Suicidal positions

By Jiang Jie Source:Global Times Published: 2014-4-16 20:18:01

"The cause of the suicide is still under investigation," read all three press releases.

Three senior officials passed away last week. Xu Ye'an, a deputy director of the State Bureau for Letters and Calls, reportedly killed himself on April 8. One day later, He Gaobo, a deputy director of a construction management office in Fenghua, Zhejiang Province, allegedly committed suicide.

Earlier, Zhou Yu, a former police officer who had been dubbed an anti-mafia hero, was found dead in a hotel room in Chongqing, in what was also believed to be a suicide.

Zhou had been reportedly suffering from diabetes and heart problems for many years and he was recently diagnosed with severe liver cirrhosis. Xu had also been reportedly in poor health and had recently been afflicted with tinnitus.

At least 54 Chinese officials have died of "unnatural causes" since January 2013, the China Youth Daily reported. It is believed that 23 of them committed suicide, and the other deaths were caused by heavy drinking or accidents.

The highest-ranking official of them all was Bai Zhongren, the former head of the China Railway Group Limited. He reportedly jumped to his death in January.

As people mourn these deaths, speculation has run rampant about why these suicides occurred, with many raising questions over whether negligence or corruption was involved.

Meanwhile, experts noted that it is irresponsible to jump to such conclusions and said the suicides of these officials reflect the fragile psychological health of some officials who are under intense pressure.

Questionable deaths

Several officials reached by the Global Times argued that the speculation that officials committed suicide to evade punishment is irresponsible, as it is unfair to criticize the entire group because of a few black sheep who engaged in corruption.

An example of cases which triggered such public speculation was a health official from Shaanxi Province who committed suicide as he faced prosecution over the embezzlement of public funds in December 2013.

"Most media coverage of suicides of officials failed to release thorough investigation results, which encourages these suicides to some extent," said Qi Xingfa, an associate professor with the School of Humanities and Social Science at East China Normal University.

The present legal system creates incentives to commit suicides. The Criminal Procedure Law says that dead suspects will not be investigated, which means their accomplices and families would be safe.

Speculation about corruption and power abuse itself is in fact a burden on officials, Qi noted. Some officials may be pressured to be corrupt in certain situations. Moreover, some family members even view corruption as a duty to the family as it can boost their fortune through the abuse of power.

Li Fuduo, a local official from Chongqing, killed himself because he lacked money to support his sick mother, while Wang Weiguo, a vice-mayor of Datong, Shanxi Province, was murdered when he failed to arrange a job transfer for a relative in 2012.

Stressed out

These suicides of officials may reflect the deepening efforts to combat corruption and be a result of reforms to strengthen accountability, said Qi.

Wang Wei, a Guangdong-based government publicity officer, told the Global Times that the spread of online media and social networking, and the resulting reduction in privacy, has become a sword of Damocles for every civil servant, with increasingly intense public supervision.

"The rising awareness of legal rights protection also makes people more protective of their rights and interests. We are dealing with more conflicts and controversies every day, especially on issues regarding urban planning and land exploitation. We must also work to maintain social stability," said an anonymous grass-roots Party chief in Anhui Province.

"We are the same as people working in other industries," Wang and other officials emphasized. "We all serve our customers - in our case, the public," Wang added. "We all bear zero tolerance to any damage to our customers. People with a greater sense of responsibility are prone to feeling anxious."

While Wang is overloaded with meetings and reports, Lao Niu (pseudonym), a department head in the justice authorities in Shandong Province, often works overtime because his department is understaffed.

He told the Global Times that officials are often overworked due to frivolous requirements, such as organizing meetings or receptions of higher level officials, which greatly contributes to feelings of exhaustion and emptiness among low-ranking officials.

The opaque promotion system also creates anxiety and uncertainty among officials. Candidates are not only judged by their working abilities - the opinions of higher level leaders and peers are also collected but often these comments are made behind closed doors.

 "It is a failure when it makes people stray away from honing their skills. Many have to work hard to please their superiors and fellow employees to get a promotion, which is the only way for higher payment," Lao said.

Qi also called for more transparency in the promotion process. The government should disclose timely information both internally and to the public to curb suicides of officials.

Psychological struggles

Of the 23 reported suicides of officials, depression ranked among the top health issues they had been suffering, which then led to their deaths.

The China Human Resource Development Network said that 29.3 percent of civil servants in China were found to have some degree of psychological problems and about 10 percent of the psychological patients are working with government bodies.

Wang complained that little effective psychological guidance has been offered inside the system and "talking with higher officials" is unlikely to alleviate the pressure but to increase it.

"I think a third-party organization unrelated to work is needed to care for our psychological status, where there is no leader-member relationship," Wang suggested.

The Institute of Psychology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences set up a hot line for psychological services in 2012, targeting employees with government organs. However, the services have been underused and most patients have kept their involvement with it secret, the Southern Weekly reported.

Many officials worry that their psychological problems may affect their career once they are discovered by others, amid the common mind-set in China that consultation with a psychologist is similar to being diagnosed with some kind of serious psychological problem.

Sun Zhongzhu, a psychologist, has previously explained that Chinese officials pay a lot of attention to their image and seldom reveal their emotions to the outside world, including psychologists. They also lack avenues to vent unhealthy emotions, according to

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