You might have recently have heard of Yu Dan (于丹), a professor at Beijing Normal University (北师大), who has recently become the it girl when it comes to popularizing ancient Chinese philosophers. Her books on Confucius’ Analects and more recently, the Zhuangzi, offer a breezy exposition and bite-sized nuggets of ancient wisdom for China’s spiritually beleaguered moderns and have catapulted Yu Dan into a writer-intellectual cum best-selling cultural critic category unto herself.
Recently, one of Yu’s grad students jumped off the eleventh floor of a building to her death, creating a bit of a controversy around Yu. 25 year-old Sun Yinjie (孙莹洁), who committed suicide on May 15, was in the midst of writing her (Masters? Ph.D?) thesis under the supervision of Professor Yu. People said that she was having some frustrating problems with her thesis and that, thus far, has been the most commonly accepted reason for why she decided to kill herself. She was a high-achieving perfectionist and couldn’t take the pressure.
Her death, however, has cast a scrutinizing light on Yu’s person. At the time of Sun’s death, Yu was taking part in some political conferences, and even after it happened, continued to participate in the conference. And that pissed some people off, who considered that dereliction of her duties as a teacher. Some emphasized that teachers are ethically obliged to pay attention to the mental health of a student (and to intervene if there is evidence of suicidal tendencies) others just think it was wrong that she didn’t bother excusing herself from the conference. especially when we all have read about how grief-stricken Confucius was upon the loss of one of his star pupils.
The suicide statistics in China are pretty disturbing. We found that in China, about there are 16 million people who suffer from serious mental illness, 287,000 people commit suicide each year, and 2 million attempted (but failed) to commit suicide. Put another way: in China, every two minutes, nine people attempt suicide and one succeeds. The suicide rate is 2.3 times above the international average and is one of the highest in the world. In fact, suicide is the leading killer of Chinese people ages 15-35. In a period of ten days surrounding the death of Sun Yingjie, five other university students in Beijing also committed suicide. Research suggests that student suicides peak in May, an unfortunate result of relationship between the rhythms of nature (spring), natural seasonal fluctuations in mood, and the build-up of academic pressure.
Photo from skyhoo.cn