up as nameless and unclaimed bodies that were fished out the Yellow River and then thrown back in because nobody claimed them. About three times as many rural women killed themselves as urban women. Most rural women and 58 percent of all women who attempted suicide in the 1990s ingested liquid pesticide. Pesticides are favored because they are readily available, cheap and effective. Some pesticides are so strong that a couple of tablespoons can kill a person in two hours.
Xie Lihua, an editor of an education magazine for rural women, told the Independent that doctors in rural Hubei province "said suicide looked like a contagious disease there; people just took their lives very lightly. People talked about this family's daughter or that family's daughter-in-law drinking pesticide very naturally, as if not a serious matter." Xie described one 38-year-old woman who killed herself with a bottle of pesticide apparently from the trauma of taking care of an eight-person household by herself while her husband was having an affair. After she died her 16-year-old daughter became responsible for taking care of the family. After a year of thankless labor, scolding and criticism she "joined her mother." Before drinking a bottle of pesticide, she made cloth shoes for her brothers. Another woman refused to marry her idle brother-in-law after her husband died as is the custom in many parts of rural China. The woman left her village and remarried but the marriage feel apart because they could not have any children. Depressed she returned to her mother-in-law's house and committed suicide the next day.
Reasons for Female Suicides in China
Common reasons for the suicides by rural women have included unfaithful husbands and disputes over money. Canadian psychiatrist Dr. Michael Phillips told the Independent that he believed that one third to one half of female suicides "are impulsive acts that do not have an underlying major depression." Philips also believes that seeing people on television living better lives than one's own may also be a factor in the suicides. By some estimates 80 percent of the suicide deaths by rural women in the 1990s were the result of conflicts between husbands and wives. Many victims were trapped in abusive marriages or lived with domineering in-laws or were upset over abortions. Girls and young women were often pushed around by their fathers, brothers and mothers in law. Many young girls were virtually sold into marriages. Wives were often little more than servants in their husband’s household.
Xie told the Independent, "Suicide is not a new problem, it has existed for a long time. In traditional Chinese culture, rural women do not value themselves and are not valued by others. They take their lives very lightly. If they meet some unsolvable problems, they solve it by taking their own lives." One reason young rural women are especially prone to attempt suicide, a Chinese expert on such matters, told the Washington Post, is that young women “are unprepared for the great shock of the life, such as family conflict and a fast-changing social environment. Most women who commit suicide have a poor education..and are strongly influenced by traditional thoughts of the old China.” One study found that a high percentage of women who attempt suicide have an average of only five years of schooling and live in households with a median income of only $13 a month. Most said they were unhappily married and, 42 percent said they had money problems and 38 percent said their husbands beat them. One British sociologist told Reuters women between 15 and 19 years "appear to be having the most difficulty adjusting to socio-economic change. These women are often suffer tremendously in caring for their family from a young age, and live a fairly lonely existence in a harsh matriarchal society.”
On the impulsive nature of many of these suicides, the Washington Post described a woman in a village in that got into an argument with her husband because she couldn’t sleep because he was watching television. She stomped out of the house and grabbed bottle of pesticide and began gulping it down. “I just drank a little bit, but it burned my throat and my mouth,” she told the Washington Post. “I took it without thinking anything deep. I just felt wronged, and I acted rashly. I never thought of the two children, not a bit. I thought of nothing.” The woman’s mother-in-law heard the argument, found the woman and knocked the pesticide bottle from her hands. The woman ended up in the hospital, forcing her family to pay a medical bill that amounted to a third of their annual income.
Teen and Child Suicides in China
In May 2014, China’s state media published research that places much of the blame for teen suicideon the country’s cutthroat test-oriented education system. The Wall Street Journal reported: “Suicide has been an increasing problem in China, with state media calling it the leading cause of death for people between the ages of 15 and 34. The government has said in the past that roughly a quarter of a million people commit suicide every year in China, with particularly high rates in rural areas, although it doesn’t break out specific numbers for teens. [Source: Chao Deng, China Real Time blog, Wall Street Journal, May 15, 2014]
Leo Lewis wrote in The Times: “His mother was not back yet, so the 12-year-old let himself into the small ground-floor flat they shared in western Beijing. Programmed to strive and conscientious by nature, Xiaozongzi would normally settle down for a twohour homework session before dinner. Instead, he quietly took the lift to the sixteenth floor, climbed a flight of mouldy concrete stairs to the roof, and threw himself off. A fortnight after his death, the blood of Xiaozongzi — a nickname that oozes parental love and means ‘‘little rice dumpling’’ — remains on the ground where he fell. A dozen small sacks of gravel attempt, ineffectually, to cover it. Residents have been sworn to silence. Those who talk do so nervously and at a distance from the building.[Source: Leo Lewis, The Times, December 20, 2013]
“It is as if something terribly shameful has happened here. Shameful, but not necessarily shocking. As revealed this week in an international comparison of student performances, China may generate the sort of literacy rates and mathematics scores that excite and embarrass British education ministers, but Chinese children and parents know that it all comes at a fearsome cost. The boy’s suicide, say his mother and relatives, was a product of China’s education system — an ultra-competitive, overcrowded environment geared towards discipline and stripped of any real humanity.
See Separate Articles PROBLEMS WITH THE CHINESE EDUCATION SYSTEM factsanddetails.com ; CHILD REARING IN CHINA factsanddetails.com
Farmer with Five Kids Commits Suicide over One-Child Policy Fines
In 2013, a farmer in Liangerzhuang, Hebei Province killed himself by drinking pesticide after officials seized his family’s annual food supply for violating one-child policy. AFP reported: A Chinese farmer with five children drank a fatal dose of pesticide at a communist chief’s house after officials seized his family’s annual food supply for violating the one-child policy, reports said on Monday. [Source: AFP, December 9, 2013]
Ai Guangdong, 45, had more than 3.5 tonnes of corn — the family’s entire source of income until next year’s harvest — confiscated last week by five officials in Liangerzhuang, in the northern province of Hebei, the People’s Daily Online said. He went to the party chief’s home to discuss the issue, where he drank the pesticide, and later died in hospital, the Global Times reported.
Ai and his wife Xie Yufeng had four daughters and a son, their youngest, and their farm makes them only around 5,000 yuan (HK$6,334) a year, according to the reports. Under China’s hugely controversial one-child policy some rural couples are allowed to have a second child if the first is a girl. But officials have been taking money from them ever since their second daughter was born, Xie said, and demanded 60,000 yuan after the birth of the third child, the People’s Daily Online report said. “We could never afford that, ” it quoted Xie as saying, adding they were not given receipts for any of the fines they paid.
The village chief had disappeared, along with his family, since the incident, it added. The local government offered Ai’s family 15,000 yuan for aid and funeral costs, and future social security benefits, which the family rejected, it said. Fines for violators of the One-Child Policy have become a significant source of income for China’s local governments. In last year, 24 of the country’s 31 provinces and regions collected a total of nearly 20 billion yuan in penalties, Chinese media reported previously. None of the provincial authorities has detailed how the money was spent.
Chinese Woman Kills Herself and Children after Husbands 'Fakes Death'
In 2018, woman killed herself and children after her husband faked his death to get insurance money. The BBC reported: “A 34-year-old was presumed dead after a car he borrowed was found in a river, though his body was never recovered. He did not tell his wife his alleged plan and she believed he had died. She drowned herself and their children three weeks later, after posting a suicide note online. The man, who police said was surnamed He, turned himself in to police in Xinhua county in Hunan province. He has been detained on charges of insurance fraud and intentional damage to property, Xinhua police said in a statement on WeChat — a social media platform. [Source: BBC, October 17, 2018]
In September 2018, Mr He bought an insurance plan worth one million yuan ($145,000) without his wife's knowledge, police said. According to a report by state-run Voice of China radio, his wife was named as the beneficiary. On September 19 , Mr He used a borrowed vehicle to fake his own death in a car crash, police said. He was found to have loans of more than 100,000 yuan. On 11 October, the bodies of his 31-year-old wife, their four-year-old son and three-year-old daughter were found in a pond near their home, according to the Voice of China, which broadcast parts of the suicide note that had been posted on WeChat.
Mr He turned himself in to police the next day. He had earlier posted a video online, which was later widely circulated, in which he was crying and saying he had borrowed money to pay for treatment for his three-year-old daughter, who suffered from epilepsy. The incident has been widely talked about across Chinese social media, sparking conversations about financial pressures and familial issues. The hashtag #ManFakesDeathLeadingtoWifesDeath been viewed almost 29 million times on microblogging site Weibo.
Social media users have been unsympathetic towards Mr He's situation. Thousands on the popular Sina Weibo microblog have been discussing the case, with many saying they find his apology "insincere", writes BBC Monitoring's Kerry Allen. But others note the tragedy of the situation, with one saying that this is an instance of being "something too unimaginable to think about". Zhang Xinnian, a Beijing-based lawyer, says the causal relation between He's alleged fraud and Dai's suicide "will be difficult to prove in court", the Global Times reports.
Drop in the Number of Suicides
The number of suicides has been dropping steadily for the past three decades reaching fewer than 195,000 a year in the early 2010s, compared to 287,000 a year in the 1990s. The suicide rate of males in China has mostly declined from 15.5 in 2000 to 14.3 in 2001 to 14.0 in 2002 to 14.6 in 2003 to 15.0 in 2004 to 14.5 in 2005 to 13.4 in 2006 to 12.7 in 2007 to 12.4 in 2008 to 11.9 in 2009 to 11.5 in 2010 to 10.7 in 2011 to 10.0 in 2012 to 9.5 in 2013 to 9.3 in 2014 to 9.0 in 2015 to 9.0 in 2016 to 8.9 in 2017 to 8.8 in 2018 to 8.6 in 2019. [Source: World Health Organization, Wikipedia]
The suicide rate of females in China has mostly declined from 14.5 in 2000 to 12.6 in 2001 to 11.2 in 2002 to 11.5 in 2003 to 11.9 in 2004 to 11.4 in 2005 to 10.5 in 2006 to 9.6 in 2007 to 9.0 in 2008 to 8.4 in 2009 to 7.8 in 2010 to 7.1 in 2011 to 6.4 in 2012 to 5.9 in 2013 to 5.6 in 2014 to 5.3 in 2015 to 5.1 in 2016 to 5.0 in 2017 to 4.9 in 2018 to 4.8 in 2019.
Dr Michael Phillips, one of China's top psychiatrists, told the South China Morning Post the reasons behind the dramatic drop in mainland suicides are complex, involving multiple factors. "Nobody can predict whether the suicide rate goes up or down, and there are just many, many factors that work together to result in the suicide rate," he says. "What are the major ones? My guess is economic improvement ... there are a lot fewer people living in poverty right now." [Source: Alice Yan,South China Morning Post, December 16, 2011]
There are still some differences between China and Western countries. Drinking pesticide remains the most common method of committing suicide on the mainland, and the suicide rate is now equal for men and women, with the rate in rural areas now double that in urban centres. In addition, most Western doctors would not believe, Phillips says, that one third of mainlanders who kill themselves and two thirds of those who attempt suicide, do not have a diagnosable mental illness. In the West, 90 per cent in both categories have active mental problems.
Suicide Prevention in China
A hotline for suicides was not set up in China until the early 2000s. AFP reported: Mental health problems have become more common across China in recent decades, according to a study published in medical journal The Lancet in 2019. It suggested rapid social change could be to blame, spurring psychological pressure and stress. Mental health advocates say there is a desperate shortage of qualified professionals equipped to deal with the surge of people experiencing psychological problems, while social stigma around mental health can add to the burden. [Source: AFP, South China Morning Post, April 16, 2021]
Dr Michael Phillips is one of China's top psychiatrists and has played a key role in suicide prevention efforts that have helped save the lives of an estimated 2 million mainlanders. Phillips, better known on the mainland as Fei Lipeng ,is based in Shanghai, and executive director of the WHO Collaborating Centre for Research and Training in Suicide Prevention at Beijing Huilongguan Hospital. He is also treasurer and China representative at the International Association for Suicide Prevention. [Source: Alice Yan,South China Morning Post, December 16, 2011]
In 2002, Phillips and two mainland colleagues published an article in the medical journal The Lancet that rocked the psychiatric world, at home and abroad. Based on mortality data for 1995-99 provided by the Ministry of Health, "Suicide rates in China, 1995-99" estimated that the mean annual suicide rate was 23 per 100,000, with 287,000 suicides a year, making the mainland's suicide rate one of the highest in the world.
The article said that the rate among women was 25 per cent higher than in men, mainly because of the large number of suicides among young women in rural areas. This was in sharp contrast to Western countries, where three times more men kill themselves, compared to women. The mainland's suicide rate in rural areas was three times higher than in urban centres, with most taking their lives by drinking pesticide.
"There are about 100,000 suicide deaths less every year compared with 20 years ago, and in total two million people have been saved. It's hard to determine my role in this, but I would say I definitely made a contribution," he says. "It's impossible to take part in such a huge project in other countries. That's the attraction of my job."
For 10 years, Phillips has been unsuccessfully trying to promote a national suicide prevention plan to the central government. It is designed to engage multiple institutions, including the education, health, public security and agriculture authorities, and to be implemented in several steps. Phillips says one essential step is to carry out long-term "panel studies" to make teenagers "more psychologically resilient". They would be divided into small groups to interact and learn how to deal with stresses. Other steps include removing the stigma from patients with mental problems, providing a high-quality mental health service, assessing those who are saved from suicide attempts, improving social networks, tightening up on access to pesticides and establishing associations for the families of those who have killed themselves.
Phillips says putting the plan into practice would require money and high-level researchers, and it is difficult for him to get either on the mainland. He says he has never been granted funding from the central government and that all the funding he has received for his projects over the years has come from overseas. "The authorities say the suicide rate has been reduced a lot and this issue is not their priority," he says. Phillips also plans to keep an eye on the implementation of the China Mental Health Law once it is passed. The law has been stuck in the draft stage for 26 years, but is now being considered by the National People's Congress Standing Committee.
Suicide Bridge and the Angel of Nanjing
A bridge spanning the Yangtze River in Nanjing is believed to be the scene of the most suicides in the world. Volunteer Chen Si says he has helped more than 400 people step back from taking their lives brink on his regular visits to the AFP reported: On a grey and rainy morning, Chen Si patrols the Nanjing bridge soaring above China’s Yangtze River, determined to stop the desperate from jumping into the swirling waters below. Every weekend for 18 years, Chen has volunteered to scout the 3km (two-mile) length of the metal expanse, talking to hundreds of people thinking of taking their lives and earning himself the nickname “the Angel of Nanjing”. “But with a cigarette wedged in one hand and flask of green tea clutched in the other, the unsentimental Chen professes to have “no unique skills” beyond expressing empathy for those whose strife led them to China’s “suicide bridge”. [Source: AFP, South China Morning Post, April 16, 2021]
“Chen had his first life-changing encounter there at the age of 22 when he spotted a woman — a young migrant worker like himself — on the edge, 70 metres (230 feet) above the water, crying and contemplating jumping. After he stopped to talk, the woman climbed down and Chen realised he may inadvertently have saved a life. He says he has since helped 412 people step back from the brink on the bridge — roughly one every fortnight. Among them was a young man who was particularly strong and bit through his tongue as several men dragged him from the bridge’s edge, while another was a man who owed millions of yuan. “I tell them that I’m also a very ordinary person, ” Chen said.
“Growing up in poverty in rural Jiangsu province helped Chen understand people’s desperation, describing himself as “a farmer from the village [with] a foothold in the city”. A pile of tattered Freud books bought from a street vendor years ago also kindled an interest in psychology. “Although the books had lost some pages, I kept reading them, ” he said. “It built the basis for me to understand people.” His duties on the bridge weigh heavily on Chen and he visits temples to unburden himself. “In the past, I didn’t have the ability to protect myself, and the people I wasn’t able to save returned to haunt my dreams.” Now, when someone jumps, he turns away.
“When it was completed in 1968, the double-decker Nanjing Yangtze River Bridge was celebrated as a feat of Chinese engineering. It won a place in The Guinness Book of World Records as the longest dual highway and railway bridge. But now it is record-setting for a darker reason: it is believed to be the location of the most suicides in the world, having overtaken the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco some years ago. “Sometimes when we inspect the bridge in the morning, we find a single high-heel shoe, or a phone with a note under it, ” Zhang Chun, director of a civil society group in the city, said. “So we don’t keep count any more but we know it is more than 3,000 lives lost.” Those figures are probably incomplete because traces of some people are never found.
“Official statistics show China’s suicide rate dropping to 5.29 per 100,000 people from 13.56 per 100,000 in 2000-around half the rate in the United States. But from Chen’s perspective, that decline is yet to translate into fewer people on the Nanjing bridge. He now has other volunteers to help him, including psychology students from local universities, and trains them in the urgent task of talking to people on the bridge.
“Based in a small office, with the motto “cry when you need to cry” painted on the wall, Chen converted two rooms into dorms for desperate people without a place to sleep. But the father of one says voluntary work has come at a cost to his personal life. “I didn’t do this alone. It was time that I borrowed from my wife and my child, ” he said, adding that his wife had taken the brunt of childcare. Chen says he will only stop when he no longer has the strength to haul people down from the edge. “I don’t think I’m an angel. I just want to bring light to those who are in the dark, ” he said. “But I can’t save all of them. What is beyond my ability, I just give up to the gods.”
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
Last updated October 2021