Official suicides reveal China's bureaucracy changing

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Conventional wisdom has it that government officials are people who are least likely to commit suicide, given their relatively high social status, decent education and greater job satisfaction.

But the unusually high number of suicides of Communist Party and government officials reported since last year in China has fueled speculation about the changing landscape of China's bureaucracy.

More than 20 suicides have been reported in China's bureaucracy since the beginning of 2009, with six in December alone.

Three cases in March added to the list.

Zhen Lifu, a 51-year-old senior political advisor in Jiangmen of south China's Guangdong Province, was found dead after hanging himself near his home last week. The municipal government said in a statement that Zhen had long suffered from insomnia and depression.

On March 8, Liu Xiaofeng, 49, head of the local audit office of Ongniud Banner of northern China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, jumped from the eighth floor of his office building. Local government sources revealed Liu had developed depression, but declined to disclose more details.

Five days earlier, Li Jianrong, 36, then head of Lufeng County's water conservation bureau in southwest China's Yunnan Province, jumped from his sixth floor office. He died after first aid treatment.

Li killed himself because he was stressed with drought and quake relief work, according to a statement by a joint police and local government investigation team.


Insiders say that new rules to make government bodies more accountable and their work procedures more transparent are making life harder for civil servants in China, or just as hard as for workers in other sectors.

Adding to the pressure on those troubled minds are the government campaign to weed out corruption and the increasing public supervision by millions of Internet users, says Shen Jianming, head of office of the political consultative conference of Cixi under the jurisdiction of Ningbo city of Zhejiang.

A survey of 272 middle-rank officials in Hangzhou, capital of east China's Zhejiang Province, conducted in August 2009 by a research team under the city's Communist Party school, found that 68 percent of the respondents considered they were under "relatively high psychological pressure," and 71.7 percent said work responsibilities, quality requirements, relationships and work's impact on family life were sources of stress.

Around the same time, a local government thinktank in Cixi conducted a poll of 343 officials. It found that 11 percent were prone to depression, which triggered indifference to their daily work.

According to a survey conducted jointly by the leading websites and of 3,000 Chinese netizens, 64.65 percent of respondents saw pressure from hidden rules in bureaucratic politics, involving prejudice, services for superiors and reporting only what is good while withholding what bad news, as well as pressure on personal development as major sources of work stress for officials.

Although there is no specific data on the exact motivations in the 20 official suicides, many believe that a considerable number chose to end their lives because of complications in corruption cases.

This indicates that China's anti-corruption drive is having a greater impact on the lives of public servants, legal experts say.


Within the institutions of the Communist Party of China and the government are many channels for officials to air opinions, but few have been used to solve their personal inner troubles.

Party and government officials are unlikely to talk about work-related stress with professional counsellors, says Cao Lianyuan, head of Beijing Suicide Research and Prevention Center.

Cao says every person who commits suicide affects five others around him or her.

In an ever more competitive bureaucratic environment, officials have to be very aggressive in pursuit of higher standards and meticulous enough to avoid mistakes, but such a political eco-system is prone to incurring psychological imbalances if no appropriate psychological care is available, says Shen Xuanyuan, an expert in psychological counseling in Hangzhou.

Even in open and economically-developed coastal areas in eastern China, civil servants feel ashamed of mental and psychological disorders.

A poll of 393 civil servants in Yuhang district of Hangzhou found most of them saw resorting to psychological treatment as incompetence, and they were reluctant to confide in others about their worries and anxieties.

Zhao Guoqiu, deputy head of China Association of Mental Health, says some officials dare not to ask for help as psychological problems might hamper their promotion.

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