Chinese and Suicide – Grappling for Answers

In recent weeks there has been a media furor over the apparent suicide of Danny Chen, a Chinese-American soldier serving in Afghanistan.  It is said that those he worked with harangued and physically abused him, causing him to commit suicide.  In the Western Culture view, what could have lead someone to commit suicide except depression and despair?  The idea of someone committing suicide for any other reason seems, well, foreign.

The Western world seems particularly appalled at the thought of someone killing themselves in protest over working conditions.  However, that’s exactly what happened from January to May of 2010 at the factory of Chinese company Foxconn in Shenzhen, China.  Foxconn is a factory where Microsoft and XBox369 and other computer companies have components made.  The New York Times provided a history of the tragedies in May of last year.  Story.

In the Western world, if you don’t like your job, you quit, you get unemployment, you sue,or  you kill others and then kill yourself, but you generally don’t just quietly go kill yourself.  Not to be glib, suicide is final and serious and tragic.  But these Foxconn employees jumped off of the tops of the company building to their deaths.

And, today, we hear news that they are threatening to do it again, even after the company has already installed nets around the building to keep employees from killing themselves.  One of the rationales that has been given for the deaths in 2010 is so that the families of the workers would be be compensated for the deaths.  Yet, more suicide has now been threatened in order to exact a change in working conditions, according to a CBS Seattle story today.

Is there a connection between Private Chen’s actions and the actions of those at the Foxconn factory?  Is this the Chinese way of dealing with bad conditions, a way that does not make sense through the eyes of the Western world?  Private Chen was born in New York to Chinese immigrant parents, many sources say.

For those interested in reading more, there was a study done by the U.S. National Institutes of Health in 1973 on Chinese and the rate of suicide in San Francisco.  In some years prior to the study, the Chinese rate of suicide was much higher than the average population, the study says.  The study also breaks down suicides by sex, with the level of suicide for Chinese men much higher than for women, even when correcting for the different percentages in population.  At that time there were more Chinese men than women in San Francisco.