Suicide Jump from building in Shenzhen, Huaqianbei
I was walking to a meeting this morning in Shenzhen. The meeting was in Huaqianbei, an area well known for the fast paced trading world of computer and cell phone parts. Laying on the sidewalk in front of me was a teenager who had jumped from the building. It was my first experience seeing a suicide victim. He was not covered up, but rather he was surrounded by a wide area of police tape and onlookers.
The teen had seemingly jumped from the balcony on the 10th floor of this office building. He was laying next to the curb of the street with a few branches from the tree he fell through on his way to the granite sidewalk below. He looked to be around 20 old
In China they do not rush to cover the evidence of a gruesome act like suicide jumping. It is left there until the police arrive and complete their investigation. The crowd of onlookers was a mix of people from all socio-economic levels. The poor bicycle delivery people were standing next to the uniformed office workers, who were standing next to the suited bosses. Some with sad faces morning the death and others with cynical looks at the spectacle.
As an American my first thought was “Is this a Foxconn building”? It seems that we only hear about suicide jumps from Foxconn offices in American news. No. There was no Foxconn office in this building. It was just an average building that rose about 30 stories above the street. Like most office buildings in China, this hone had stylish balconies and overlooks that provide plenty of opportunity for someone who wishes to end their life.
Then it struck me. These jumpers are not due to a specific loathing of a position in life, or because of an inability to endure harsh working environments. This was a well clothed teenager in a new shirt and jeans. He had just chosen to end his life. He had made a horribly short sighted decision that ended all the possibilities of his life.
In America we do not see suicide. Our teens end their lives with drugs and die in hotel rooms or in their apartments. Our teens do not choose the public way of death. This teen, like most in China, was not on drugs. Drugs are not readily available in China. All drugs have stiff penalties ranging from 10 years to life in prison. The teens in China face the stresses of capitalism and teenage life with only alcohol and cigarettes to help them manage their lives.
I have to admit it was more of a jolt to my sensibilities than to those of my Chinese counterparts who viewed the dead body on the sidewalk. I only looked for a few seconds, while they stood there and gazed at the body and held discussions about the event. I walked on with my internal horror until I was able to think the event through in a logical sense.
At first my mind raced with thoughts of the “teenage building jumping epidemic”. Then it came to me. The only difference is the public display in this suicide. China may seem different to us. It may seem harsh and unusual, but it is not. In reality there are two things that are the root of all of our anxieties about China. Two things that keep us from understanding it better.
1) China is a capitalistic baby. The more you experience China, the more you feel like you are in the booming 1950’s of the American economy. The more I research 1950s capitalism in America, the more I realize that the world is seeing it again in China. Working conditions are not as good as the U.S., but they are good enough to be able to save money and gain wealth. Chinese people are succeeding. They are becoming rich very quickly.
2) China is 1.3 billion people. You cannot classify a Chinese person. Any characteristic you seek in China, you will find. I can choose any good or bad thing to say about China or about Chinese people and it will be true to one extent or another. I can always find evidence of it in their society.
So before we start counting bodies that jump from buildings, lets start counting the total number of teenage suicides as a percent of the population. That is the true measure of one society vs another. I think that number would surprise every American.
Before we start believing everything we hear about China, lets start understanding that the population sample is large enough so that anyone can say anything about it and back their generalization with some evidence. The news about Foxconn and suicides sounds horrible, but you need to realize that Foxconn employs over 900,000 people. How many people at Foxconn commit suicide? How many people in an average American city of one million people commit suicide? It’s time we start looking at real numbers and stop believing our own sensationalistic news.
The truth is that China is an amazing example of mass management that needs to be embraced as one of the most significant factors in our future. Avoid being part of the sensationalized version and start thinking logically about what we are all experiencing.