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What Can China Do to Stop the ‘Epidemic’ of Suicides Among Government Officials?

Photo by Evan Lavine. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Photo by Evan Lavine. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

A wave of suicides among government officials has claimed two more lives. In June 12, two officials from Guangdong province died by suicide. Liu Xiaohua, deputy secretary general of Guangdong government, hanged himself in his apartment, and Head of Confidential Secretary Xiao Bibo from Shenzhen Yantian District jumped off a bridge.

More than 80 Chinese government officials have died by suicide or died an “unnatural death” since 2014, and many of them were under investigation for corruption when they ended their lives. The situation has been so grave that some media outlets described it as suicide “epidemic”.

State-affiliated media have reported that these government officials who have ended their lives have done so because of work pressure or depression. However, the spike in suicides seems correlated with the Chinese government's ongoing anti-graft campaign, leading many Chinese to believe the officials were attempting to end any investigations against them by killing themselves. Instead of public sympathy, their deaths are often viewed as the ultimate cover-up of corruption.

Hence, it's not unusual to see mean or sarcastic remarks in the online comments thread of an official's suicide news, such as in the case of Liu Xiaohua's death:

死了你一个,平安千万官!
弃车保帅,这就是官场斗争
官太多,多点自杀好!

One died and thousands of officials survive!
Give up the deputy to protect the top ones, that's the logic of power within the government.
There are too many officials, the more suicides the better.

As the number of officials’ suicides has soared, some have attempted to address the problem and look for a remedy.

Echoing popular sentiment, news commentator Yu Shenghai suggested extending the powers of the anti-graft campaign by amending Chinese criminal law to empower the court to confiscate corruption money from family members of dead officials:

绝大多数官员是畏罪自杀。他们自认为在罪行败露之前,为了掩盖贪腐之实选择自杀是贪腐官员最好的逃避方法,只要“死无对证”,以前的贪腐烂账便无从查起,既可以全自己的名声,又能保住赃款,不给家人子女留下耻辱的骂名,“牺牲我一个,幸福一家人”。[…] 当前,无论是官场“潜规则”,还是“明规则”,都不利于查明官员自杀的真相。[…] 按照刑事诉讼法第15条的规定,犯罪嫌疑人、被告人死亡的,不追究刑事责任,这样一来就放纵了贪官。
针对越来越多的官员非正常死亡事件,应该修改法律,来应对贪官以自杀的方式来逃避法律制裁,而不应再死守“人死就不再追查”的旧规。贪官即使自杀身亡,也要一查到底,对于畏罪自杀者应该没收其赃款,不让其家人或其他既得利益者钻法律的空子,逍遥法外。这既有利于减少官员“抑郁自杀”,也有利于反腐走向深入。

Most of the officials took their own lives out of fear. They found suicide the best way to cover up their corruption as a dead person could not answer to questions related to their crime. It is also the best way to protect their reputation, hide the corrupt money and protect their family members from further investigation — the whole logic is to “sacrifice oneself to bring happiness to the whole family”. […] Currently, both the unwritten and written laws do not facilitate the revelation of the truth behind officials’ suicides. […] According to Article 15 of the criminal law, suspects of a criminal offense do not bear any criminal responsibility once they are dead. This loophole encourages the corrupt officials to make the choice.

As there are more and more unnatural death cases among government officials, the law should be amended so that law enforcement can continue their investigation after the suspect is dead. [The law] should find a way to confiscate the corruption money so that no one can benefit from the suicide. This should reduce the number of suicide among officials and further the anti-graft campaign.

What Yu failed to see, however, is that the anti-graft campaign has been operating outside the current criminal investigation process in China. As veteran lawyer Chen Youxi wrote in 2014 when the suicide rate of government officials increased, corruption investigations in China have been in the hands of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, a Chinese Communist Party organ that has the power to impose “Shuanggui,” an internal disciplinary process, against corruption suspects within the party and government. As the Chinese judiciary is led by the party, once the suspects are put on trial, the court's ruling would be consistent with the party's judgement. There is no space for an independent and fair trial.

@jamescao2016, following Chen Youxi's observation, saw the issue as one of an independent judiciary and rule of law. He wrote a long, reflective post on social media platform Weibo:

开始,看见官员这样死那样死,我心里是有一丝幸灾乐祸的。

但是,当我看到越来越多的官员,跳楼,溺水,上吊,喝药……
心里就不是滋味了。

按道理,作为官员,无论经济条件,还是社会地位,都比一般屁民好的不是一点半点。
为什么依旧会自杀,或者被自杀?

不管他们生前如何,死了,都现场患上了“忧郁症”。
好像突然之间,官场以忧郁症为荣,以自杀为流行时尚。

中国奋斗了67年,为了狗屎主义已消耗了三代人,得到了一个什么样的社会?

内无精神,外无尊严。
如同陷入一个迷宫,或者噩梦,找不到出路,挣不脱恐惧,得不到幸福。

曾经,老耄把中国搞的乌烟瘴气,把开国元勋知识分子社会精英屠杀的干干净净。
那时候的官员,在批斗打压监狱里,还有咬牙死挺坚持的毅力。

现在,没看见批斗,没看见羞辱,没看见毒打,没看见众叛亲离,走投无路,为什么这届官员会这样络绎不绝的死去?

这需要每一个人讨论和思考的问题:中国现在这个状态正常吗?

政府的职责,是保护每一个人的合法权益和人身安全,包括官员的。
官员,贪腐了,作恶了,有罪了,应该由法律去审判和惩罚。
不应该,也不能够,就这样“扑腾”“扑腾”各种姿势死去。

如果依旧是老耄的那一套,中国,会越来越恐怖和暴力,越来越疯癫和倒退。

所以,要求民主自由,不单单是觉醒公民的诉求和梦想,也应该是每一个中国人的包括公务员官员的。[…]

必须要求法治:要求在公平独立民主自由的框架下,依照宪法来治理国家。

At first, when reading how the officials died of this and that, I took joy in their pain.
But more and more officials have [killed themselves] by jumping off buildings, drowning, hanging, drinking poisons… I feel bad.

Generally speaking, government officials are more well off than ordinary people in their economic and social status.

Why do they still choose to or are forced to end their lives?

Regardless of how they were when alive, once they are dead they supposedly all suffered from depression.

As if depression is a kind of glory and suicide is a fashionable behavior among officials.

China has struggled for 67 years [since 1949, when the communist party won the civil war]. Three generations have committed to some dog shit ideology and what kind of society we have now?

Spiritual emptiness from within and no respect from the outside.

As if trapped in a maze or nightmare, there is no exit, no happiness but fear.

Once, old [former Chinese leader] Mao [Zedong] had ruined China and killed a large number of our nation's founders and intellectuals.

At that time, officials were repressed and put in jail. But most endured the prosecution and survived.

Now, there is no public prosecution, no humiliation, no torture, no betrayal, and they still have a choice, so why do they choose to die?

Is this normal? This is a question that everyone of us should think about.

It is the government's responsibility to protect every individual's safety, including that of the officials. If the officials are corrupt, evil and sinful, they should be judged and punished by law.

They should not die like this.

If we follow old Mao, China will fall into terror, violence and madness.
The demand for democracy and freedom should not only come from awakened citizens, but also from every single individual, including the government civil servants and officials. […]

Rule of law must be upheld and we have to rule the country according to the principles of fairness, independent, democracy and freedom, in line with the constitution.

The number one cause for suicide is untreated depression. Depression is treatable and suicide is preventable. You can get help from confidential support lines for the suicidal and those in emotional crisis. Visit Befrienders.org to find a suicide prevention helpline in your country.

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