China: Another elite's suicide – the story of Yang Yuanyuan

YANG Yuanyuan, a 30-year-old postgraduate at Shanghai Maritime University, hanged herself in her bathroom on November 25. She told her mother that knowledge cannot change destiny on the day before she committed suicide.

Recent years have seen an increasing number of suicides committed by Chinese university students, in particular among postgraduates and doctors. In Shanghai city 2008, there were 23 college student suicide cases, resulted in 19 deaths. In Guangdong 2008, there were 26 suicide cases, resulted in 21 deaths. What are the reasons behind all these suicide cases? Yang's case may shed some lights on the problem faced by our social elites.

According to report from, Yang came from a single parent family. She and her brother was brought up by her mother and they worked hard to climb up the social ladder through education – Yang was pursuing her Master’s degree in Shanghai and her brother is pursuing his Doctor’s at Peking University. Ever since Yang's mother had been laid off from the factory, she stayed with her daughter in the dormitory in the Wuhan University where she had her undergraduate study. She worked for two years to payback all the debts before she decided to continue her post-graduate study in Shanghai. With little saving, she tried to apply for an extra bed for her mother in the school dormitory, but they were insulted for their rural identity. The warden even refused Yang's mother from entering the dormitory.

Yang's death has received a lot of echoes from the Internet as it has become more and more difficult for people with high education achievement to attain the social status that they struggle for. The magic of university diploma is vanishing. Blogger Hailing, who is sympathetic to Yang, muses about the asymmetry between education achievement and salary in Chinese society in her article who should bear the responsibility for poor postgraduate Yang Yuanyuan’s death?:


Sometimes human are weak and fragile, who can end his life for one or two perplexed questions. Outsiders may reckon it extraordinary for a poor family to raise one Master and one Doctor, but in this society where students’ diplomas can’t guarantee the corresponding job positions and salaries, who will care for your education background? Rather, employers pay more attention to the value that employees bring them. Such reality has brought about the tragedy for this poor family who stick to the belief that a higher diploma will improve their life.

Many bloggers condemns the lack of compassion in the society. In response to the news, netizen (123.232.*.*) points out that:


It is not poverty that killed her, but the detached and snobbish teachers and colleagues around her, those who have forever lost their compassionate heart.

SHI Sansheng shares similar opinion and slaps on the hypocritical Confucian culture:


The greatest mistake for our universities and government institutions is the lack of conscience and humanity in dealing with people. How come these tragedies keep recurring in our society? And yet we believe that we are the nation of netiquette with 5,000 years civilization? Lecturers and policy-makers are always preaching morality but in reality they are a bunch of scoundrels. Even if Confucian spirit is good in many aspects, when it is used for covering up the dark side of our society, it becomes a tool for fooling people.

It is quite obvious that people with high education are not socially as marginal as the rural migrant workers or peasants. It begs the question on why educated people are psychologically so fragile? REN Haiyong reckoned the tragedy reflected on the defected school and family education. In his blog article, “The three missing affections”:

我认为,理解杨元元的绝望心理,应当首先懂得人的幸福感的三大来源,也就是“三情”,即:亲情、友情和爱情……我们的学校教育和家庭教育一直以来都有一个很大的缺陷,就是漠视人正常的感情需求,甚至把孩子们的读书求知和他们的情感需要对立起来,偏执地认为好孩子应 该一门心思读书,不能考虑情更不能考虑性。请教师们和家长们都能将心比心地、设身处地地为学生们、为孩子们想一想。尤其要 关怀女孩子,因为社会对女孩子更有一层情感压抑的要求,并把压抑的效果与道德品质的高低联系起来;好象一个女孩子只知道读书,对男孩子完全不感兴趣才是好 学生、好孩子。学习成绩越好的女生,在学校和家庭这样“纯洁”的要求下,就会更多地克制自己的情欲和性欲,也就会更多地压抑自己的正常情感需求。然而,人 的天性是无法改变的,人的忍耐也是有限度的,崩得太紧的弦,早晚是要断的。

In my opinion, to understand Yang’s despair we ought to first understand the three sources of human happiness: family love, friendship and romantic love relation…Our school and family education ignores the need of affections. Teachers and parents believe that love relation will hinder young people's education and insist that they have to focus on their study only. They should think in their students and kids’ position and give special care for girls. Our society has imposed a morality based on repression of affection on girls – they can not show any interest in boys and can only focus on their study in order to become a model student. So the better a girl performs in exams, the more she would oppress her affection and sexual desires. However, human nature cannot be changed. The restraint always has a limit and would eventually break down if it goes too tight.


  • Tamie

    This is nothing new. Yet all the same it is still so heavy. Those kids who strive so hard to come to nothing…must be shattering. I can’t repress my anger at the reality of those kids killing themselves though. How could they?! its so stupid…there is still so much to live for. If they only got their silly little heads out of that sick fantesy of becoming “higher” on the ladder…and their PARENTS! They are supposted to be loving…i know what it looks like when parents pushes their kid too far…the kid loses their life. If not dead, dead, they die inside. …ugh. this world is cruel…their world is cruel. I agree with REN Haiyong’s blog article.

  • Kim

    My soul aches YANG Yuanyuan, and for her poor mother who will bear this anguish for the rest of her life… I agree with SHI Sansheng about the problem being a lack of conscience and humanity…it is a problem not only with Confucianism, but with any ideology which does not acknowledge the worth of an individual person as a priceless, unique creation of God. “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” Proverbs 13:12, Holy Bible. We are created to live in beauty and perfection, and to create beauty as we live our lives. The root problem is our very nature, but without an internal change, Yang Yuanyuan was right, because at the core, each of us will do what is right for us, and not for those around us. Knowledge of things will not change our destiny. But knowing One Person will change our destiny…. “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” John 17:3

  • Lily

    Every time I read a story like this, my heart aches. Though I believe they are now living well in a better world than ours.

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