Suicide in China

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Suicide in China has a long history as a cultural practice. Commemoration of Qu Yuan's patriotic suicide is popularly considered the basis for the annual Dragon Boat Festival. Study of modern suicide in China is complicated by political concerns which cause official statistics to vary (sometimes greatly) from the findings of independent studies. Generally speaking, China seems to have a lower suicide rate than neighboring Japan and Korea, with the practice more common among women than men and more common in the Yangtze Basin than elsewhere.


For male members in the Han, physical mutilation and suicide were among the highest crimes, threats not only to the self but to the lineage.[1] Ritual suicide was long practiced in traditional Chinese culture, owing both to the power of the state to enforce collective punishment against the families of disgraced ministers and to Confucian values that held that certain failures of virtue were worse than death, making suicide morally permissible or even praiseworthy in some altruistic contexts.[2] Confucius wrote, "For gentlemen of purpose and men of ren while it is inconceivable that they should seek to stay alive at the expense of ren, it may happen that they have to accept death in order to have ren accomplished."[3] Mencius wrote:

Fish is what I want; bear's palm is also what I want. If I cannot have both, I would rather take bear's palm than fish. Life is what I want; yi is also what I want. If I cannot have both, I would rather take yi than life. On the one hand, though life is what I want, there is something I want more than life. That is why I do not cling to life at all cost. On the other hand, though death is what I loathe, there is something I loathe more than death. That is why there are dangers I do not avoid ... Yet there are ways of remaining alive and ways of avoiding death to which a person will not resort. In other words, there are things a person wants more than life and there are also things he or she loathes more than death.[4]

Due to the above-mentioned aversion to physical mutilation (originating from the belief that the body was a gift from one's parent's and desecrating it therefore an unfilial act[5]), the preferred methods -as recorded in for instance the Book of Han- appear to have been those that did not leave the corpse significantly disfigured, notably hanging/strangulation.

Notable suicides include Wu Zixu, whose compelled suicide was regretted by King Fuchai of Wu when he was proved right about the danger of Yue, and Qu Yuan, whose despair over his exile by King Qingxiang of Chu and sorrow over the capture of his capital by Qin in 278 BC is commemorated by China's annual Dragon Boat Festival.


Statistics are somewhat controversial in that independent studies often produce estimates that are greatly at odds with official statistics provided by the country's government. On the basis of data gathered in 1999, the government estimated an overall rate of 13.9 per 100,000 people,[6] much lower than in the total rate in other East Asian countries: Japan (18.5) and South Korea (28.9).

The most recent government data provides statistics more inline with external estimations. According to a 2011 Centre for Disease Control and Prevention report, China's suicide rate is 22.23 people out of every 100,000.[7] This rate places the country among the countries with the highest suicide per capita in the world. For 2009–2011, 44% of all suicides occurred among those aged 65 or above and 79% among rural residents.[8] However, a 2014 study conducted by the Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention at the University of Hong Kong reported that China's suicide rate has dropped significantly, among the lowest levels [9] in the world. An average annual rate of about 9.8 people out of every 100,000 died by suicide as of 2009 to 2011, a 58% drop, largely as a result of population migration from rural areas and urbanization of middle class. Paul Yip, a co-author of the recent study and professor at the University of Hong Kong, said "no country has ever achieved such a rapid decline in suicides".[10]


In China, more women than men die by suicide each year. It was found that females that attempted suicide were less likely to have been diagnosed with a mental disorder than males who attempted to commit suicide.[11] According to official government statistics: in 1999, the suicide rate per 100,000 people was 13.0 for men and 14.8 for women,[6] the second highest female suicide rate in the world. Bangladesh is also among the few countries where the female rate is higher than the male rate. According to official PRC government statistics, the Chinese male rate (13.0 per 100,000 men per year) is lower than in many other countries, including some Western countries, such as the United States, Australia, and Germany.

A 2008 study found that: female suicides outnumber male suicides by a 3:1 ratio; rural suicides outnumber urban suicides by a 3:1 ratio; a large upsurge of young adult and older adult suicides has occurred; a comparatively high national suicide rate two to three times the global average is evident; and a low rate of psychiatric illness, particularly clinical depression, exists in suicide victims.[12] According to the journal Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry, there are over 300,000 suicides in China annually;[13] thus China accounts for more than 30% of the world's suicides.[14] The suicide rate in the Yangtze Basin is about 40% higher than in the rest of China.[15]


The legality of suicide in China is unclear. The China's National People's Congress has considered several proposals to legalize physician-assisted suicide, but as of 2011, had rejected these proposals. In 1992, a physician was acquitted of the murder of a terminally ill cancer patient who was given a lethal injection. In May 2011, a farmer received a two year jail term for criminal negligence after assisting a friend in committing suicide, but in that case the farmer had mistakenly buried the friend alive, after the friend took poison, but in an insufficient dose.[16]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Lewis, Mark Edward, and Timothy Brook. The Early Chinese Empires: Qin and Han. First Harvard University Press, 2010, Page 160.
  2. ^ Iga, Mamoura; KS Adam (1980), "Stress and Suicide in Japan" (PDF), Transcultural Psychiatric Research Review, 17 (4): 243–244, doi:10.1177/136346158001700405
  3. ^ Analects, trans. D.C. Lau, second edition, (Hong Kong: Chinese University Press, 1992), XV:9D
  4. ^ Mencius, trans. D.C. Lau, (Hong Kong: Chinese University Press, 1984), VI A:10
  5. ^ Analects 8:3, Xing Bing and Zhu Xi commentaries
  6. ^ a b Suicide rates (per 100,000), by gender, China 1987-1999 World Health Organization
  7. ^ "China's suicide rate 'among highest in world'". AFP. September 9, 2011. Archived from the original on September 26, 2013. Retrieved January 11, 2012.CS1 maint: Unfit url (link)
  8. ^ Wang, Chong-Wen (2014). "Suicide rates in China from 2002 to 2011: an update". Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology. 49 (6): 929–41. doi:10.1007/s00127-013-0789-5. PMID 24240568.
  9. ^ "China's suicide rate has dramatically declined in recent years: Report". Shanghaiist. 27 June 2014. Retrieved 29 June 2014.
  10. ^ [ A dramatic decline in suicides: Back from the edge]
  11. ^ Sun, Long; Zhang, Jie (2017-6). "Gender differences among medically serious suicide attempters aged 15–54 years in rural China". Psychiatry Research. 252: 57–62. doi:10.1016/j.psychres.2017.02.042. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  12. ^ Law, Samuel & Liu, Pozi (February 2008), "Suicide in China: Unique demographic patterns and relationship to depressive disorder", Current Psychiatry Reports, 10 (1): 80–86, doi:10.1007/s11920-008-0014-5, PMID 18269899
  13. ^ Phillips, Michael R.; Liu, Huaqing; Zhang, Yanping (November 3, 2004), "Suicide and Social Change in China", Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry, 23: 25–50, doi:10.1023/A:1005462530658
  14. ^ Yip, Paul S. F.; Liu, Ka Y.; Hu, Jianping; Song, X. M. (2005), "Suicide rates in China during a decade of rapid social changes", Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, 40 (10): 792–798, doi:10.1007/s00127-005-0952-8, PMID 16205852
  15. ^ He, Zhao-Xiong (November 9, 2004), "A suicide belt in China: The Yangtze Basin", Archives of Suicide Research, 4 (3): 287–289, doi:10.1023/A:1009609111621
  16. ^ "China: Case of Assisted Suicide Stirs Euthanasia Debate". The Law Library of Congress. August 17, 2011.