This week in Beijing, there have been two separate mass suicide attempts by twelve petitioners in all. They decided to drink pesticide to protest the Chinese government ignoring their complaints. The protesters, from the provinces of Guizhou and Jiang, were attempting to draw attention to the alleged local government abuses they have suffered.
The first attempt occurred Wednesday morning when a family of five men and two women imbibed the poisoned drink outside the headquarters of the China Youth Daily. When Bo Tuan, an employee of the state-run newspaper, arrived at work, he heard them shouting for justice but did not pay further attention to them until they pulled out plastic bottles, drank the contents and collapsed onto the sidewalk, clutching their foaming mouths. Their motivations were later revealed through the perusal of the documents scattered around their bodies and the writing inked onto their white t-shirts.
By committing mass suicide outside of the office of a newspaper, media coverage was more certain than if they had made the attempt in front of an official government building. Five years previously, their family home in the city of Qingyang in Jiang, an eastern coastal province of China, was illegally seized and bulldozed by the town’s local government for real estate development.
Other townspeople also suffered the demolition of homes and businesses, but after this family’s property was seized, the patron traveled to Nanjing to request compensation and an explanation. Instead, he was imprisoned in an unofficial detention center, otherwise known as an illegal “black jail,” without food, water or rest for three days.
The family began handing out posters and leaflets but failed to raise support. They believed that if they continued to live without receiving recognition for the wrongs done to them, they could only avoid disgrace and regain their honor through death. However, the seven petitioners in this first example were taken to three different hospitals for treatment and are all now considered likely to live.
Later on Wednesday, a second group of Chinese petitioners decided to drink pesticide in another attempted suicide demonstration. They were in the process of being detained at a Beijing police station. Last year, these five petitioners had been forcibly evicted from their home in the Guizhou province in southwest China. When they complained about the inhumane treatment they had received, they, also, were locked into an unofficial detention center.
According to The World of the Chinese, suicide is a growing problem in China. Every two minutes a Chinese person takes his or her life, totaling approximately 287,000 deaths annually. 58 percent of these suicides are committed by drinking pesticide.
For the rural Chinese, pesticide is a readily available, quick, and relatively effective method of committing suicide, although it is also very painful. Suicide by pesticide ingestion is becoming increasingly common among petitioners, many of whom are disadvantaged, displaced farmers who pursue complaints against corrupt local officials for years without result other than being detained in one of the unofficial detention centers where they frequently report being beaten.
These are examples of just two groups of protesters who decided to drink pesticide to cause their deaths. Millions of Chinese citizens continue to flock to Beijing each year to petition cases, but few are ever resolved. Until there is more compensation for these protesters, there are likely to be more suicide attempts by drinking pesticide.
By Sarah Hutchins