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China's suicide rate soaring
Tue, Dec 09, 2008
AFP

BEIJING - A TWO-YEAR-OLD boy was orphaned in the southwest Chinese city of Chongzhou when his parents drank pesticide after a nasty row.

The tragedy, reported in the state media last month, bears testimony to the dark side of reform - suicide rates that are now among the highest in the world.

On average, a Chinese person takes his or her own life every two minutes, giving the world's most populous nation a dismal record as it prepares to celebrate 30 years of otherwise spectacular economic reform.

'With the reforms, society has become more complicated,' said Dr Huo Datong, the first psychoanalyst to practise in China.

'Individualism has become more pronounced and psychological problems have become more and more serious,' he said from Chengdu, a city in the southwest.

Since reform kicked off in 1978, the Middle Kingdom has been through enormous upheavals and so has the psyche of its 1.3 billion people.

Society has been uprooted as traditional family and clan structures have disintegrated, straining social relations and putting the individual under immense stress, experts said.

In just one generation, China's millennia-old civilisation has become one dedicated almost entirely to profit, with profound consequences.

In the overall rush to get rich, a culture of competition places huge pressure not least on children, who usually have no siblings and face almost impossible expectations from their parents to be successful.

In a country where three or even four generations used to live under one roof, the elderly are now abandoned - once an almost unthinkable crime - while rural migrants go to the cities to work, leaving their children behind.

'We see more patients in psychiatric hospitals who are there because the economic development has caused old family bonds to dissolve. People are more isolated from others,' said Dr Huo.

It is a time of unprecedented possibilities for education, leisure and travel and more people are allowed to climb the social ladder than ever before.

But at the same time many Chinese succumb to a frightening sense of insecurity.

In the past, the Communist Party regulated everyone's lives, guaranteeing the 'iron rice bowl' of government support from cradle to grave. This is no longer the case and many Chinese have lost their footing.

With between 250,000 and 300,000 suicides a year, China accounts for about a quarter of the global total, according to medical sources.

It is the only country in the world where more women than men take their own lives, with female suicides representing 58 percent of the total, they said.

Women in the countryside are particularly at risk, often breaking under the triple burdens of working the fields, supporting their parents and looking after their children.

'People have become more fragile,' said Mr Zhang Chun, the head of a suicide prevention network in the eastern city of Nanjing.

'Since the opening up, the rapid social changes and the clash between modern and traditional values have made many people lose their mental balance,' he said. 'Many now try to regain the balance in the rush for money.'

Even as China has moved to the spot of the world's fourth-largest economy, filling many Chinese with pride, suicide has become the main cause of death in the age group between 15 and 34.

China is also one of the rare nations where suicides are more frequent in the countryside than in the cities.

'The number of suicides is three to four times larger than in the cities,' said Prof Yang Qing, a professor of psychology at Shenzhen University in the south.

The Chinese are caught in the middle of the often conflicting demands of Communism, Confucianism and capitalism, and they do not know which one to turn to, experts say.

'This is not like the West where the majority have a religious faith,' said Dr Zhu Wanli, a psychologist from the southwest Chinese city of Chongqing. 'Most people here do not have any religion, especially not the young.'

And if they do go to the temples, for many it is in order to light incense in a pious plea - for money.

 

 
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