How precious is life? Perhaps we only realize its value when confronted with death. Last week, the death of an employee who worked for the Beijing branch of Ogilvy & Mather, one of the world's biggest PR firms, has triggered online discussions about how young people should balance life and work. But there were more serious social issues beyond the sad story.
The 24-year-old man died from a sudden heart attack. Prior to his death, he had been working overtime for a month and never left the office before 11pm every day.
In the eyes of some white-collar workers in hustling and bustling cities, he was just "unlucky," because he was only one of the thousands of diligent bees who have to work overtime for almost every working day throughout the year.
Overwork is no big deal in China. If somebody never works overtime, then people tend to think his or her work is not that rewarding.
But at the same time, overwork has become a serious problem. According to the China Youth Daily, almost 600,000 people die of "work exhaustion" every year. Some PR firms like Ogilvy and the "Big Four" accounting firms are known for their "exploitation" of the labor force. A friend of mine who worked for one of the "Big Four" companies two years ago finally decided to quit before her back pain caused by office stress ruined her life.
Due to the high competitiveness in workplace and the ever increasing pace of life, Chinese city dwellers remain numb about overwork until their lives are threatened. Having a satisfying job and earning a reasonable salary are never taken for granted.
That perhaps explains why Chinese people behaved so insensitively when being asked, "Are you happy?" during a survey conducted by China's Central Television last year. The question got nonsensical answers from the respondents. Chinese rarely think deeply about happiness, or maybe they are not given to the chance to.
Let's put it in a larger context. Critics of China's rapid economic development blame economic success for many social problems such as the high consumption of energy, the worsening environment and political corruption, while one problem forgotten is people's diminishing awareness of how to live a truly human life.
I have visited Asian countries such as Kazakhstan and Thailand, which are behind China in terms of economic development. However, I found that people there are much more contented lives than our Chinese compatriots. China's economic success has enriched people's lives materially, but not spiritually.
Chinese people are diligent by necessity, not nature. Such diligence extracts a high price, not only in terms of a healthy state of mind, but also in quality of life.
Li Wan, a corporate employee based in Beijing