Xi Jinping's anti-graft campaign

More stressed officials taking their own lives as corruption crackdown presses on

With suicide on the rise among party cadres as anti-graft drive presses on, experts suggest they take their lives to protect families and assets

PUBLISHED : Friday, 01 August, 2014, 3:58am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 17 September, 2014, 6:08pm

A Zhejiang party official has died after “falling” from a building, the local government said, in the latest case in a string of suicides by officials.

In a letter found on Zhao Jilai, inspector of the Hangzhou Economic and Information Technology Commission, he wrote that he had decided to “leave this world” after years of suffering from thyroid cancer and insomnia.

He asked for the Communist Party’s forgiveness, saying he had never done “a single thing” that violated party discipline.

Xinhua reported that the anti-graft watchdog had begun an inspection in the eastern province on Tuesday.

Last month alone, six officials committed suicide, according to media reports. Two, from Henan and Hubei respectively, left letters saying they were depressed; one was reported to have accepted bribes.

Experts say President Xi Jinping’s intense corruption crackdown has put enormous stress on corrupt officials.

“Chinese officials are having a hard time and their suicides are caused by the political system,” Zhang Lifan, a Beijing-based historian and political analyst, said.

The massive anti-graft drive has put great pressure on corrupt officials who fear being expelled if found out, says Ren Jianming, a corruption expert from Beijing’s Beihang University.

“We may see an increase in official-suicide incidents in the short term,” he said.

Ren also pointed out that suicide could be a tactic officials were using to protect their families and political factions from further investigation.

“In Chinese culture, the dead should be respected. So after the officials’ deaths, [any investigations] would stop,” he said.

Officials were engaging in “altruistic suicide”, said Professor Paul Yip Siu-fai, director of the Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention at the University of Hong Kong. “Suicide is a way for corrupt officials to protect their wealth,” he said.

Zhang said one reason officials were taking their own lives was because they did not have solid political backing from other high-ranking officials when faced with investigation.

All six who committed suicide last month were either low- or mid-ranking officials.

Zhang added that the recent cases of suicide among officials also reflected problems with Xi’s corruption crackdown, which he said was no different from political campaigns during Mao Zedong’s era that also saw many suicides. “Suicide is … caused by the party’s political campaigns,” he said.

Ren said the anti-graft drive was merely dealing with the symptoms rather than the root of corruption in China. “The soil that breeds corruption has yet to be eradicated. China needs an open and transparent political system,” he said.

Both Yip and Zhang agreed that the suicides had a “copycat effect”. When officials under pressure see media coverage of such suicides, they would also think of doing the same.

Yip, whose centre has published a report on China’s suicide rate, said he started hearing more about the frequent official-suicide cases since last year.