Teenager’s suicide highlights ‘deadly’ academic stress for primary, middle school kids in China
Tang Yuxin's parents in front of her tombstone  Photo: infzm.com
Li Xiaobai, a classmate of Tang Yuxin took Colchicine tablets in the classroom. Another boy even handed him bottled water to help wash down the dozens of pills that could easily cause death.

“I’m confident that I could survive,” Tang Yuxin last murmured to her father in the hospital. She seemed regretful for committing suicide but it didn’t help the situation. Four hours later, Tang, not yet 14 years old, died.

Tang was a top student at the renowned Chengzhang Experimental Middle School of Hengyang in central China’s Henan province. She had been working as ‘class president’, or ‘banzhang’ in Chinese which position is usually taken by those who get good grades and have leadership talent.

However, in a recent monthly exam, Tang’s performance fell short of expectations and she was harshly criticized by her teachers and parents. This was believed to be the trigger for her decision to commit suicide.

In the evening, Tang was demanded by her mother to write a “statement of repentance”, and the teenager revealed her idea to end her own life in a QQ group chat with her classmates. The group of ‘ignorant’ kids had a heated discussion about suicide. Although some had tried to talk her out of the idea, more pessimistic perceptions soon gathered steam, with messages like “death would be a way out,” or “the ideal way is to jump off a building.”

In the end, Tang Yuxin died from an overdose of Colchicine pills, a prescribed medicine containing highly toxic ingredients. Two of her classmates also took the deadly medicine, but they all pulled through after being hospitalized.

“Due to personal reasons, I’ve chosen the extreme way to end my life. I’m under enormous pressure for different reasons,” Tang thus wrote in a suicide note, which was later given to her parents by a ‘best friend’ after the accident happened.

According to the investigation by local police, Tang Yuxin swallowed a total of 160 Colchicine pills, although based on her weight, 88 pills were enough to kill her.

The other two teenage boys respectively took 60 and 70 pills, and they both vomited up some medicines later.

While being rushed to a hospital, Tang Yuxin was still sober. Wang Xia, the doctor in-charge of her, asked Tang Yuxin and Li Xiaobai why they took the pills. They both said it was because of huge academic pressure.

The Chengzhang Experimental Middle School is known to be the best junior middle school locally which is affiliated to the highest-ranking Hengyang No. 8 High School, whose alumnus have got admissions into prestigious universities at home and abroad.

Parents of the other two suicidal kids confirmed that students from Chengzhang were really burdened by piled-up homework, classes and competition. “There are too many top students here,” they concurred.

In the monthly exam that led to Tang’s suicide, her ranking fell from among the top fifty positions to the 124th. There are over 1,700 students at the school, so the top 500 could be assured of a position at the No.8 High School. Still, Tang’s worried mother gave her head teacher a call after the ranking came out.

According to Tang’s parents, Tang Zhongbao, the head teacher, sternly criticized the teenage girl in the phone conversation for the drop in her performance and for “spreading negative energy among her classmates”. The teacher refused to be interviewed after Tang’s death.

The suicide of Tang Yuxin is not an isolated case. In fact, based on an annual report on China’s education status, academic stress has become the primary reason for youth (under 18) suicides.

The 21st Century Education Research Institute, a non-profit organization, released its annual educational “blue paper” this April, disclosing that primary and middle school student suicides have become a severe problem, with cell phone and Internet playing a role in many such cases.

The “blue paper” researched a total of 392 teenage suicidal cases that happened between October 2016 and September 2017 which had been covered by Chinese media sources.

The number of teenage (aged between 13 and 17) suicides was 4.7 times higher than those aged between 8 and 12. Back-to-school seasons usually could witness a sharp rise in suicidal cases, with most of the suicides being committed at home or on campus.

The primary suicidal motives include family conflicts (72 cases, 33%), academic stress (55 cases, 26%), contradictions between teachers and students (35 cases, 16%), psychological problems (21 cases, 10%), emotional involvements (11 cases, 5%), school bullying (9 cases, 4%) and others (12 cases, 6%).

Noting that a considerable part of family conflicts and confrontations between teachers and students had resulted from academic pressures felt by suicidal kids, the report concluded that unsatisfactory academic performance could be the top reason for suicide decisions.

Cell phones have become a “special factor” behind many youth suicide cases. The “blue paper” revealed that over 10 percent of the cases were triggered by online connections through cell phone. Like in Tang Yuxin’s case, her two classmates followed her steps after they discussed about it in that QQ group chat.

The “blue paper” proposed to set up a disclosure mechanism to make public the data concerning teenage suicide deaths and attempted cases, in a bid to curb its rising incidence rate.

The Chinese government has long realized the problem and engaged in relieving burdens on primary and middle school kids. However, it’s generally recognized that government measures over the years have not be effective enough.

The “blue paper” noted that the shortage in good-quality schools can be considered as the culprit behind the anxious parents and ambitious school teachers, so the government has been recommended to really execute the “supply-side” reform in education to help with the imbalance in allocation of resources.  

The article is based on report by Southern Weekly magazine and other sources. 

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