suicide, suicides in China, rise of suicide
Greg Baker/AP
Beijing, China

Chinese Suicide Rates Skyrocket as Reforms Cause Societal Upheaval

December 11, 2008 11:49 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
As the Middle Kingdom’s citizens struggle to adjust to rapid economic reform, the country’s suicide rate is now one of the highest in the world.

Chinese Commit Suicide Every Two Minutes

Last month, state media reported that a two-year-old boy in the southwest China city of Chongzhou became an orphan after both of his parents committed suicide by drinking pesticide, after a fight. The tragic incident is just one of many, as Agence France-Presse reports that every two minutes, someone in China commits suicide. With 250,000-300,000 suicides a year, China accounts for about a quarter of all suicides globally.

The Middle Kingdom’s 1.3 billion citizens are feeling the side effects of three decades of reforms, which have led to incredible economic growth in what is now the world’s fourth-largest economy but have also created a society increasingly devoted to profit. The breakdown of the traditional family structure has led to the abandonment of the elderly the placing of overwhelming pressure on children, who often have no siblings and must alone carry the burden of their parents’ desire for them to climb the social ladder. Although individualism has flourished, psychological problems are mounting.

“People have become more fragile,” said Zhang Chun, the head of a suicide prevention network in Nanjing, to AFP. “Since the opening up, the rapid social changes and the clash between modern and traditional values have made many people lose their mental balance.”

A report released earlier this year by the Chinese Association for Mental Health found that Chinese youth are particularly susceptible to suicide, as it is now the leading cause of death for those between 15 and 34. Some schools in Shanghai began having their students fill out mental health questionnaires after three students tried to commit suicide in the beginning of September.

China is the only country in which more women than men take their own lives, and is also one of the rare places where rural residents take their lives more frequently than urban dwellers. The China Daily reports that marital problems and other domestic issues are the cause of about half of all suicides in China.

Background: Japanese suicide clubs

Elsewhere in East Asia, Japan has seen a rise in suicide rates, to the tune of 5 percent per year for the last 10 years. The Internet is contributing to the trend, Atlantic Monthly’s David Samuels wrote in a 2007 article. “Once online, it is easy for such groups to attract new members from the free-floating population of lonely, curious, or dissatisfied souls who exist in all times and places, and in all cultures,” Samuels writes. “Vulnerable and unstable members of society are socialized into virtual communities whose shared vocabulary and values become an antidote to loneliness, even as they propel their members toward death.” The BBC reported in 2004 that Internet suicide clubs were growing in Japan, with the rise of specially designed suicide chat rooms to discover partners or groups with whom to take their own lives.
In nearby South Korea, authorities are cracking down on cyberbullying following the high-profile suicide of actress Choi Jin-sil in October. The actress had been subject to false rumors on the Internet linking her to another actor’s suicide the month before. Her death also came a year after singer Yoo Na committed suicide after cyberbullying related to her plastic surgery.

A findingDulcinea article on intense academic pressure in South Korea mentioned that suicide in South Korea increased by 90.8 percent between 1997 and 2007, and 60 percent of all suicides occur in Asia, according to New American Media blog writer Peter Schurmann, who cites a Korea Times report. “In Korea, and much of Asia, there’s this notion of face. That maybe it’s better to take one’s life than bring shame on oneself and one’s family,” Schurmann says, although he also notes that suicide should not be used inappropriately to “essentialize Asian culture.” “I’ve known several families affected by suicide, Asian and Western, and they’ve all been devastated by it,” he says.

Reference: International suicide statistics

The World Health Organization reports that each year, about 1 million people commit suicide—16 people per 100,000 globally. One death by suicide occurs every 40 seconds, a rate that is expected to increase to one every 20 seconds by 2020. Suicide rates have increased by 60 percent worldwide in the past 45 years and is now one of the top three causes of death for those aged 15-44, both male and female.

Related Topic: Assisted suicide in the news

On Wednesday, British television broadcasted a suicide for the first time. SKY TV aired a documentary about the death of Craig Ewert, an American citizen who resided in Yorkshire, North England, for many years and ended his life at an assisted suicide clinic in Switzerland in 2006. Ewert, who had suffered paralysis due to motor neuron disease, had invited Canadian filmmakers to film his last moments. The film shows the 59-year-old swallowing “a lethal mixture of sedatives and switching off his life-support machine with his wife by his side.”

Mark James, the father of rugby player Daniel James who committed assisted suicide in a Swiss clinic in September, describes his son’s last moments at an inquest: “We sat around while they explained to Daniel what was going to happen. They asked Daniel several times if that was his wishes because she said when he takes this drink obviously he will die. She asked did he want to proceed. He said ‘that’s right.’” Daniel James, who was 23 at the time of his death, became paralyzed after a rugby accident in March 2007 and became depressed about his condition.

Most Recent Beyond The Headlines